If you have a question about open-wheel racing, send it to MillersMailbag@Racer.com. We can’t guarantee your letter will be published, but Robin will always reply.
Q: I just read that Andy Granatelli died. I remember Andy laying a big smacker on Uncle Bobby way before he kissed Mario when Unser qualified Granatelli’s Novi in 1963. The scene in Victory Lane in 1969 has been replayed so often, but I know there was way more to Andy’s contributions to open wheel racing. What is his legacy from you perspective?
Gerry Courtney, San Francisco
RM: The easiest way to answer your question is to read my tribute and see what Parnelli, Mario and Uncle Bobby said about Andy. I wrote that he was one of the best things that ever happened to Indy car racing and, as Parnelli points out, he probably did more to promote the sport than anybody ever. And he loved to try new things at Indy but I’ll always cherish him keeping the Novi alive.
Q: Hey Miller, some reader wrote under your Granatelli story that he sold you your first racecar. What’s that story?
RM: In 1972, my pal Art Pollard took me to Chicago to Andy’s shop so I could buy a Formula Ford that Francis McNamara had given him as a present (McNamara designed the slug that Mario drove at Indy for Granatelli in ’70 and ’71). I borrowed $5,000 from my banker buddy and just before we went inside, Art told me to put $2,000 back in my pocket and let him negotiate. Well, Andy wasn’t around so his son, Vince, handled the transaction and he wasn’t about to sell it for $3,000. I was foaming at the mouth looking at that gorgeous little day-glo orange FF sitting next to a couple of Novis, but Pollard stood firm and Vince finally. Suddenly I was the proud owner of a car that wouldn’t fit in my rented trailer without the aid of a forklift because the trailer was way too skinny. Art went with me to shake it down at IRP and just before we started it up he asked me if I’d added oil and water. “Don’t they come with oil and water?” I replied. Ah, the first sign I should have NEVER been allowed to own a racecar.
Q: I am a big fan of Simona de Silvestro and you seem to have high regard for her, too. I think it would be a great boost to the series if she could win a race now and then, and many fans were disappointed when she didn’t get one of the Chip Ganassi Racing rides. While I am very thankful to Simona’s manager for bringing her to this level, I fear he may have taken her as far as he can. She needs to be with one of the top-three teams in order to consistently contend for wins and championships. I doubt that any of those teams would let her manager tag along and maintain the power he has now. I would like to see her in the fifth car Michael Andretti wants to run. Other than that, I don’t see any open seats that would be much better than what she had at KV Racing A lateral move isn’t going to help her career any. What do you think?
Pat, Brownsburg, IN
RM: I think you are spot on. She needs a step up and there doesn’t appear to be anything left for 2014. Marshall Pruett may have an update sometime soon but her career is at a crossroads and she can’t afford to sit out a season.
Q: Happy New Year, Robin! Love the RACER.com site and features. Good to talk to you in Toronto, and I really enjoyed the two days. By the way, I don’t know if you heard, but Josef Newgarden was running through the Honda fan area on day two (I saw him in the walkover pedestrian bridge) with a big smile on his face giving fans high fives. We need more of that (although it’s something Marco would probably be horrified to even consider, unfortunately). Josef just seems happy to be there and it makes others feel good, too.
RM: Thank you Randy. Newgarden is a great kid who truly appreciates the opportunity he’s been given and has done a fine job with a small, one-car operation. Would love to see him move up or see Sarah add a second car with a veteran teammate like Oriol Servia. But, yes, Josef is GREAT with the fans and media.
Q: Ed Carpenter is the last of the car owner/driver and he lives in Indy. If you watch his driving style he sets up his speedway cars loose and does a masterful bit of driving on the edge. But we don’t get to see any TV coverage of in-car camera action that would display this. We don’t get any coverage of a hometown style where we could see the team that is a big part of Indianapolis. Is there someone out there on the networks who doesn’t like Fuzzy’s?
Jim Cary, NC
RM: No, nothing that sinister. The in-car cameras are paid for by sponsors. But watching Ed save his butt at Fontana several times would have been good television. Q: I just saw the new Dallara Indy Lights car. Much better looking than the current DW12. I find it somewhat ironic that the DW12 needs wheel covers in the rear to keep the highly skilled drivers from running over each other and launching themselves into the stratosphere while the young and perceived less skilled drivers don’t have them on the new car. What gives???
