Q&A: Kevin Healy on Milwaukee IndyFest activation heading into Wisconsin State Fair

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Throughout the year, MotorSportsTalk has been chronicling the preparation for the ABC Supply Co. Wisconsin 250 at Milwaukee IndyFest Presented by the Metro Milwaukee Honda Dealers. As the race nears, and the Wisconsin State Fair begins this Thursday at Wisconsin State Fair Park, we caught up with Milwaukee IndyFest general manager Kevin Healy of Andretti Sports Marketing for a wide-ranging chat of topics before the race. In part one of this two-part interview, Healy outlines plans for IndyFest activation at the State Fair, and expands on the race’s new partnership with Visit Milwaukee to expand the reach to fans outside the Milwaukee area:

MotorSportsTalk: Can you expand a bit on the Visit Milwaukee state tourism grant program? 

Kevin Healy: It’s a joint effort, marketing program. Essentially it’s a matching program that produces the economic benefit of tourism within the state of Wisconsin.

What it does for us is that it helps fund the marketing necessary to reach out to Northern Illinois/Chicago market to bring them in to the race. It helps us double our dollar value and do more marketing in conjunction with Visit Milwaukee. We’re able to build that into our overall marketing plan. That drives more into the event, adds to an important market and continues to expand the fan base for Milwaukee IndyFest.

Can you expand on what the plans for activation and promotion are at the Wisconsin State Fair?

KH: It is a full booth, display area throughout the State Fair. Whenever the fair is open, we’ll be there. It should be a lot of fun.

When you’re planning a race, you’re asking who are you trying to bring into the race.

There’s the core race fan – and you’re always going after them. You never want to take them for granted. Generally, they know racing in Milwaukee is excellent.

There’s families. With families, you’re building fans for the future. And that’s what we’ve done with the infield. 

The general entertainment seeker is another. State Fair had 1.1 million fan-goers last year, so that’s a lot of eyeballs. For us, activating in the fair, throughout the 10 days of the fair, is a great opportunity.

The activation will include multiple show cars – we will likely trade them out a couple times. That’s an obvious.

Then we will sort of replicate the winner’s circle. There will be the podium, with backdrop for a photo opp, and we will also have Trophy Night. The Milwaukee IndyFest trophy will be there, as well as the Astor Cup (the season-long Verizon IndyCar Series championship). It’s a long shot trying for the Borg-Warner – I’d love to get that out there – but we won’t give up.

There will be some interactive displays, including some science/tech elements for racing. Your goal is always to make that connection that turns someone into a fan.

There’s an IndyCar 101 component. We’ll have a couple different driver appearances; because once you meet a driver you can establish that connection.

At State Fair, they have a parade every day, a la Disney. There’s one day where probably the two-seater will be in the parade, and other days the Honda pace car. So you can see the pace car and two-seaters.

There’s a possible contest that if you’re a fair-goer, you can win a ride, work with IndyCar Experience for that. The grand prize is a hot lap 2-seater at Milwaukee IndyFest. That’s a big aspirational goal, since almost everyone would love to take that ride, and it creates that connection of winning and coming to the event. It’s a really cool opp.

For the State Fair – as I’ve said, when we first came back, without the State Fair and its level of cooperation, it just wouldn’t be possible for us to put on this event.

Here’s a deal on IndyFest tickets from the Wisconsin State Fair. State Fair runs July 31-August 10. 

Ben Hanley relieved to make Indy 500 debut

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Qualifying for the Indy 500 is never an easy task, especially for a new driver and team, and with 36 cars vying for 33 starting positions last weekend, 34-year-old rookie Ben Hanley knew there was a chance he and his DragonSpeed team would not make the show.

“I wouldn’t say we were very confident, but we wanted to [make the field],” Hanley told NBC Sports. “The biggest thing we were trying to achieve was to not be on track on Sunday in the shootout because it only takes one mistake or one little issue and that’s it, you’re not in the race.”

But Hanley would not have to worry about being bumped from the field. He qualified 27th after making three attempts on Day 1, which was enough to lock the No. 81 team into the show. Not too shabby for a driver and team making only their third NTT IndyCar Series start.

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“That last run everything just came together,” Hanley said. “We trimmed out a little bit more and found a good balance of trim and grip over four [qualifying] laps and it was enough to get us through.

“It was a huge relief to get through in P27. A massive achievement for everybody involved.”

Indeed it was a massive achievement, as DragonSpeed is one of the smallest teams in the garage, with no corporate sponsors and a tiny team of around 20 personnel. Many of those were picked up by the team just a week before qualifying, when members of the team’s regular crew were denied entry into the United States due to visa issues after leaving a sports car race in Italy.

“It was all down to the team organizing some people who were in and around Indianapolis who weren’t needed for the race weekend,” Hanley said. “Obviously, I don’t think many people are going to refuse the chance to work on a car that’s trying to qualify for the 500.”

Though the team made its first Indy 500 on Day 1 of qualifying, the DragonSpeed team did not spend Saturday night out late celebrating. Instead, Hanley said the extra time was spent preparing for the race.

“We went straight on to race prep then for the car, so Sunday was a good day for the guys to take time to prep the car into the race spec and get everything sorted out in a nice, organized manner.”

Following the Indy 500, DragonSpeed will run two other races this season at Road America and Mid-Ohio. The team is hopeful that a good run at Indy will result in an opportunity to run a bigger schedule next season and attract sponsors.

Hanley stated that though he’s happy to have made the Indy 500 starting grid for the first time in his career, the magnitude of his feat hasn’t hit him yet.

“It hasn’t really soaked in yet,” he said. “I think it will soak in on Sunday when we roll out to the grid.

“It was such a huge relief to not be involved in Bump Day. Even just watching [Bump Day] it was intense, especially with the weather. I couldn’t even imagine what it would be like to be involved in that.”

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