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: We lost Indy car racing’s greatest promoter with Andy Granatelli’s passing. My favorite Granatelli memory was a weekday practice afternoon in the early ’70s when Andy had the pilot of his Lear Jet fly at 200 feet altitude down the length of the main straightaway buzzing the track to announce to Indy that Andy Granatelli was here! There was no doubt it was Andy as the Lear Jet had the world’s largest STP sticker on the underside of the wings and fuselage!
RM: Yeah, it’s a shame USAC wasn’t smart enough to embrace Andy instead of trying to run him off or Indy car racing would still be light years ahead of NASCAR today. Long before it was fashionable, he understood the power of public relations and promotion.
Q: It was a sad day for IndyCar, racers and fans around the world with the passing of a great promoter, innovator, owner and personable gentleman, Andy Granatelli. He was a passionate and kind man. I remember many a day at Langhorne and Trenton where Andy would visit with my dad and munch down a homemade sausage and pepper sandwich in the infield. He was very fan friendly and would always acknowledge the “people” of Indy car racing whether it be a fan or competitor.
Skip Ranfone, Summerfield, FL
RM: I remember standing outside Gasoline Alley in 1965 when Andy came through the little gate inside the Valvoline garage and began passing out STP stickers and some T-shirts. He spent 15 minutes talking to a group of us about how great it was to have Jim Hurtubise back in his Novi and then we dispersed and plastered STP decals on everything in our path.
Q: Thanks for your great tribute to Andy Granatelli. [Click here to read.] In my early days at Indianapolis, my dad and I especially enjoyed the distinctive sound of the Novi at full song. Last time I saw one was at the Petersen Musuem in Los Angeles but the turbine era is full of heartbreak and so much “what might have been.” Even at the 1968 July road course race at IRP, the turbine’s four-wheel drive system seemed to hurt as much as help. Joe Leonard in the #60 would fly down the backstretch then cut into the right-left-right turns on IRP’s south end. The turbine put so much torque into the #60’s right front that the tire would distort and Leonard would struggle. He lasted 27 of that 40-lap race and I think your friend, Art Pollard, passed on a turbine entry for this and drove one of the Vollstedt cars instead. But I will always wonder if we hadn’t lost Jimmy Clark in early 1968 how he might have done in the Lotus Turbine. Lest we forget, his replacement, Mike Spence, lost his life in the #30.
RM: The last time I had the honor of dining with Andy during May it was with Parnelli and Uncle Bobby in 2011 and he was reminiscing about ’68 and how formidable Clark and the new turbine would have been. Rufus pointed out that Granatelli had tried to talk him into driving the original “whooshmobile” again in 1968 until he saw the ’68 version and politely declined.
Q: Now that we’re officially into 2014 and the countdown begins in earnest to the first race of the IndyCar season, what are you predicting in terms of car counts? I know there are some seats still to be announced, and some teams are notorious for waiting until the last minute, but from what you’ve heard over the last few months, what seems to be reasonable? Also, any updates on the National Guard sponsorship tug-of-war between Panther and RLLR or the status of Dreyer & Reinbold????
Scott Cooper?, Bargersville, IN???
RM: Well, confirmed we’ve got Ganassi (4), Penske (3), Andretti (4), Foyt (1), Schmidt Peterson (2), KV (1), Rahal Letterman Lanigan (1), Carpenter (1), Sarah Fisher Hartman (1) and Herta (1). You can assume Dale Coyne for at least one and probably two cars and Panther likely for one. So that’s 22 full-timers, plus a good chance Rahal will add another after the National Guard announcement. Dennis Reinbold says he will have a car at Indianapolis. But I think the car count at Indy is going to need to work to get to 33.
Q: Now that the holidays are over, are we going to hear any news about the remaining seats in IndyCar getting filled? It seems that things have been very quiet.
Dave, Johnson City, NY
RM: Nothing new on Simona, Servia, J.R. Hildebrand, Sebastian Saavedra or James Jakes the likeliest candidates still out there looking. We assume Luca Filippi will drive for Bryan Herta and Steve Newey, and it would be nice to see J.R. secure funding for a second seat there.
Q: I thought this season was the best in recent memory. I’m excited about 2014 but the schedule is mildly disconcerting. Baltimore, Road America, and Cleveland would be more than welcome additions. One guy that I thought improved a lot this past season was James Jakes, especially that runner-up finish at Detroit. He used to be very crash-prone but this year (like at Detroit) he’s been finishing races and doing very well in them. Any word on Jakesy’s plans for next year?
