When the annual Indy car race at the Milwaukee Mile was canceled after 2009, its missing presence was immediately felt throughout the sport.
It is the oldest operating motor speedway in the world, hosting at least one race in every season since 1903 and everyone in the sport agreed that the IndyCar Series could not afford to stay away for long.
Enter Michael Andretti.
The former driver and current team owner of Andretti Autosport revived the race as the Milwaukee IndyFest last year and the race was both entertaining and successful. Andretti says that ticket sales are up for this year's event and that he's hoping to make it two-for-two as winning team owner of the race after Ryan Hunter-Reay scored the victory in IndyCar's return.
Beyond the importance of maintaining tradition, Andretti says returning to Milwaukee was also a personal decision, based off his own success at the track. Andretti is a four-time Milwaukee winner, having won the race in 1986, '87, '91. '92 and '96.
"It's important to me because I've had such great times there as a driver and team owner," Andretti said during Wednesday's IndyCar teleconference. "So it's very special to me in that way. But I think it's very important to Indy car racing because it's second only to Indianapolis with its history."
Winning the inaugural IndyFest was special for Hunter-Reay as well. While it's always important to win a race your employer promotes, it was also his first victory last season and sparked his comeback run to the season championship.
But most importantly to Hunter-Reay, the configuration and lack of banking at Milwaukee makes it incredibly challenging for cars and drivers used to going over 200 miles per hour at places like Indianapolis and Texas.
"There is no place like the Milwaukee Mile," Hunter-Reay said. "It is a hard place to get right, and when you do, it's so rewarding. I've had some breakthrough performances in my career here and I've also been on the other side of it and struggled. So I have a lot of respect for it.
"And I think if you ask any other Indy car driver out there, they'll say it's probably one of the most fun ovals you'll go to -- and one of the toughest to get right."
And after a somewhat disappointing oval race at Texas Motor Speedway, Hunter-Reay also believes IndyCar will put on a better race on Sunday at Milwaukee. He attributed the lackluster performance to the Series just missing the mark on the Texas speedway package but believes they won't have that problem on a short track.
"Milwaukee makes for some of the best racing we have in the series," Hunter-Reay said. "I think you'll see this as one of the most action-packed places that we go to. Texas is a completely different configuration, with the downforce and running that we do there -- trying to pin that perfect downforce."
Milwaukee IndyFest will take place on Saturday at 4:30 ET and will air on the NBC Sports Network.