John, Akron, Ohio
RM: Not sure it’s been decided they won’t have them but a lot of fans criticized the wheel guards for not preventing Dario’s wreck when, in fact, he ran over Sato’s tire. But the new Lights car does look good.
Q: Over the holidays, I had the opportunity (for a change) to sit down and reread a few of my many auto racing books. Among those was Dr. Steve Olvey’s “Rapid Response,” which has always managed, at some points, to bring a smile to my face, and, at many others, tears to my eyes. But in reading it this time, I discovered, perhaps fortuitously, one of the most apropos statements about contemporary American open-wheel racing, especially as it refers (inadvertently) to the current IndyCar series.
Dr. Olvey states: “Those of us who grew up with it [IndyCar racing], smelled it, touched it and tasted it all feel the same bond. Unfortunately, the business types who now permeate the sport don’t share this same gut-centered devotion. I can only hope that the truly addicted will prevail, and that the original spirit of open-wheel competition will somehow manage to survive and prosper into the future.”
As we prepare to enter a new year, and what promises to be another exciting racing season, let us believe that Dr. Olvey’s always wise words if not come to fruition, at least serve as a foundation upon which we, the ever-loyal and passionate few, can build our hopes for IndyCar’s future.
Daniel Pratt, New Orleans
RM: Doc Olvey was loyal to CART but he started at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and loved it as well. Obviously, his book was written during The Split and he summed up how a lot of people felt. I do think Derrick Walker, Will Phillips and Beaux Barfield are passionate about open-wheel racing and making IndyCar better but they can only do so much.
Q: I’ve recently made it a habit to take on learning about all the old drivers and legends of the USAC days of the ’50s and ’60s. What do you know about Gene Force and Keith Rachwitz? Lots of guys have no wins, so who would you say are the 10 best drivers to never win a race from the days before the 1996 split?
Likewise, there was the CART/USAC split in 1979. Do you consider any of the races drivers won after 1980 (e.g. George Snider, Keith Kaufman, Bobby Olivero) to be legitimate, or do you consider those wins to not have really come in “Indy car” because in the case of Snider and Olivero they weren’t even good enough to run in the top-5, and Kaufman wasn’t even an IndyCar driver!
Thanks for the history lesson.
Alex in Florida
RM: Force qualified at Indy in 1951 (finished 11th) and again in 1960, while Porky (that was Rachwitz’ nickname) attempted to make the show in ’62 and ’63 but had a couple of accidents and failed. Snider was a badass when he arrived in USAC (pole at the Hoosier Hundred in 1965 and front row at Indianapolis in ’66) and always good in sprinters. Olivero was a damn good midget and dirt car racer who qualified for Indy in 1977. Kaufman was tough in sprints.
I think Snider, Johnny Parsons, Steve Krisiloff, Tom Bigelow, Mel Kenyon and Rich Vogler were all good racers who never won in an Indy car but to my mind Lee Kunzman, was the best. He recovered from serious injuries and finally got a good Indy car ride only to get hurt again and then made another comeback and almost won at Atlanta in 1979. Kunzman was as good in a midget and sprint car as anybody I ever saw race.
Q: I’m a lifelong Indy fan and went to grade school in Indianapolis, so I live and breathe open-wheel racing. As much as it pains me to say, I think we all know IndyCar is done. Once Helio leaves, the series doesn’t have a driver that is known to America. The fans who attended the races in the great times — 1970-1995 — start getting older and they will turn off their TV sets as well.
As much as we like to blame Tony George for the demise, I think things have been stagnant for the last 20 years. Cars have changed little in comparison to the time between 1973 and ’93. I did not approve of the DeltaWing design at all and I do like the DW12. The only changes though in the last 15 years were to slow them down and add safety items. When I went to Indy as a kid, I would often hear Tom Carnegie say his famous phrase. That was exciting to hear. I know we’re already pushing the envelope but if there isn’t a change in multiple chassis options, more powerful engines, it will fail.