Cameron Taylor, Cleveland, Ohio
RM: Jakes did a have a good season (four times he qualified inside the top six) and continued to show progress on ovals. I’ve heard everything from Panther to a second car at KV to going back to Rahal but nothing confirmed.
Q: In a private reply to a Mailbag letter I sent you early last year, you sorta felt like Simona didn’t have the stuff to deserve a first-tier ride. You seem to have changed your tune. Why is that? Overwhelming fan support? She show you something during the year that impressed you? Personally, I like her a lot. She showed tremendous [ovaries] to get back in a car on an oval. She seems to punch above her weight on road and street courses, given the equipment she’s had. I think her confidence is still a bit shaky on ovals. Getting hurt (set on fire!) a couple times will do that to you. That’s why I think it’s impressive that she gets in the car and gives it a go.
Chad R. Larson
RM: I can’t recall what I said to you but I can assure you I’ve ALWAYS been a big backer of the Swiss Miss and my reports (written and on SPEED and NBC) would bear that out. I believe I’ve stated that she wasn’t a big enough name in Chip’s eyes to get the Target seat so many fans wanted to see her in but I thought she’s always had the chops since winning her qualifying session at Edmonton in 2010 in the old s**tbox she was driving. I know I’ve lamented that she probably needs a change of scenery and management so her career doesn’t stall any more than it has and right now we’re all wondering what her future holds since she’s got nothing signed in IndyCar. It would be a big loss if she doesn’t stay in IndyCar because she’s the best female racer ever and a helluva racer of either gender on top of that. Sorry if I somehow gave the impression she didn’t have the right stuff, because she does.
Q: What you think of the move of Allen Bestwick to the ABC IndyCar broadcast?
James Balch, Minn.
RM: He’s knowledgeable, easy on the ears and has a national presence but I think he’s too identified with NASCAR. I would have preferred Vince Welch or Brian Till because they have passion for IndyCar and deserve a shot at play-by-play. If Dario is hired to be in the booth, Bestwick’s learning curve will be accelerated and let’s bring in Paul Tracy for May.
Q: You’re right on target with the response that the in-car cameras are paid for by sponsors, and that’s part of the reason why Ed Carpenter’s car never seems to get one. However, there are two other likely reasons, and it has to do with the very fact that Fuzzy’s is a vodka brand. While it’s legal to advertise vodkas and other spirits on TV and radio (as well as the Internet), the U.S. government has specific requirements for disclaimers that have to appear in those ads. It could well be that Fuzzy’s and the networks don’t want to trigger the need for those disclaimers in graphics when the Fuzzy’s logo appears as a sponsor (the rules don’t apply when they show the car in race coverage). In addition, the spirits industry’s code of responsible practices for advertising requires that ads only appear in programming where at least 71.6 percent of the audience is of legal drinking age. That’s why you see liquor ads primarily later at night on TV in the U.S.. Of course, those ads would likely cause problems with the international feeds for IndyCar races, too…but that’s just a minor reason. However, there’s no reason why Ed’s car couldn’t have one of the Firestone-branded in-car cameras and not promote Fuzzy’s…but that’s a decision for the networks and Firestone.
RM: Thanks Mark, I didn’t even consider your points but I’m positive you are spot on. Glad Fuzzy’s is on board with Ed but the hypocrisy of banning or limiting tobacco and liquor advertising/sponsorship in racing is maddening. Yeah, let’s prevent all those young fans from becoming addicted to alcohol and cigarettes because they were influenced by that Player’s or Marlboro car they saw at Mid-Ohio.
Q: As a longtime IndyCar/Indy 500 fan I must tell you that my concern for our sport continues to grow, daily. Mark Miles has been on the job for over a year and I have seen little positive progress for IndyCar and Speedway during that time. Mr. Miles might have switched some TV coverage around to get more races on ABC prior to the 500 but after that I am at a loss for true, hard, positive improvements. As we all know the 2014 schedule is shorter and has fewer races. There is no title sponsor replacing IZOD. No one cares about the possibility of an overseas schedule in 2015, we need strong races in U.S. cities NOW to lay the foundation for any future events: Let’s get the U.S. schedule right before we worry about China and South Africa, please!
