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: Count me in with the crowd that is increasingly concerned about IndyCar’s complete lack of PR effort right now. I get it that this is more or less “another” self-imposed “transition year.” But, for a championship calendar that will only be six months long, they need to be selling IndyCar like it’s going out of style, not just to the hardcore fans, but to those that don’t even know IndyCar exists! No wonder so many potential investors see the increasingly huge financial risk in sponsoring IndyCar!
Take a look at Formula E. This is a series that has yet to have its inaugural race and just did its initial shakedown runs with the new car, yet their PR team is constantly sending out press releases, conducting public demonstrations and posting tons of great information through social media outlets! As a result, new teams have been formed and are being formed, new and established motorsport sponsors are getting heavily involved and, most importantly, fan bases are being built! I know more about the Formula E concept, to include the technical details of the car, than I do about IndyCar today, and I have been following the series since I was in junior high school back in the early ’90s!
Even the refaced IMSA is doing tons more! Where is IndyCar today? What’s going on? Who’s doing what? How are the teams looking for this season? When’s the next public event that we can go scope out? I’m not even hearing crickets chirp from them! IndyCar, ask yourself this: What would Andy Granatelli do? Come on, IndyCar, HELP US HELP YOU!Promising you four good ones at the next Nurburgring track day.
Brian L., Nuremberg, Germany
RM: IndyCar’s and IMS’ idea of off-season promotions is having a local event (like today at IMS with the four active Indy winners) and sending out a press release that Indy 500 tickets are available. It’s the “Only Inside Interstate 465” strategy and it sums up the lack of imagination and creativity that currently exists. The last two champions (Ryan Hunter-Reay and Scott Dixon) received virtually no national exposure during the winter months and all the drivers are in town this week so there should have been some kind of FanFest. NASCAR has its three-day open house in Charlotte and that’s exactly what IndyCar needs (along with chartering jet and giving the national media a good-guy rate so they can come cover it). I’ll give Michael Andretti’s people credit: they staged an unveiling of their 2014 lineup this week with all their drivers and cars and created some news. IndyCar needs a national television commercial with its drivers like NASCAR has and some kind of media tour to at least the cities that host races.
Q: Shouldn’t IndyCar quit trying to finesse it and just take it to the competition? Our racing and cars are better than anyone else’s, and we need to act like we believe it. First, broadcast a 30-minute, action-packed highlight show of the IndyCar series races to date right after each F1 race and during F1 weather delays. Surely, some of F1’s nearly 10 million U.S. viewers will tune in. Second, broadcast reruns of the latest IndyCar race directly against select NASCAR races. I bet we’d pique the curiosity of some channel-surfing NASCAR viewers. IndyCar needs to be around when proven racing fans are watching TV.
Chris Dixon, Arden, NC
RM: I like the 30-minute show idea but it needs to be on ESPN and other outlets as well as NBCSN. As for going head-to-head with NASCAR, that’s never a good idea but in two Sundays when there’s nothing but basketball (and the Pro Bowl) on the air, that’s a good time to wrap up 2013 and preview 2014 with a time-buy on NBC or ABC.
Q: As an IndyCar fan, it is hard to read about all of the movement and interest in Formula E and sports cars, but little interest or new blood in IndyCar.What is the appeal of Formula E? Why can’t seasoned IndyCar drivers get signed and get acclimated with a team before the last minute? What piece of the puzzle is holding everything from falling in place, driver wise? IndyCar has to hit the Push to Pass button on itself to drum up excitement and energy. And next off-season will be longer!
Mike, Avon, Ind.
RM: I guess the Formula E appeal is Leonardo DiCaprio and Sir Richard Branson being involved and the green movement in general. The nature of the beast in IndyCar is last-minute deals because of sponsorship uncertainty. I think Bryan Herta would have already hired J.R. Hildebrand, and Conor Daly would have A.J. Foyt’s second seat and Oriol Servia would be back at KV Racing if the money was there but it’s not. Those would be three good February stories – just what IndyCar needs. But it also needs a weekly television show year round.
