A Spin Through History at the Milwaukee Mile

Thanks to Steve Smith of the Hollander Benelux Racing Team for this report from Saturday’s Velocause Milwaukee Mile Crit at the race track at State Fair Park. Anyone remember the last time Wisconsin Cycling Association held a bike race at the track? I believe this is the first time they used the infield to lengthen the course to 1.9 miles. The old races were just on the 1 mile banked oval. It was great to have racing back on the track and with the awesome viewing from the grand stands, the huge paddock area to set up tents, and the power of a checkered flag at the finish, this race has the potential to turn into a really fun spectating event.

The Masters 3-4 group lined up at the start in the famous race track.

After moving to Wauwatosa more than 10 years ago, I came to expect an odd “equinox” that coincided with warmer weather. Echoing over the tree tops would come long groaning stanzas in a rondo between a jet liner at take off and a jack hammer convention. I soon learned that it was the auditory detritus from the Milwaukee Mile at State Fair Park, more than 5 miles away.

Typical Steve, all smiles, whether he is commuting to his 9 to 5 at Rockwell Automation, cheering his kids on in soccer or bumping shoulders in a crit.

Over time, I could discern between Indy Car races and NASCAR events; tire testing or “real” race events. Obnoxious though it may have been, reading the newspaper accounts of the events and the revered history drivers placed on the 1 mile oval, I came to respect its designation as the “oldest racetrack in the country.”

So, when the Wisconsin Cycling Association announced its 2013 schedule including the Milwaukee Mile, the proximity to home made it an irresistible addition to my (dramatically shrinking) race calendar.

In the thick of it.

Not all wide straightaways and big banks, the infield offered a chance for the racers to test their cornering abilities. Photo courtesy Darren Hauck.

Riding to the venue, versus loading up a car, picking up fellow racers, stopping for bio breaks et. al., kindled an Italian vibe. Like riding from Milan to Bergamo. The simplicity of loading up a messenger bag with various race stuff, and pedaling 20 minutes afield helped set a mood.

Rolling silently through a dark tunnel under the stands and up onto the daylight of the infield and track, pushed the pedal to the floorboard for atmosphere. The stands, set for 45,000, sat in eerie silence save for the ghosts of delirious fans cheering on everything from horse racing (back in the 1800s), on up to dirt track racing (1950s) and even a Packer game or two (1960s).  A turn around the oval showed scars of battle: massive skid marks running up into huge divots gashed along the walls.

Jennifer Picciolo of IS Corp powers her way onto the podium with this second place finish in the Women’s Cat 4 race.

Mike Froh of Team Velocause pulls off the win in the Master’s 3/4 race. Better luck next time Steve!

The race (Masters 3-4 category), running on a modified road course stretching almost 2 miles, generated the excitement of speeding down the finishing straight lap after lap. The large pack mimicked the action in a NASCAR event, save for the fact that it was lycra clad racers on two wheels “trading paint.” I push a modest 350 watts out of turn four compared to Indy cars 520 kW (~700 horse power). And my sprint into the finish might top out at 40mph while 40-year-old  Dario Franchitti, manages to average about 168 mph in his Honda IZOD Indy Car. The reality of 60+ competitors almost silently plying a course that, filled with four-wheeled “horseless buggies”, would create a ruckus heard five miles away was surreal.

As the laps turned down, and the white flag waved signaling the last lap (really!), I wondered if race car drivers ever experience double vision and shortness of breath as they near the finish line in the final lap. Turning through Turn Four and onto the final straight, with competitors stretched six to seven wide sprinting for the checkered flag…so…far…down…the...straight…but crossing the line I took a quick look to the right and the stands, half expecting to hear the roar or the thousands of faithful.  

For results of this race check the WCA website here.

I’m for a checkered flag at all bike races? Photo courtesy Darren Hauck.

About Dave Schlabowske, Deputy Director

Dave was the first full-time staff member hired to open the Bike Fed's Milwaukee office 15 years ago. A former professional photographer and life-long Milwaukee resident, Dave likes wool, long rides, sour beer, and a good polar vortex once in a while.

6 thoughts on “A Spin Through History at the Milwaukee Mile

  1. I had an old friend, now gone, who showed me a photo of a pack of bike racers sprinting to the finish line of a race on the dirt track in 1936-1937 and Al, my friend, was caught in the photo in mid-air, taking a header. Leather hairnets, of course. Al dabbled in 6-day racing at that time too. It was a big event in the old Auditorium.

      • No Dave, Al died in 1995 in Arizona so I wouldn’t have any of his pictures. John Reindl, the recycling guy in Madison, is his nephew, I think. (John’s dad, Norbert, was a track racer who was seriously injured when he crashed into the boards on an indoor velodrome and had some serious injuries with broken and splintered wood.)

        • That is too bad. It would be nice to try to archive some of this early Wisconsin bicycle racing history. We have some of that stuff from Otto Wenz, but there is so much more really cool historical stuff floating around out there.

  2. I sent this to Michael Horne the other day.

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/8729526@N02/5006738081/

    I don’t know if you know about Louis. An old friend, now gone, Al Reindl, was a bike racer in the 1930s and, as a Brown Deer resident, was instrumental in building the velodrome at Brown Deer Park that was used for the National Cycling Track Championships in 1948 and 1960. In 1960 Al said that he and another guy supported Louis Pierron for a lap of the track to the cheers of the crowd. Louis was in his 90s at that time.

    In addition to the “In the Saddle Since ’79,” he also had tee shirts every year saying “65 years on a bike” and then, next year,” 66 years on a bike,” etc.

    The Pierron family had a farm along the Milwaukee River where Kletzch Park is today. The family also had some sort of factory, I heard an ink factory, along the west bank of the river, using water power through a mill race you can still see crossing the north road going to Pierron Island in the park.

    I think the Pierron family also owned the island where Good Hope Road crosses the river. Pierron Rd goes north of Good Hope Road at the north end of Milwaukee River Parkway.

    Al Reindl bought a Duerkopp track bike from the German six day champions in the 1930s, Kilian and Vopel, and had it chrome plated. Unfortunately the steel rusted away leaving only a chrome shell. Al donated this bike to the MKE Public Museum.

    Budget Bikes in Madison is selling a Duerkopp on eBay, http://www.ebay.com/itm/Vintage-Durkopp-Adler-German-Track-Bicycle-Nickel-Plated-Bike-1937-Titan-57cm-/350517565810

    Otto Wenz can tell you old Al Reindl stories. Al was Otto’s first race announcer for SuperWeek, I think. Al also had lots of fun being the announcer guy at Octoberfest at the Bavarian Inn.

    • Thanks again Al,

      If we can’t archive all this, somehow I want to do a magazine story on all this important Wisconsin racing history before it is lost at the very least. Michael Horne is an obvious talent who should be involved in any such project.

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