Since the end of the season in October I have seen NO media coverage or positive news out of IMS or IndyCar (OK, they spent $5 million of the state’s money to pave part of the road course — yawn). Dario retired and TK got his ride (Ganassi events) and Tony Kanaan’s face was put on the Borg-Warner Trophy (Borg-Warner). Miles and C.J. O’Donnell, the new leader of Hulman Motorsports PR and Marketing are aiming to assemble or claim they have a “world class team PR and marketing team” and I can tell you so far the team has not done a very good job: IZOD is still listed as a title sponsor on their Twitter site and IndyCar Mobile site, the winners of the 2012 races at IMS are still on the banner for the IMS Twitter site. No one pays attention to details or knows how to produce news or a positive story. We couldn’t even watch Dario’s retirement press conference because the website crashed after 100 people logged on.
For the second year in a row PR and marketing HAVE done a good job NOT promoting their series champion. We have seen nothing about Scott Dixon since the end of the season and that crack PR staff got NOTHING out of American Ryan Hunter-Reay’s title in 2012. If the PR and marketing teams at IndyCar and IMS cannot handle the basics, unfortunately they won’t be able to handle much in the future to be truly “world class” like the NFL, NBA or even NASCAR. Gimmicks like #Indy500orBust and NASCAR mustache contests simply DO NOT put butts in the seats or attract viewers on TV. Looks like IndyCar and IMS need to invest in a PR #101 course before spending any more money on the road course.
Peter D., Chicago
RM: When you hear the IndyCar drivers openly complaining about their public relations, or lack thereof, that’s all you really need to know. There’s nobody with any PR savvy on either side of West 16th Street and the only one with any passion or knowledge (Steve Shunck) got fired because he was hired by Randy Bernard. Miles claims to understand the problems and says big changes are in order. For a series that’s idle for six months, proactive PR isn’t necessary it’s mandatory.
Q: Ford has a new twin turbo V6 EcoBoost engine it is running in the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship. My question is how close is that spec to the current IndyCar spec. Hint, hint…
Matt Converset, Decatur, IN
RM: The hope, ever since GM returned to IndyCar, was that Ford would follow and I know Randy Bernard had a few talks with FoMoCo but nothing has ever materialized. I don’t know how close the specs are but 2015 would seem like a perfect time for the blue oval to return to the Indy 500 with its own aero kit.
Q: How come the oldest oval in the world doesn’t get the preferred date right after Indy like it was for 50 years, the way the good Lord intended? If that fails, then the Indy date should have been during the state fair, which would guarantee increased walk-up people from all over the state and Illinois that would be there anyway. We also need many more ovals and a known network carrying 100 percent of the races. We’re an oval, not F1, country. Keep the pressure on them to have two-abreast restarts and only the cars in the lead lap in the first number of rows. This will increase the audience interest and maintain stiffest competition. Also, have the Milwaukee race start no later than 2:00 P.M. CST to allow out-of-towners to get home for work on Monday at a reasonable hour.
Walter G. Hanke
RM: Changing that traditional Milwaukee date was a result of the CART/IRL wars and the fact Texas demanded it run the week after Indy. Then Roger Penske made that same demand when he brought back Detroit. But you are preaching to the choir Milwaukee should be a week after Indy and should NEVER start later than 1 p.m..
Q: I’m getting ready to buy tickets for the Indy GP road course. I’m taking some newbies so I want to get good tickets. Where do you suggest?
Dan, Indy car fan since ’75
RM: I would just buy infield admission and get on the spectator mounds where you can see and walk around.
Q: I am an Indy Car fan since the late ’50s. The first check I ever wrote was to the Indy Speedway for “500” tickets. Your opinion: Who is/was the best racer of all time? Was Mario better in his day than Tazio Nuvolari was in his? I think those two have been the best of the best.
Fort Worth Dan
RM: Impossible to compare generations or people who I never saw race but, for my money, A.J., Mario, Parnelli and Dan Gurney are Mount Rushmore. What they accomplished can NEVER be duplicated.
Q: While I’ve been a fan of since my first race at Long Beach in the early ’90s and have watched all forms of racing since including open-wheel, sports cars, and stock cars. My question is with the advent of self-driving cars within the next 10 years, how long will racing remain relevant? Racing would not be the innovator of new technology, and if people are not driving will they be interested in watching others drive?
Damion, Tulsa, OK
RM: That’s a scary question. With all the driver aids some old-timers feel like we’re close to that scenario today but I worry that the new generations care less and less about car racing. The fascination I had watching Jim Hurtubise run a sprinter at Terre Haute has been replaced by video games and Xbox, so the future doesn’t seem promising. The relevance with the general public seems to decrease every year and it may take Rollerball to make anybody care some day.
Q: I see that your ol’ buddy Dave Despain just signed an agreement to host some motorsports programs on MAVTV. How long will it be before you’re joining him?