Q: I have seen many an e-mail in your last Mailbag concerning IndyCar PR. They are dead on. Have you seen the recent Chevy commercial? It shows a bit of IndyCar but also shows a Target car. I know they want to push the association that 2014 brings but the car shown most likely has a Honda in it. Also, shouldn’t they have used TK flying down the straight at the Brickyard this year or even better the scene at the checkered flag with TK, Munoz and RHR going under the flag stand?
Does IndyCar have any influence with footage being used? I know my kid offered his services to Mark Miles to bring the “common fan’s” perspective to IndyCar marketing. Maybe, he should use our insight! You can’t sell a product that no one can identify with!
Skip Ranfone, Summerfield, FL
RM: IndyCar can certainly provide footage for commercials but I doubt if General Motors ever asks for an outside opinion. What IndyCar needs is a Chevy commercial with Tony Kanaan and Juan Montoya arguing about whose Indy 500 win was tougher. We need their faces and personalities displayed – not so much race footage, although that’s certainly better than showing a truck.
Q: Let’s start a grassroots campaign to get Dario Franchitti in the TV booth. What do we have to do to get Dario in at NBC or ABC? Who should we e-mail? Give us the addresses. He’d be way better than any color commentator we’ve had in the last 10 years. He has driven at a higher level than any of the color commentators in the last 20 years and he has a personality. Plus his Scottish brogue will be reminiscent to us old timers. Goodyear and Cheever sound like arrogant dueling funeral directors. If Townsend Bell knows so much he would have won more than an Indy Lights championship in a season with very limited competition. Wally Dallenbach Jr. only drove 10 open wheel races in his career! Rusty Wallace was better than all of them and he was walking on eggshells dodging Goodyear’s ego. We need Dario in the booth. Someone who knows how to win and can communicate what modern day IndyCar racing is like. What do we have to do Robin to get this done?
RM: I agree, he’d be a great addition, but you are assuming Dario wants to do television full-time. I had dinner with him last week and he admitted he’s talked to ABC but isn’t sure what his role with Ganassi will be yet and I’m not sure he wants to spend a lot of time in production meetings. My suggestion was just do the month of May for ABC and see if he likes it. As for my compatriots at NBC, I think Townsend, Wally and Leigh Diffey have good chemistry and do a damn fine job of calling the races and staying on top of things. I imagine we’ll lose Wally to NASCAR in 2015 but ABC needs the new look. As I’ve said before, Cheever did an excellent job when he did F1 on ESPN but he doesn’t sound engaged anymore. I like Scott Goodyear and he’s always interesting to talk to off the air so I don’t know why it doesn’t translate. Rusty wasn’t sure which race he was calling (Daytona or Indy), so no thanks. But no need for a campaign for Dario, he’s probably going to get to make that call himself.
Q: As disappointed as I am that Allen Bestwick will no longer be covering NASCAR races once ESPN’s contract is up, he’s a great addition to the IndyCar coverage. Many of ABC’s problems with covering the series stem from the lack of a good lead man (although there are other problems,) and Bestwick far outclasses Marty Reid. TNT’s decision years ago to replace him with Bill Weber made no sense, and it took far too long for him to get back into the booth with ESPN.
A few weeks ago, I heard him covering a college football game for ESPN, and he did a great job on that as well. Bestwick understands the value of silence as much as talking, and seems to focus on keeping events in the race in perspective (not everything that happens is worthy of yelling excitement,) in addition to limiting mistakes and other annoyances (Reid’s biggest downfall.) The only negative is that Bestwick will be stuck on the few races ABC gets. While I like NBCSN’s crew, I think Bestwick is the best of the motorsports announcing group. Thoughts on Bestwick, how this might affect coverage, etc.?
