My oldest daughter has never been to an IndyCar race.
Oh, don’t get me wrong, Saris (age 8) has been to plenty of practice and open test days at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. She usually tags along for a few days in the Month of May, and she’ll watch the races with me from the comfort of the couch when I’m at home. She’ll talk IndyCar, and of course she’s even contributed to this site. But to this point, I didn’t think she was ready for a full race weekend. My schedule for the Indy 500 is too intense for her to kick things off at 5:30 am, and she was too young when we’d make the trip down to Kentucky for that race.
That’s where Milwaukee IndyFest comes into play.
Really, it seems perfect. It’s only around 5 hours from our house to Milwaukee. It’s a shorter race, so it shouldn’t be too overwhelming, and being a shorter track, it’s easy to follow the action all the way around. In terms of a race experience, I think it’s perfect for a first-timer.
Last year, my wife and I made the trip to the Milwaukee Mile, not only to support the revitalization efforts of bringing this race back, but to sort of scout it out for future family trips. It was time when no one was quite sure if this experiment, this last shot at IndyCars at the Mile, would even warrant a second year. What we saw was extremely encouraging. The difference between the Mile of a decade ago and today is simply staggering.
Andretti Sports Marketing clearly gets the idea that a race, be it oval or twisty, needs to be an “event”. The food trucks in the infield, the carnival rides, the stations giving away free RC Cola and Sun Drop—that’s the sort of stuff that’s exciting to an attending family. You add in a vintage car show, live music, and all sorts of other activities, and that becomes not just a race, but a destination. From painting the walls blue to adding Cream Puffs to adding the Family Fun Zone, everything is calculated to give this race an identity, to ensure it is a relevant, well-connected stop on the IndyCar schedule.
To confess, this has not been an easy year, financially. We’re just settling in from a move, and I’m sure like many of you out there, we’ve had to be pretty frugal with our entertainment budget. But when we were able to get a hotel for just over $50 (thanks to these folks), and when we were able to buy my daughter’s Saturday ticket for $10 (and paddock passes being only $5 for her), that’s a no-brainer. I cannot tell you how nice it is to have an affordable event out there. Even though we didn’t get tickets for Friday, we can still hop in the grandstands for free to watch the Mazda Road to Indy do their thing, along with IndyCar qualifying.
The nerdy side of me wants my daughter to get what an amazing track this is, to understand why it helped make names like Barney Oldfield, Rex Mays, Tony Bettenhausen, and so many other IndyCar legends household names. It’s a Hall of Fame list of drivers who have won here, and only Indianapolis can match the history of this place in regards to open wheel ovals in America. Honestly, that’s probably not going to soak in for her, at least not right away. But hey, she gets to go on a trip, see her first race, probably get some swimming in at the hotel (which is a HUGE deal when you’re 8), and hopefully run into some of her favorite drivers—racers like Pippa Mann, Takuma Sato, and EJ Viso. There’s also the decadent joy of Wisconsin food and dairy, which I’d wager against any destination in the U.S.
For her part, my daughter has not stopped talking about this trip, and has been counting the days until we leave since at least April. Saris keeps asking questions about the track, last year’s race, where we’re staying, if Pippa will be there, etc. She’s a good kid, who tries to do the right thing, and deserves to have some fun.
You try and do the best for your kids. Not everything has to be a $5,000 trip to Disneyland. The things I remember best from my childhood were heading out to the Speedway for qualifications, and my Dad taking me to Indianapolis Indians games when he got free tickets. Today, I still love the Indy 500 and baseball, and of course I love those memories. So even though we’re sitting in cheap seats and making it a budget trip, I think my daughter is still going to have a great time. What’s really important is spending time with family, after all. Milwaukee IndyFest has built itself up to be a great event for family and race fan alike, and that’s why we’re returning, daughter in tow. We’ll be chowing down on some brats, cheering on our favorites, and checking out everything going on between the racing.
I’m sure I’ll write about our experience, and I’m sure my daughter will contribute her thoughts, as well. But what’s most important is the memories we’ll make on our trip together—my wife, my daughter, and me—during this year’s IndyFest.