This year’s “500” was not a fun race to watch because you knew that there was going to be a pass for the lead every straight. The anticipation of the pass is the best part. My question is, do you see any opportunity for a change in the ratings? Do you think it comes from another change in the product?
Keegan from Oshkosh, WI
RM: A lot of people seem to think that innovation and different cars and engines will bring people back to the tracks and sitting in front of their televisions. I think it could help a little bit during May but the racing has never been better and nobody is watching, so maybe it’s time to throw away the current rulebook.Q: Now that Montoya is back in IndyCar, it’s a safe bet to say he will add excitement and possibly re-introduce the chrome horn. Do you think he will be aggressive right from the get go to make a point or do you feel he will slowly ease into it and save RP some $$/front wings?
I have a great idea for a sendoff for Dario. On pole day at Indy, I say he suits up, takes one final lap in the #10 at pace car speed, very reminiscent to the way Foyt did it in 1993.
Jason, Chicago, Illinois
RM: I think JPM might play nice for a couple races but I expect the old Montoya attitude to surface sooner than later and I just hope he’s half as thrilling as he was in CART. Good idea regarding Franchitti.
Q: Really? IndyCar is suing the Sao Paulo promoters because they felt the need to run a second race in May at Indy and screwed Sao Paulo over on the date? Or did I miss something? Leadership tried to shoehorn this schedule into a narrow period of time. Now they’re suing the promoters of one of their better events for not fitting in to their schedule? If they’re losing a sanctioning fee of around $10 million, I would say the net loss from the Indy Grand Prix is going to be massive. Absolutely brilliant.
Can we have Randy back? Please?
Ryan in West Michigan
RM: I think this whole Brazil thing is about lowering the sanction fee, because the race was reportedly losing a fortune. But losing this race isn’t good because it drew a good crowd and was a helluva show. Randy is happy at RFD-TV because he doesn’t have to deal with snakes on a daily basis.
Q: I just want to say I’m a huge Indy car fan. I live on the west side of Indy and attend every “500.” I’m even looking forward to the road course race there this May. Hey, more races for me to attend, the better; there aren’t too many races close enough. The wife and I attend every Mid-Ohio also, but we do miss Kentucky and Chicagoland though. Now that there’s snow on the ground I get itching for racing. Really looking forward to another year of racing. I know this Indy car season will be short, and I really don’t like the over-by-Labor-Day thing. But, oh well. I just hope they come through with the new venues for 2015 and start the season early overseas. I am glad they changed their tune on that. Making it the start of the season and part of the championship is much more appealing.
My only question is about Graham Rahal. Him being my favorite driver, I was really excited to hear about the National Guard and engineer Bill Pappas. But when I read about the Sebring testing I thought I saw photos of the Midas livery. Is the National Guard sponsorship a done deal? I hope so; it would be a huge boost for RLLR.
RM: I’m hearing that an official announcement will be made early next month. Q: Have any of the existing or extinct vintage CART owners a.k.a. Penske, Ganassi, Andretti, Rahal, Foyt, Coyne, Forsythe, Haas, Green, McCaw, Shierson, Gurney, Walker, Patrick, Galles, Kraines, etc., (guess I have been around a long time) EVER, EVER expressed any remorse for what they threw away? I don’t know who was more idiotic. The greedy CART owners who sold their old equipment to the nascent IRL wannabe teams or Tony George for being as ill-informed and -equipped to take Indy car racing “Back to the Future.”
Am I correct in thinking that if the CART owners at the time had not sold their old chassis to the start-up IRL teams in the winter of ’95/’96, the IRL would never have gotten off the ground? If that is the case, the past and present former CART owners have to be absolutely sick and beside themselves. Talk about dropping the golden egg.
You really need to write a book on “The Split,” warts and all. I am sure it would be an amazing read. Of course you would probably be done in the business but if Indy car racing was what it would have been without The Split, it would be so popular your book would be a bestseller and you would have made millions. But then if The Split had never happened there never would have been a book to write! Talk about a chicken-and-egg situation.
All said tongue in cheek. Any insight would be much appreciated. Happy New Year and thank you for still having the “chops” to tell it like it is!