RM: Well I’ll see Dave at the Chili Bowl (it’s live on MAVTV next week) but he’s going to have his own interview show for MAVTV, which is great news. RACER.com has a YouTube Channel for me to work on that we are hoping to expand and I’m doing daily videos at the Chili Bowl starting next Thursday. I’d love to do a “Wind Tunnel II” show with Despain some day but not sure that will ever happen.
Q: Having recently read your answer about Jody Scheckter running an organic farm in England, it got me wondering which are the most unusual “other jobs” that you’ve known an Indy car racer to have, before, during or after their career?
Jeff Canto, Baltimore, MD
RM: Mauri Rose is my favorite. He worked at Allison’s in downtown Speedway, clocked out for a couple hours for lunch, he’d go to the track and practice for a couple hours and then clock back into work around 3 p.m. “How was lunch, Mauri?” “Not bad, had a ham sandwich and quick time.” Larry Dickson was a carpenter, Johnny Parsons worked for the railroad, Tom Sneva taught school and drove a bus to make ends meet and Bob Harkey sold cars. All while they were racing.
Q: Joe Leonard seems to be one of the forgotten men of Indy car, despite winning the championship twice. How good was he? He was part of the VPJ superteam, and seemed to be way more consistent than Mario and Al who are top quality drivers. Was he as good as them?
Alain Kelowski, Vancouver, BC, Canada
RM: Pelican Joe was a badass on two and four wheels who had a lot of smarts and savvy in an Indy car. “He always got the most out of what he had,” says Parnelli Jones. Not blinding fast but aggressive when needed to be and always good at Indianapolis, Ontario and Pocono. Don’t think he was as good as his teammates at VPJ but, besides Paul Goldsmith, John Surtees and Mike Hailwood, nobody adapted from bikes to cars any better. And Pelican is also one of the great guys.
Q: What’s the deal with Panther at the moment? Heard nothing about them all winter except for losing sponsors, staff, etc. Any chance they might join up with another one-car team? I know it’s been a while since they were running for championships but they always show well at Indy and I’d really like to see them realize their dream one day.
Steve Brock, Toledo, Ohio
RM: Not sure: John Barnes and I didn’t exchange Christmas cards but I’ve heard everything from Simona to James Jakes to Servia as drivers, and possibly partnering with KV Racing.
Q: It’s been a while since there’s been any proper concrete news from IndyCar aboutwell, ANYTHING. What’s happening in the front office? What’s happening with the new tech package that Marshall Pruett talked about recently? And doesn’t this very obvious slip out of the spotlight during this five-month break just highlight to Mark Miles and Co. that doing the same thing for SEVEN months at the end of the 2014 season is going to be a disaster, not just for the poor old mechanics who have to try and make a living, but also for the profile of the championship as a whole within the media and therefore within the public consciousness?
I despair of this bunch sometimes. Actually, a lot of times. They aren’t getting worse, but I don’t see them getting better either. And IMSA United SportsCar Championship whose calendar runs from late January to late October is going to benefit.
Keith Bradford, San Clemente, Calif.
RM: Another letter this week pointed out the shortcomings of IndyCar’s PR efforts and compounded with that is the total lack of news coming from the front office. Have a press conference, tell us what tracks are in play for 2015 and beyond, give us the possibilities of foreign races, explain how qualifying is going to work this May and turn Derrick Walker loose to discuss the safety and track updates. But all this silence is just plain bad for business.
Q: When USAC and then CART started to really get their feet wet with road racing and ultimately street racing, who were the old-school oval racers who really adapted to it well, and who weren’t embarrassed when the road racers from Europe and South America showed up? And assuming there were some, how come it wasn’t that way 15-20 years later? All the IRL drivers from its early years got absolutely blown away once the ex-CART and Champ Car drivers arrived.
Steve May, Corpus Christi, Texas
RM: Lloyd Ruby was a damn fine road racer and Gordon Johncock was always exciting because he’d charge into corners, spin, and storm back to the front. We kid Vuky at our lunches that he was one of the worst road racers ever (and he agrees) and Tom Sneva actually went from a disaster at road racing to half-decent (in 1984 he ran third at Long Beach and won at Caesar’s Palace in Vegas). I just think the old school racers drove anything and everything every weekend and during the week and were so much more on top of things than the IRLers. Sam Hornish was interesting in that he came from Atlantics, sucked when the IRL went road racing and then improved greatly with Roger Penske’s tutoring.