ABC Supply Co. steps up for Milwaukee IndyFest, which moves to August

New IndyFest date and title sponsor (Tony DiZinno)
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Milwaukee’s IndyCar date is switching from June to August, and welcomes back an old friend as title sponsor.

ABC Supply Co., locally based in West Allis, will step up to sponsor the newly renamed ABC Supply Wisconsin 250, part of the Milwaukee IndyFest weekend, for the next two years.

In 2014, the date will be August 16-17, as part of a three-race culmination to the IndyCar season. West coast races in Sonoma and Fontana, Calif., will follow as the series seeks to end by Labor Day weekend.

The importance from a local standpoint is twofold: the race has a title sponsor for the first time since 2009, when ABC Supply Co. last sponsored the race (it did so from 2005 to 2009), and secondly, it will give the near-million Wisconsin State Fair patrons exposure to the event that will be occurring after the Fair ends.

“It’s important strategically,” said Mark Miles, CEO of Hulman & Co., parent company of INDYCAR. “Following State Fair will give us a chance to tell the million or so people our race is coming up in a couple weeks. We think a unique feature of IndyCar is the diversity of our racing, different tracks, street, road, ovals and different kinds of ovals. We love the idea of having a historic oval as part of that. Eventually we’re looking at an oval, a street and a road course – our three major formats – at the end of the year.”

Indy Lights and Pro Mazda are also on the calendar, as they were this year. Tickets for the family-friendly weekend go on sale Nov. 13, available online at www.milwaukeeindyfest.com.

Milwaukee had been run on the Saturday of Father’s Day weekend in June 2012 and 2013 since Michael Andretti’s Andretti Sports Marketing group resuscitated the race from life support. Miles said in a later interview this afternoon that the June date would “maybe” have still been considered had the other ASM-promoted race, Baltimore, remained on the 2014 calendar in what would have been an earlier August date.

As for whether the week after the Indianapolis 500 was considered, Milwaukee’s old traditional date, Miles answered with a definitive “no” – that date is locked in Detroit for the foreseeable future.

Andretti said the bigger issue with Milwaukee the last two years was actually having it on Father’s Day weekend.

“It wasn’t the problem for our staff; we have two separate arms,” he explained. “It was a little bit of a challenge having the race on Father’s Day weekend. People have other family plans. So now it’s a real positive from the standpoint to be one of the last three races of the season.”

However for Andretti, it now provides a singular focus for the ASM promotional arm. The group is exploring other opportunities – either race or corporate-related – down the road to replace Baltimore.

Miles has sought a more condensed calendar – all will be revealed tomorrow night, 8 p.m. ET on NBCSN – and considers breaks something of a necessary evil. But had Milwaukee stayed in its June date, that would have meant six consecutive weeks of on-track activity beginning with the Grand Prix of Indianapolis road course race on May 10.

“I wish we didn’t need a break!” he said, candidly. “For fans, appointment viewing is a big deal. If you know every week where to look, that’s a really good thing. But that’s impractical for our racing. There will be breaks. When you see the calendar, we’ve condensed our racing about to the point we can. The crews will get their necessary downtime.”

The other question, as always, is whether the dream of Road America will turn to reality. For now, it remains just that: a dream.

It’s definitively out for 2014 and possible, but still unlikely, in 2015. It remains the biggest pipe dream for IndyCar drivers, teams and fans, but will always be off the schedule so long as dates and sanctioning fees don’t work out – the last Champ Car race there was in 2007.

What it does present, however, is a Wisconsin doubleheader for fans of both road and oval racing in 2014. The TUDOR United SportsCar Championship races at Road America Sunday, August 10, with IndyCars on the historic Mile one week later.

And that, regardless of your preference of racing, is still something to celebrate.

Jimmie Johnson open to racing Rolex 24 at Daytona in lower category to earn first watch

Jimmie Johnson Rolex 2023
Michael L. Levitt/LAT/USA/IMSA
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Jimmie Johnson could be making his last start in a prototype Saturday, but he still might be racing sports cars at the Rolex 24 at Daytona and Le Mans in 2023.

Now that he’s done racing full time in the NTT IndyCar Series, Johnson said this week that his top three priorities for 2023 are 1) racing the Indy 500 and Coca-Cola 600 on the same day (commonly known as “The Double”); 2) the 24 Hours of Le Mans and 3) the Rolex 24 at Daytona.

Winning a Rolex 24 long has been a goal for Johnson, who has three overall runner-up finishes over nine starts in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season opener at Daytona International Speedway.

IMSA SEASON FINALE: Details for watching the Petit Le Mans

All of those were in the premier category, but with IMSA overhauling and rebranding the class (from DPi to GTP) next season, it seems there won’t be room for Johnson to return in the No. 48 Ally Cadillac. Johnson will be teamed with Kamui Kobayashi and Mike Rockenfeller in Saturday’s Petit Le Mans season finale, wrapping the second season of endurance races for the Action Express entry.

