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'Strong History Of Racing': The Milwaukee Mile Has Seen Nearly 120 Years Of Races

The Milwaukee Mile racetrack stands during the 2007 A.J. Foyt 225 IRL race.
Wikimedia Commons
The Milwaukee Mile racetrack stands during the 2007 A.J. Foyt 225 IRL race.

The Milwaukee Mile is the oldest operating motor speedway in the world, according its website. It’s hosted everything from horse races to sprint and Indy cars — and, of course, NASCAR. Even if you haven’t been there for a race, there’s a good chance you’ve seen a concert or parked on the track on the way to the Wisconsin State Fair.

There’s a ton of history packed into nearly 120 years of the Mile, and auto contributor Mark Savage knows a lot of it. He says car racing started during the 1910s and became increasingly popular each decade. Sprint cars were especially popular at the Mile because people working in Milwaukee’s auto industry knew how to build them, Savage says.

“Milwaukee was a stronghold of racing and of automaking, tied to the auto industry so in this area [sprint cars] were particularly popular,” he says.

Until 1954, the track was just dirt. It was then paved over. While some racetracks have high banks on their turns, the Milwaukee Mile kept its flat turns when it became paved. Savage says that makes the track even more dangerous because high banks help drivers make the turn.

Racers in 1956, just two years after the track at the Milwaukee Mile was paved over.
Courtesy of Mark Savage
Racers in 1956, just two years after the track at the Milwaukee Mile was paved over.

“This was really a flat track and it was known its speed and its danger. A lot of people have been killed at the track, a lot of drivers and it takes a lot of talent to race too wide through a flat turn,” he says.

Savage says during the dirt days, drivers would slide through the turns and kick up huge amounts of dirt, which was a fan favorite to watch.

Mark drives a stock car at the Milwaukee Mile

Throughout the history of the Mile, more than just races have been held. For over a decade and a half, Packer football games were held on the infield of the track. The stadium even hosted the NFL championship game in 1939, which the Packers ended up winning.

“There was a stadium, a football stadium in the middle of the track where the Packers actually played football games from 1934 to 1951,” he says.

In recent history, popularity for racing in Milwaukee has waned, leaving less events for the Mile. But Savage says you can still see a race there if you are interested. Also, events like Milwaukee Track Days and the Rusty Wallace Racing Experience comes to the track to give Milwaukeeans the chance to get behind the wheel themselves. You can also get a taste of racing history through the Millers at Milwaukee — a vintage Indy car event.

READ: A Day At The Milwaukee Mile With The Rusty Wallace Racing Experience

“I think it’s cool that we’ve had such a strong history of racing, it’s sad that there’s not like an Indy car race or NASCAR race there now but at least the track is still being used,” he says.

With even more history to be learned about the Mile, Savage says he wishes there was a museum at the track to preserve some of the memories of racing over the last nearly 120 years.

Audrey is a WUWM host and producer for Lake Effect.
From 2020 to 2021, Jack was WUWM's digital intern and then digital producer.
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