Thanks for this guest post by Bob Dohnal, and for his encouragement to return cycling to the Milwaukee Mile! – Dave Schlabowske
Why has the Wisconsin Bike Fed reached out to the Wisconsin State Fair to bring cycling back to the historic Milwaukee Mile Speedway again?
The Milwaukee Mile Speedway is the oldest operating race track in the world! The one-mile long oval race track located at Wisconsin State Fair Park has hosted at least one auto race every year since 1903 (except during U.S. involvement in World War II). It operated as a dirt track until it was paved in 1954. In addition to the asphalt-paved oval, there is a 1.8 mile asphalt-paved road circuit located on the infield. And of course, from 1934 until 1953, the infield was the Milwaukee home of the Green Bay Packers!
In the 1980’s I helped start Team West Allis as my wife Jean and I had five kids and needed some way to encourage them to burn up all that energy, compete and have fun. Read this story and you will see it worked for us and will work for you.
Team West Allis, the Brookfield Cycling Club and Irv Ochowicz partnered with the West Allis Recreation Dept. and the West Allis Skating Club, asked to rent the Milwaukee Mile on Wednesday nights for cycling, in-line skating training for the teams and the general public. After all, where else can you ride training races, time trials of 1, 5, 10 miles, practice pace lines, echelons, pack racing and do sprints, intervals, and tempos, all without bothering pedestrians or worrying about getting hit by a car?
We had great turnouts, with hundreds showing up to ride the famed banked oval. Every Wednesday night, we ran races, attracting hundreds of riders of all ages and abilities from across the Milwaukee Metro area. Then on Labor Day weekend, we held West Allis Wheelin’ Weekend four-day race series, which lasted for ten years. At the time it was one of the top races in the US, drawing racers from across the country.
The series was as much about socializing and riding for fun as it was about serious racing, as all the old racers from the days of the Allis Chalmers cycling team came to talk and get together.
Out of this series came some of the worlds best athletes of the day, Gold, Silver, Bronze medalists, Olympic athletes, national champions, state champions, in skating and cycling. We also had many thousands of people that just wanted a safe place to ride, exercise, train, have fun, meet people. Names like Eric and Beth Heiden, Connie Carpenter, and Chris Witte were all part of our program. We opened up the stands so you could have a beer, soda, and hot dogs after riding.
We also had lots of inline skaters on the Mile, as it is was a new and growing sport at the time.
Over time, I just couldn’t manage the huge program as a volunteer, so I stopped organizing it. Tom Schuler and VeloCause have since organized some races at the Milwaukee Mile, since then, but those have not been open to the casual rider. We would like to see more people than pure racers be able to enjoy riding on our historic Milwaukee Mile.
While bikes are legal users of the road, many avid cyclists just don’t feel comfortable riding next to traffic. Perhaps it is because I have gotten older, but I have lost four friends hit by motor vehicles while riding on the street. And while we have more paved trails now, the popularity with hikers and dog walkers make them difficult places for group rides.
With donations from friends of bicycling like Tommy Thompson, the Wisconsin Bike Fed, Team VeloCause and others, we have managed to raise just enough money to open the Milwaukee Mile to cycling four days this year. VeloCause Centraal Cycling will be running practice races May 30th, June 6th, June 13th and there will be one more night of open riding, without organized practice races, on June 20th.
Each evening will kick off at 4PM with paceline, eschelon and drafting practice. Then there will be junior races, women’s races, cat 4-5, and cat 1-2-3 races, ending with time trials. During the entire evening, casual riders are invited to ride in the outer lanes, safely away from the racers. The Bike Fed is helping with the upfront costs and insurance for causal riders and racers will be charged $15 to cover insurance and other costs.
I would like to encourage bicycle clubs, bike shops and businesses from around the area to donate to help us expand this program. Let’s bring back the glory days of cycling to the Milwaukee Mile and add another safe, fun, car-free place to ride!
If you drive there, expect to pay $6 to park in the infield, or you can park for free by the Pettit Center and ride your bike over. The Mile also has direct access to the Hank Aaron Trail, which connects to the Oak Leaf Trail and beyond so you can always bike there too of course!
We invite everyone to help us pay for this with donations, sponsorships of a day for $500, publicity and anyway you can bring your clubs, organizations and friends, out to the Milwaukee Mile.
This program might take 3-5 years to mature but it is worth it.
Sponsors: Wisconsin Bike Fed, Bob and Jean Dohnal, Mark Molenda, Tommy Thompson, Allis Bike Shop, Judge Ralph Gorenstein, Milwaukee Mile.
If you can help us by becoming a sponsor, please email Jean and I at the address below.
Bob and Jean Dohnal, Team West Allis
West Allis Wheelin’ Weekend