“I know the landscape with the new prototype class that’s come out, and frankly there’s just not enough cars or open seats available,” the seven-time Cup Series champion said during a Zoom news conference Tuesday. “So I don’t seen an opportunity in the premier division, but I am open to the other divisions on track and would love to finally earn one of those watches.”

That could mean Johnson (who bought an engraved Rolex after winning the 2006 Daytona 500 but wants to earn a signature trophy of sports car racing) entering in an LMP2 or LMP3 or perhaps a GT car for the first time at Daytona next year. He will have Carvana’s primary sponsorship in tow next year that he presumably could bring to a team.

The rest of the seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion’s 2023 schedule also remains to be solidified. But it seems Johnson is nearly a lock for a 24 Hours of Le Mans debut in the lineup of the Garage 56 Next Gen Camaro, which will be fielded jointly by Hendrick Motorsports and NASCAR.

“The rest of it is just early,” he said. “In the coming weeks on all fronts, conversations will continue forward. I still feel I’m on a short list for the Garage 56 program in Le Mans next year and hope to get some clarity on that in the coming weeks or months. So I wish I had more to report at this point. It’s really about not returning full time to IndyCar, and now that I’ve made that decision and letting that news be known, I really feel like I’ll get some traction here and be able to solidify my schedule for ’23.”

Depending on the interest he draws, his options should be wide open. After racing a Honda the past two years and a Chevrolet for his 20-plus years in NASCAR, Johnson isn’t under contract to any manufacturer or team next year.

Here’s what else Johnson has said about what he wants to do in ’23:

IndyCar: Though his IndyCar track record was much stronger on ovals, Johnson seems open to any part-time schedule.

“I’m running out of specific events that are bucket list races (in IndyCar), and truthfully, that’s kind of what led to my decision to not come back full time,” Johnson said. “But I still am open to tracks that are important to me, races that are important to me and doing it with people and teams that are important to me, so if something develops with Chip (Ganassi) that’s a mixed bag of road and street courses and some ovals, I’m open to it. I’m open to just ‘the Double’ or the Indy 500 alone. I really do have a clean sheet of paper and eager to see what meaningful opportunities develop and make sense.”

Though he is free to talk with other teams, Johnson said returning with Chip Ganassi Racing would be his first choice after racing with the team since 2021.

“I’ve really only spoken to Chip,” he said. “I truly feel like I’m part of the family at CGR. If I’m in IndyCar, that’s really where I want to be. I know that team. I know the inner workings of it. I do feel like we’re working hard to continue the relationship together, so that would really be my intentions if I was able to put something together and come back in IndyCar, I’d love for it to be there.”

NASCAR: Johnson mentioned again that being a past winner of The Clash and All-Star Race previously granted him long-term eligibility for those events (NASCAR since has changed its criteria), so the exhibitions in Los Angeles and North Wilkesboro, North Carolina, are on his radar.

“I do have a few years left on my eligibility for the Clash and for the All-Star Race, so I’m surprised no one has really asked or pushed hard to this point yet,” he said. “I guess I’ve been busy in IndyCar, and people assume my schedule is tied up. But looking forward, those would be easy opportunities to come back, but honestly I’ve not had an in-depth serious conversation with anyone yet on any of those fronts.

“I’d love to go to Wilkesboro. I’ve never driven on that racetrack. Lowe’s corporate offices were just down the street, so I’ve driven by it many times. I went on a long bike ride with Matt Kenseth and some friends a few years ago and actually rode my bicycle around the track. So I’d love to go back in a proper race car and event someday and hopefully that opportunity can develop.”

Trackhouse Racing’s Project 91 (which put Kimi Raikkonen in the Cup race at Watkins Glen International) would provide an avenue for Johnson’s re-entry to stock cars.

“Justin’s been a longtime friend and someone I stay in touch with, and he’s certainly made it known that the Project 91 car is available if I have interest,” Johnson said. “So I would need to continue those conversations forward.”

–“The Double”: In trying to become the first driver since Kurt Busch in 2014 to race 1,100 miles at Indianapolis Motor Speedway and Charlotte Motor Speedway in the same day, Johnson believes the logistics should be easier. Namely, he won’t have a full-time commitment in either IndyCar and NASCAR, and the reduced Cup schedule for practice and qualifying should free up more time.

“When drivers did it in the past, we had a lot more on-track activity for both series, certainly on the NASCAR side,” Johnson said. “I think how the NASCAR format works now, there’s less of an ask in time. So I do feel like the potential to apply myself and have physically enough time to pull it off is there. I do think the reduced schedule and not running the full IndyCar schedule will give me the time I need before and after to seriously focus and dedicate everything I can and would need to give my best performance in both races.”