Marc Sandmann, Stevens Point, WI
RM: It’s funny, because sometimes the owners whine and complain about the state of Indy car racing and, of course, their shortsightedness and greed combined with TG’s missteps is exactly why IndyCar is suffering today. Obviously, if CART would have shown up at the first two IRL races, there would have been no IRL because 90 percent of them wouldn’t have qualified for Indy. A book? Naw, it’s too depressing a subject.
Q: As long as the Speedway is making wholesale changes to the month of May to accommodate/entice ABC’s expanded coverage, I think they should make one more change: Extend closing time to 7:00 p.m. on practice days. This will allow for live coverage during the 6:00 p.m. ESPN Sportscenter that can be used to promote qualifying or the race that is coming up on the weekend. It will also bring back the happy hour shadows that were lost with the switch to the EST time zone. Lastly, it might give a bit of a boost to attendance by making it easier to duck out of work a bit early and still be able to spend a meaningful amount of time at the track.
RM: It would be an excellent idea providing ESPN signed on to show practice, which I seriously doubt would happen. But going an extra hour might help attendance a little bit.
Q: Why isn’t IndyCar driving around to high schools and colleges around the county promoting their product? I would think that if they took an Indy car gave a presentation and had a young driver take a few laps around a parking lot, maybe people would actually know that IndyCar exists. Seriously who is promoting this? I pay attention and NEVER see anything about IndyCar outside of races or the rare NBCSN commercial. NASCAR, however, is everywhere. Why even bother televising the races if no one knows one single aspect of your sport other than, “Wasn’t he on Dancing with the Stars?'”… They better start dropping more money in marketing because whatever they are spending now would be better spent on Powerball tickets!??
Darwin, ??Medford OR
RM: I think the last time Indy car racing was taken to classrooms was back in the 70s and 80s with the Champion Spark Plug Safety Team (Indy 500 drivers going to schools) and it was well received. IndyCar needs to have a national commercial about its drivers running on sports events all winter like NASCAR to show off the personalities but it takes money and I don’t see it happening. Q: With the supply of the new, more complicated power units being used in F1 for the 2014 season being limited to five per season per team, will we start seeing more conservative driving or even retirements at the first sign of trouble next year, like what we saw with the Pirelli tires this year?
Victor Kuc, New Haven, CT
RM: I imagine if they grenade enough engines, a few teams might try and back off but, really, how can you tell considering the disparity??
Q: When Randy Bernard was canned last year I about gave up on IndyCar. But I took my 9-year old son to St. Pete, sat in the grandstands across from the Dan Wheldon sign and we had a great time. There was some pretty fabulous racing this past year. Baltimore looked more like a roller derby but, outside of that, fantastic racing! Loved the double-headers, Fontana was riveting, hate to see Dario retire and hope BadAss Wilson fully recovers. Glad to see SeaBass in a good ride, glad to see JPM back where he belongs and this next year looks promising across the boards.
First and foremost, I am a race fan. I will watch IndyCar or F1 over football any Sunday, with my preference for IndyCar over F1 increasing this past year. F1 is certainly a grand spectacle but IndyCar racing is MUCH better. On any Sunday, a dozen drivers have a chance to win, and even a few longshots have stood on the top step of the podium. Would love to see the famous tracks come back Road America, Watkins Glen and hopefully they’ll land a race in Texas at COTA; it looks like a fantastic facility. I love the cars, the noise, the drivers.
Note that the TV broadcasts don’t capture the ear-splitting scream of the engines at full song, they dull it down way too much. I wish they’d crank it up on the telecasts, or at least have the “crank it up” segments when the announcers shut up and let the engines wail. Don’t like the season ending by Labor Day, I think the racing is compelling enough to pull audiences into October/November. I honestly think that if they keep up this level of racing, it will catch on mainstream and surpass the tin-top series. It took a while after The Split to kill the interest so it takes a few years to bring it back. I hope all of the fans appreciate the current level of racing: it really is pretty spectacular, and the current crop of drivers is incredible. I hope the series continues for decades to come.
RM: This is the last letter of 2013 and an optimistic way to start 2014, so if Justin Wilson gets to run for Rahal/Letterman/Lanigan, Simona finally lands something decent, Servia is snatched up and Sage Karam gets a ride, it might be even better than last season.