RM: Like I said last week, he’s prepared, easy on the ears and has a national presence but my only concern was that he’s a NASCAR announcer. But maybe that could help draw some new fans from tin-top land. I don’t know Bestwick but he’s an old radio guy and I was always impressed listening to him call a race because he never lost sight of the big picture and never got lost, like ABC’s last two play-by-players. I wanted Vince Welch or Brian Till but Bestwick is an upgrade from recent history – no question.
Q: Any chance that Simona De Silvestro might get a shot at a second seat at Rahal? IndyCar really needs a driver of her talent (and marketability) to be in the series. I know I’m not alone wanting to see what she could do in a competitive car. Seems to me Rahal took a chance on a different female driver a few years ago…Graham & Simona would be a great team.
Wally, Eden Prairie, MN
RM: I imagine it’s possible but not if Justin Wilson can be obtained as Graham’s teammate. Simona’s manager told me last week he’s working on some things but not far enough along yet to divulge so we’ll keep our fingers crossed she can find a decent seat.
Q: Last year I took a bunch of my friends (all in our 20s) out to Barber Motorsports Park. They were pretty excited for the start of the race and the first few laps delivered, but after the first caution the excitement waned. It took maybe 10 or 15 minutes before they tuned out and started playing games on their phones, and they never really got back into it. This year, I’m having difficulty getting them to come back out.
I think a big reason they tuned out of the race was the monotony of cars running mostly single-file lap after lap with no break. I was praying for a caution, since that was probably the only thing that would get them excited again. I started thinking – instead of hoping for caution periods to enhance the excitement, why not just break up the race into more digestible chunks? Start off with a couple qualifying heats each about 15 minutes, the split the main race into a 30-minute chunk, another 30-minute chunk, them a final 15-minute shootout. Under that format, my friends would have stayed way more excited throughout the race.
I don’t feel chunking the race like that is a “gimmick”; it’s fair to all teams and the drivers will still race just as hard (maybe harder since tire/fuel saving would be less of an issue). It’s what all the stick-and-ball sports do already, and it works. It would really cut the monotony that a lot of young casual fans feel when they watch a race – you have to realize that unless they’re a hardcore fan, they’re gonna get bored after five or 10 minutes. It would be a huge boost to TV excitement, too. Yeah, there are still plenty of exciting races without needing any breaks, but can IndyCar really afford to have a boring race? Just one semi-uneventful race was enough to turn off my friends. Think something like this could ever happen in IndyCar?
Andrew from Atlanta
RM: First off, thanks for getting your pals to an IndyCar race, it needs all the young fans it can get. What’s interesting about your letter is that the past two Barber races have both been pretty damn watchable, compared to the first couple on a track that was built for motorcycles. But I know what you’re saying because if you’re not sitting in the couple corners when passing is prominent, it gets pretty boring. USAC tried twin 125-milers and 150-milers at road courses and ovals back in the ‘60s and ‘70s and they were entertaining. If I’m a promoter, I love the idea of two races in one afternoon because I think it helps to hold the interest of the casual or newbie. Two starts, fast guys who crashed or broke coming from the back in the second heat and a quicker pace for the paying customers. It’s certainly something I’d consider if I were IndyCar in this instant gratification society.
Q: I just noticed that the NASCAR Truck Series is returning to Gateway this year, joining USAC Silver Crown in June. I know people have written in about IndyCar returning in the past, but I always assumed the track was too run down for this. However, this can’t be the case if NASCAR is going back. Have you heard anything on if IndyCar has even discussed this as an option? It is definitely a unique track that would fit in nicely with the diversity of the schedule.
RM: I ran into Gateway’s Chris Blair at the PRI show recently and he said the track has undergone a nice renovation and would love to bring back Indy cars some day. It was always a good show but the crowds diminished from CART to IRL days, just like at Phoenix, Milwaukee and Michigan. Not sure there’s been any contact with IndyCar but I’ll ask Mark Miles.
Q: I’m wondering why IndyCar doesn’t race at Daytona Speedway. I know they used to do open-wheel racing in the ’80s. I’m sure the banking is too steep for the oval track, but they did testing on the road course in 2006 and 2007. I heard the testing went well and was successful.
RM: They raced on the oval in 1959 and Marshall Teague and George Amick lost their lives in separate accidents. Yes, the banking is way too crazy for an Indy car but the road course doesn’t draw anybody for the Rolex 24 and it would be a loser for IndyCar. No road courses inside ovals ever succeed in getting a crowd because the oval is the attraction.
Q: I understand USAC midgets and sprints aren’t a support series for IndyCar anymore but it was great to see them at Milwaukee along with the Indy cars a few years ago. Is cutting back to two days the reason they are no longer on the schedule? If so, any chance to go to three days and bring them back? When they came out of Turn 4 and hit the throttle, it took me back to the chest-thumping days of Indy cars with Offys.
Marc Trevisan, Milwaukee Mile fan
RM: No, USAC ran at Iowa as part of a two-day show so that wouldn’t be the reason. I think it was actually the USAC dirt cars that ran the last time (it was the first time I saw Kyle Larson) at Milwaukee but they always ran those races so late in the day it was impossible to get a crowd. Love to see them run prior to qualifying or the race – depending on when/and if the Indy Lights are scheduled. But I don’t think there’s going to be any more three-day ovals. Not necessary and too expensive.
Q: Being a member of HARF [Hoosier Auto Racing Fans] Club, I have been lucky to tour Ganassi, Andretti and Sarah Fisher shops.They are all class operations. My question is, what do these shops do in the off-season? Shut down and lay everyone off?
Don Bartlett, Indy
RM: Some IndyCar teams have laid off a big chunk of mechanics but not the ones you mentioned. They’re tinkering with the cars for 2014 (slowly).
Q: Why would and did the Hulman family give up control of its Board? This makes no sense at all to me but then again, I don’t have an MBA. Couldn’t the Board sell the Speedway right from under them or do they have control and I don’t know it?
I will visit my sister in Las Vegas the first of week of March while the WoO sprints are in town for two nights. I don’t care for wings but when you live where I do, you don’t see anything, period. Should I go one, two or zero nights?
Donald McElvain, Polson, Montana
RM: Great question but I have no answer. Tony George thought some outside businessmen should be added to the board and the family agreed. But now they no longer control the vote like they always did. We’ve always heard that IMS couldn’t be sold unless Mari gave the OK but I’m not sure that’s true. Only a couple of people know the by-laws and I suppose it’s possible the board of Hulman & Company (not IMS) could pull the trigger, but not sure.
Hell yes go see a WoO show and prepare to be dazzled when you see the speed they carry into the corners. Not as good as a USAC show for my money but still entertaining.
Q: My brother and I have bought tickets for the 500 next May. It’s the first time for both of us. We’ll be there the day and night before. Is there anything that first timers must do or see while we’re there?
RM: See the museum, take a lap around the track in a tour bus, go to the memorabilia show and go to Anderson to watch the Little 500 because I’m told there’s no longer Night Before the 500 midget race at IRP.
Q: It looks like Formula E is getting some great press as of late, to that end I think Indycar and the 500 need to immediately embrace the idea of Formula E racing or they’ll miss out on a perfect opportunity to not only gain new fans, but on a chance to ride the sport into what surely is its cutting-edge future – much like the rear engine revolution was and the turbine could have been. Your thoughts?
Jake James, Studio City, Calif.
RM: I think Derrick Walker and Will Phillips are looking into Formula E because, obviously, there are some major companies interested in it and IndyCar needs to be looking down the road, although I’m not sure how an electric car will appeal to an open-wheel fan.
Q: I remember a few years ago IndyCar would stream all their races on IndyCar.com. This included qualifying and I think maybe even practice. They also streamed the Indy Lights races. What happened to that service? Now they only show live timing information. Young people these days get most of their entertainment online and not on TV. If IndyCar wants to attract new fans, they should really bring this feature back. If the cost is an issue, I’m sure people would be willing to subscribe at a reasonable fee. Any idea if IndyCar is planning to bring back online streaming?
RM: This is from Robby Greene, the president and CEO of IMS Productions: “NBC streams all of their broadcasts to my knowledge, qualifying and races, while ABC is planning or currently streams on ESPN3 their broadcasts. We are working to include on the IndyCar site but the product is available. Lights…working on it!”
Q: OK, I just won $200 million in Powerball (hypothetically speaking). And, being a life-long Indy car fan, I am stupid enough to say what the hell, I want to start my own team. Tell me who I should go get! Engineers, management, drivers, equipment, everything. Who is the best of the best out there right now and I have the money to get them. Who would you go get to start Miller Racing?
Damon, Fort Myers, FL
RM: I’d get Morris Nunn, Bill Pappas and one of the Bretzman brothers as engineers, Mitch Davis to run the team and Kyle Larson, Simon Pagenaud and Conor Daly as my drivers with Matt Brabham as my test driver.
Q: Funny, I was reading some stuff recently about Art Pollard and Joe Leonard, and suddenly there’s a question about the latter in your January 8 Mailbag. It struck me that of course you’re the perfect guy to ask: where did Joe Leonard’s nickname “Pelican” come from? And am I right in thinking that George Follmer is one of the greatest yet most overlooked all-rounders of all time? What’s your take on him?
RM: “Pelican Joe” came from A.J. Foyt who said Leonard was like a “!@#$%*&; pelican. He lays back and then dives in and takes over.” Dan Gurney called him “Jose” Leonard and most people called him a “badass” since he was a champion on two and four wheels. Follmer was damn good (won an Indy car race at Phoenix in a Gilbert chassis with a normally aspirated Chevy) in several disciplines and rated highly by none other than Parnelli Jones.
Q: Just read the announcement of Richard Buck’s new position. I found it interesting that while NASCAR acknowledged his open-wheel past, they didn’t mention what team(s) or driver(s) he’d worked with. Pretty petty (excuse the pun) if you ask me. He worked for The Captain, didn’t he?
RM: Yep, started with Tony Bettenhausen and moved on to Team Penske.
Q: Not a question but thought you might enjoy seeing this from “Forza Motorsport 5”, the racing game on the new Xbox One that IndyCar partnered with. While only four cars from 2013 are officially in the game (Power, Dixon, Rahal, RHR), the game has a livery editor, and some guys spend more time making liveries than actually racing. This guy has made a collection of Indy 500 liveries on the DW12 – they’re all free for users of the game to download and use.
My personal request to him was the 1982 Gordon Johncock livery, although Little Al’s 1992 livery is the one I’m using now as it’s burned into my brain as one of the great iconic liveries. He takes requests, so if you have any, I can pass them on! Bonus liveries – here’s a bunch more others have posted; mainly on the DW12 and Lotus E21 cars: http://www.reddit.com/r/ForzaRacingLiveries/
Peter E., Fishers, IN
RM: Thanks, we’re constantly getting inquiries about video games for IndyCar and I appreciate the information.
Q: Longtime reader of your mailbag articles! I figured I would send this link your way; this video has been getting a lot of love from the iRacing community, and from IndyCar fans in general. A friend of mine, who commentates internet-broadcasted sim races for the iRacing community via GlacierTV, wrote and recorded a monologue about what was (at the time) an upcoming racing event (it was this past Sunday). He commissioned me to do a video for it, and I gladly accepted!The result of our collaboration can be found here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l-kp2k9VFtE
I did this for fun, and as a newer IndyCar fan, it was really cool to look at the history of the Indy 500 race. Learned quite a bit just doing this video.I wanted to see what your opinion was on it, and if you were so inclined, to maybe share it with the Racer.com community. I just watched it again last night, and I’m still blown away by how it turned out. By far the most work I’ve ever put into a video.
RM: It’s pretty damn entertaining and I know that Todd & Cary Bettenhausen (my link to iRacing along with David Phillips) are gung-ho about this popular and growing form of affordable “racing.”