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Indy without the Indy: Millers on the Mile

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By William Hall. Photos by the author.

More than 20 years ago, car collector David V. Uihlein Sr. and a couple of friends rented the Milwaukee Mile at the Wisconsin State Fair Park to exercise their pre-war Indy cars on the oldest continuously operating oval racetrack in America. Dubbed “Millers at Milwaukee” in honor of the dominant race cars and engines created by Wisconsin native Harry A. Miller, the annual event now welcomes many breeds of vintage Indy and Sprint cars from the front-engine era.

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Everything from a 1911 National to a 1964 Watson Roadster take brisk laps on the modestly banked oval, with the main objective not to win checkered flags, but to entertain passengers and bystanders. The meet is a moving car show, with an interesting mix of speedway-themed parts vendors and some extraordinary road cars decorating the infield paddock.

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Bill Hoff of Pecatonica, Illinois, brought his 1924 Bentley Speedster. “The Miller Meet is the highlight of my automotive year,” he said. “The amount of track time is amazing, and the camaraderie among the owners and spectators is great! To be on the track with a Miller 91 and a 1916 Duesenberg Indy Car while being passed by a Watson Roadster… is worth the price of admission itself.”

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The field is full of familiar faces. Auctioneer Dana Mecum serves as President of the Harry A. Miller Club, and has brought eight of his early cars, including the #4 1932 Hupp Comet, the #23 1932 Miller-Ford, and the #16 1952 Springfield Special. Noted vintage racecar restorer Phil Reilly also made the trip from Corte Madera, California, with his #5 1960 Bowes Seal Fast Special.

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The pits provide a car show all its own. It’s fun to see interesting juxtapositions like a 1934 Chevy pickup parked next to a 1932 Alfa Romeo 8C2300 Zagato. The eclectic mix makes for some great photographs against the towering grandstand of the Milwaukee Mile.

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This and similar events have given purpose to owning and collecting these great old marvels of race engineering. Many of these cars were made to turn only left, and later examples like the Watson Roadsters are purpose-built with offset engines and drivelines. They’re in their element on a counter-clockwise oval. Even the Indianapolis Motor Speedway now features a vintage Indy car event. With more events have come rising values for these early roadsters.

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The Millers at Milwaukee event is capped at 60 entrants, allowing for plenty of track time divided into both slow and fast groups during the two-day meet. Dinner socials each night of the event provide the necessary exchange of experience and information vital to keeping these exotic beasts of the Brickyard running.

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Schedule conflicts have moved the Millers at Milwaukee event date around in recent years, but next summer it returns to its traditional timeslot of July 7 to 8, 2017. That weekend precedes the HAWK Vintage Races in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin, and the two events together attract cars from across the country and make for a great week for vintage racing fans in the Upper Midwest.

William Hall is a writer, car collector and broker based in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin.