Robin Miller's Mailbag for January 22

Robin Miller's Mailbag for January 22

IndyCar

Robin Miller's Mailbag for January 22

By

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 watched the Chili Bowl for the first time; I wish more USAC-type racing was shown on TV. It’s good stuff! Bryan Clauson put on a great performance; no one could touch him. He needs a second chance at Indy.

Two or three weeks ago, someone asked you if a book about The Split would ever be written. It NEEDS to be written. I’m sure Ed Hinton and Gordon Kirby would be glad to contribute (along with Chris Economaki’s archives). Those involved in leading IndyCar racing as a business need to be aware of the mistakes and terrible judgment of the past. Those who do not learn from history are condemned to repeat it. Has Mark Miles been as friendly and accessible as Randy Bernard? RB wasn’t perfect but he was a breath of fresh air as a CEO who was open-minded to what LOYAL IndyCar fans want, and recognized that USAC drivers need to have an opportunity to get to the Indy 500. Mark needs to find that good balance of pleasing the CART/Champ Car fans and the USAC/oval track fans. And the car owners (Ha ha).

Mailbag readers might complain about NASCAR broadcaster Allen Bestwick getting the ABC gig, but in this day and age, good lap-by-lap announcers for auto racing are scarce. AB is one of the few good ones that was also available. His ESPN colleague Nicole Briscoe should be a great resource for him until March. The Indy 500 will have a tolerable lead announcer for the first time in 10 years! Every time the subject of TV announcers comes up you give props to Vince Welch; though I don’t care for Adam Alexander either, I realize you worked with him at SPEED and probably built up good rapport with him, but what’s with Welch? I think he’s just as bland and gaffe-prone as Marty. He’s also part of the IRL brigade in the media. In my view he’s simply un-engaging.
IndySteve in Springfield, OR

RM: MAVTV did a good job of telecasting the Chili Bowl and it was good to see Dave Despain back on the air. Clauson is a 1960s racer stuck in this era, so you’ll have to watch him in USAC unless somebody steps up and buys him an Indy ride. I’ve found Mark Miles to be engaging and honest but not as blatantly forthcoming as Randy was to the media and fans. As for Vince, he’s a good pit reporter whose knowledge of Indy cars would be an asset and the play-by-play man doesn’t need to do anything but direct traffic and stay on top of the race. Alexander does a nice job in his NASCAR work for TNT and lets his analysts have at it. He and Brian Till both have a lot more passion for IndyCar than Bestwick, obviously.  

 

Q: Is it normal that there is so much change in lineups, and things carrying on fairly late?  I would have thought teams would push for continuity – or is this simply the economically driven reality?
Kent Smith

RM: It is driven by sponsors but I have to say that the lineup is pretty well set and there aren’t as many as usual at this time. It looks like Justin Wilson is leg-chained to Dale Coyne for 2014 and Oriol Servia and J.R. Hildebrand are still searching – as is Conor Daly.

 

Q: I agree with you that Alan Bestwick is easy on the ears and probably a good choice for a new IndyCar announcer, but I think we could have stuck with some “home cooking”: Brian Till and Townsend Bell as a team. Didn’t they cover Baltimore together two years ago? I’ve watched IndyCar races for many, many years, and I honestly think Brian Till’s short stint (like two races??) was a BEACON of bright light and probably the best we’ve had, including Vince Welch. I was blown away by his easy delivery and knowledge of the sport. No offense to Leigh Diffey and the others, but Till is the man, and we missed that one.

As for the marketing efforts by IndyCar in the offseason, my garage has more IndyCar marketing material on display than the series does right now, so I’ll keep my doors open as much as possible (donating some much-needed ad time) for the neighbors and passers-by. Too bad that in only four years, the previous two IndyCar logos (red/white/blue and IZOD) are now obsolete.
Randy Mizelle

RM: I was very impressed with the job Brian did filling in for Bob Jenkins in 2012 and I was hoping ABC would plug him in for Marty Reid. As for marketing and PR in IndyCar and IMS, let’s give C.J. O’Donnell and Jay Frye a fighting chance to make a difference, hire some competent people and maybe find a title sponsor.  

 

Q: Am I the only one who thinks that it is possible that IndyCar’s best answer (once NASCAR takes up residence at NBCSN) would be to put the ENTIRE schedule on ABC/ESPN? Here’s why: With NASCAR and F1 both housed on NBCSN, it seems likely to me that IndyCar would be, in all likelihood, parceled out to CNBC, or MSNBC, or some other “lesser” property of NBC. The plans to add in some Nationwide Series races only further exacerbates this issue. Also, at the “House of Mouse,” there would seem to be a huge hole in their programming with the loss of all the NASCAR “product.” Even getting bumped to ESPN-U or ESPN2 would appear to me to be a better option network-wise than the NBC options. Perhaps some negotiations might be in order…?
Skip Free, Myrtle Beach, SC

RM: Of course that would be ideal but ABC/ESPN celebrated getting out of their NASCAR obligations, so do you really think they want to suddenly add the entire IndyCar schedule? I don’t think so and the best scenario probably would be 4-5 races on ABC, 4-5 on ESPN, 4-5 on NBC and 4-5 on NBCSN.


Q: Where is IndyCar on standing starts for 2014? I am hoping the road courses, and especially Long Beach will use the standing start and eliminate half the field still working around the final hairpin as the green flag flies. Also, what is the pre-season testing schedule for IndyCar this winter? I have been lucky enough to attend the tests at Sonoma Raceway the last few years and would love to get out and see the cars before the season kicks off.
Mario, Moss Beach, Calif.

RM: I imagine the standing starts will be used at the double-headers on Saturdays although nothing has been officially announced. The big open test for pre-season is March 17-18 at Barber Motorsports Park outside Birmingham, Ala. 

 

Q: I was gonna write to you about how the casual and non-existent fans probably do not care about V6 engines and how F1 is making the same mistake and that IndyCar should limit the horsepower to 900 and anyone can bring what they want as long as it hits that mark. Then I came to my senses and realized that IndyCar has not a leg to stand on and are probably pretty happy that Honda and Chevy are willing to lose some cash in order to win some races in ICS. So now I’ll revise my letter and say here is hoping that the horsepower levels will rise to near ridiculous levels by 2015 and that Miles and company have a plan to spend some money (a lot of money) on promotion. Certainly would be easier to promote IndyCar as having the best drivers and most exciting races in the world if they have the most horsepower out of any other series right?
Jake Murray

RM: I think the plan is to gradually improve horsepower and maybe go after the IMS track record in 2015 or 2016. Doubt if it ever gets to 900 again but 800-850 would be cool, at least for road courses. But, as it stands now, IndyCar is already a hell of a  lot better show than F1 or NASCAR so not sure horsepower is going to galvanize the masses.

 

Q: I was just about to head to Sebring for the GM test of IndyCar and something made me call the track to make sure it was open only to find out it was closed to the public. For a race series that is begging for fans, this is very poor PR. If I didn’t know better, I would have bet they hired Bernie from F1. Are there really any secrets?

Irate IndyCar Fan

RM: No secrets that a fan is going to pick up on or even want to, and I agree with you – fans should always be welcome at tests. I believe the open test at Barber in Alabama on March 17-18 is open to the public.

 

Q: I was on the IndyCar website this morning and I was looking info for the race in St. Pete.  It is showing a starting time of 4 p.m.. Are you kidding me? Hasn’t this been an ongoing discussion of what not to do? I’m hoping there is a lot of activity during the day because that makes for a long afternoon.

I’m a little lucky as I work for ABC Supply, so I get some perks including hospitality, but for the average fan? Come on, man. I live in Ocala, which is two hours away. Most of my customers who get race tickets also live two hours away, and I’m concerned with the late start time that they will take the tickets but not show up. Not only them, but also what about fans who do live two or three hours away from St. Pete?

I’m a diehard so that means I will get up around 5 or 5:30 a.m. to leave by 6 so that I can be at the track by 8. The race starts at 4 p.m. and it takes about two hours or so. That means by the time I get back to my car it will be after 6. Another two-hour drive home puts me there after 8. Robin, what’s wrong with this picture?
Mr. Kristian Branch

RM: I have preached for years that the paying customers need to be patronized but even more important is that a 1 p.m. starting time gives you a chance to draw more people. Tape delay the race like CART used to do in the ‘80s and ‘90s but start it at a reasonable time. Nobody from Chicago is going to go to a Milwaukee race that starts at 4 p.m. on Sunday. And, yes, starting that late at St. Pete for the sake of television will discourage traveling.


Q: I figured out today why IndyCar does not have a marketing department…they have YOU and Michael Andretti! [Click here for Robin’s video interview with Michael] Between the two of you, we get more info about IndyCar than we get from 16th Street. Michael just needs to get DHL to do a commercial with Marco being the “Snapple Lady” answering questions….”Dear Snapple, what is the newest flavor that you have? Well, that is the new Andretti Grape Snapple, that tastes great at 230mph at Indy through my drink tube.”‬
John in AZ

RM: I give Andretti Autosport (and PR lady Ryann Rigsby) big props for again breaking up the long off-season with a press outing for all its drivers and I’d love to see IndyCar stage a big open house next winter at different shops for the fans (an idea from PR vet Kathi Lauterbach many years ago that was never acted on). But, as I said in an earlier response, give the new guy a chance to get the right people hired in PR because next year is going to be an even longer off-season. ‬‬

 

Q: The marketing at IMS, with their inside I-465 concepts, makes me sick! I am asking for help from you to promote the Sportscar Vintage Racing Association for the inaugural event at Indy in June! I see nothing on IMS website. SVRA claims they are going to allow inside-the-track camping for the first time in the history of the track. If IndyCar was smart and could make it happen they would be promoting the hell out of the series on MAVTV. I have seen more promotion for the Chili Bowl this year than any IndyCar race or event.
Vinnie

RM: I believe IMS plans to make the official announcement about the vintage car race next week and it sounds like a lot of people will be participating. I also think IndyCar will be looking at MAVTV for some possible programming and advertising down the road.

 

Q: I have an idea that would help generate interest in IndyCar: Take a truck with a crew and a car and go to high schools all over the country. The target areas would be where there are no races. This would not only help with overall PR but would target the young fans of the future. I would think that a burnout or two would get their attention. I don’t know what the cost would be but I think it would be cost effective. Then obviously you take the moment to answer questions and inform them of the up and coming races, what channel and time they are going to be on etc. What do you think?
Lee Lewis, Galion, Ohio

 

RM: I like the idea of a traveling caravan (like the Cincinnati Reds used to do) with IndyCar drivers going to schools and maybe showing videos and giving a quick talk. Taking a car along would be cool as well because that might hook some young fans.

 

Q: Will this credit mess at Target affect funding for IndyCar teams? I agree with you IndyCar needs to promote the series. Take show cars to malls in small towns around the venues let people see and touch the cars. It is sad when you see a NASCAR product being promoted during an IndyCar race.
Terry Vantine, Elkhart, Indiana

RM: I haven’t heard any problems regarding the racing programs sponsored by Target but I did hear that some of the technical data from Ganassi’s stock car team was hacked and then returned because nobody wanted to buy it.

 

Q: We are having a debate at work about who was the first driver to do donuts/burnouts after a race win. I say it was Alex Zanardi and he says it started before that. As we are both longtime fans of your work, and respect your knowledge and passion for racing we agreed that we would allow your answer to stand as the real answer proving which of us is right.
Josh Wagar

RM: I hope you bet him a lot of money because Zanardi was the first ‬guy I ever saw perform a victory donut and I’ve been covering racing for 45 years. I just can’t remember if it was Portland in 1996 or Cleveland in 1997. Of course NASCAR does take credit for air, fuel, pit stops, SAFER walls, dirt racing, the first 200mph lap and anything that’s been successful in the past 100 years.


Q: I got to thinking about different ways to engage the fans. One area that has always struck me as missing the mark a bit is the use of celebrities, CEOs, and politicians to wave the green flag, drive the pace car, or sing the national anthem. Most of them seem pretty indifferent to being there, yet there are tons of us ordinary folks who would love to do something like that. So here’s an idea: Have a social media contest where fans can submit their video/audio of them or somebody they know singing the National Anthem. It gets submitted for a fan vote, and the winner gets a weekend trip for their family to a race.

The flights, hotels, tickets, and some other “back stage” fun will probably set IndyCar back no more than they would for paying a celebrity, and it will make for an experience folks will never forget. Alternatively, let local choirs compete. Maybe we’ll actually get some renditions of the National Anthem that aren’t an embarrassment to America. I’ve heard some really good renditions at local dirt tracks and at the start of other events. There are talented folks out there.

A similar contest could be used to pick someone to give the command to start engines. Let veterans or active duty service members wave the green flag. The Honda two-seater contest seems popular, so why not put an average Joe in the passenger seat for the Chevy pace car, while we’re at it? Maybe people know somebody in their community or family that does a lot for others, etc. Let people submit nominations, and maybe even do a little two-minute human interest piece on them during the pre-race show or something. There are some good folks out there that deserve a little “Thank You.” Why not reward people with something they’ll never forget and make them feel a little special?
Travis R, Noblesville, IN

RM: I hear what you are saying and you offer some good ideas because I’m not sure that Jack Nicholson waving the green flag or Steven Tyler singing the National Anthem or Robin Roberts driving the pace car really helped bring more eyeballs to the Indy 500. It might have had Nicholson gone on talk shows and promoted it. At least Roberts gave Indy a decent promotion leading up to her appearance there. I know Randy Bernard looked into bringing the Navy Seals who bagged Bin Laden but it didn’t work out.

 

So I’d agree with you: unless you’re going to get someone who truly moves the needle in the public consciousness, you’re better off moving the needle by engaging the fans themselves. It keeps them paying attention and checking the IndyCar website between races, whether they’re competing or judging others for who’s best to sing the National Anthem or give the start command. Honda have set a good example with the two-seater pace-lap ride. Some good food for thought.

 

Q: With the painfully slow off-season, I took to my computer and put together some entertaining videos. The first one is my rendering of what a commercial would look like for an ESPN 30 for 30 movie on Tony Kanaan, if they ever made it. The second one is a video I made about the moments of the 500, both sights and sounds. I’ve already got 2 more 30 for 30 videos done, and I’ll post them on my YouTube page soon. Here are the links for the videos, I hope you enjoy them. Tony Kanaan 30 for 30: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8yX9Pc3Kftg
Indianapolis 500: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SBwXWypw8XY
Chad Smith

RM: Good work Chad, thanks for sharing.


Q: Loved the Chili Bowl on MAVTV. What is the top speed of those little suckers on the straights? Did the old timers, A.J., Mario, the Unsers, et al prefer sprints over midgets or just what was on the next calendar date?
Donald McElvain, Polson, Montana

 

RM: At a tiny place like the Chili Bowl no more than 80-90mph tops but, geared right, a Badger midget driven by Johnny Parsons at the old Trenton Speedway averaged almost 125mph. I think A.J. and Mario loved both equally although Super Tex drove them a lot more and lot longer.

 

Q: After spending some time at the Chili Bowl, what were some of your takeaways concerning the drivers and the venue in general?
Gerry Courtney, San Francisco, CA

RM: It’s always a great way to start the racing season and I wish Emmit Hahn would come back to the Midwest and prepare dirt tracks. My impression is that Bryan Clauson and Kevin Swindell need to be in the Indy 500, Chris Bell is going to be a badass, Dave Darland is still a badass and Kyle Larson is a badass who needs to be in the Indy 500 as well. And Michael Pickens of New Zealand can pedal it, too.

 

Q: I’ve been watching old Champ Car and CART races on YouTube for about the past three weeks and I’m just wondering why some of the tracks that hosted Champ Car are not being considered for IndyCar races. Are the current sanctioning fees that much higher now than they were in the mid-2000s? How can Champ Car afford to have races all over the world but a unified series doesn’t have the money to race anywhere outside of North America? Do you have any insight? Is it simply because those in charge are back to their IRL way of thinking that nothing outside of the Midwest matters?
Rob Dixon

RM: Mark Miles is in search of those big sanction fees outside North America for 2015 to try and make the series and the teams more money. Surfers Paradise, Cleveland and Road America would be the popular trio to return to the schedule and I think the last of these will eventually happen. But you need promoters with title sponsors so make it work and it’s not that easy right now.


Q: With the need to “keep it exciting” so that today’s attention span-challenged fans will stay engaged, it’s time to look to the past. The old F5000 series ran a couple of years with the following format: A traditional qualifying session to “seed” the cars. The “odd-placed” cars ran one qualifying heat, the “even” cars in another. Starting slots in the feature were determined by the heat races. While there was no TV coverage at the time this was use, it is a made-for-TV format. Show the “even” race live, the “odd” race on tape delay while the cars are being prepared for the feature, then back to live coverage for the feature.

 

Plus, it gives the fans at the event plenty of track activity. Three starts; three “winners.” The cars never get too strung out because the distances are short. Might not work on the ovals, but it did work on the road courses. Open-wheel fans seem to forget that F5000 back in its day was a pretty neat little series. Just ask Mario.
Bill Carsey, North Olmsted, OH

 

RM: I loved those F5000 programs just like I loved the twin 125s or twin 150s at Michigan, Brainerd, Mosport and Indianapolis Raceway Park. It always gave the fans more for their money and more storylines. The promoters at Toronto and Detroit like the new doubleheader concept because it seems to give them more to draw from and I think they work. Old or new, the more the merrier. 

 

Q: Andretti and Volkswagen in Global Rallycross – any chance this could lead to Audi supplying engines to IndyCar?
Wally, Eden Prairie, MN

RM: Probably too early to tell but Audi had a couple of meetings with Randy Bernard in 2011 so I suppose it’s possible.

 

Q: Most of us have long heard the famous story of Leon (Jigger) Sirois, and his ill-fated qualifying attempt at the Speedway in 1969. My question is; If Jigger had kept his laps/attempt and was declared pole winner in 1969, what would have happened if 33 “other cars” had outqualified him.‬ Would he have been bumped? Would Jigger have not been bumped, due to the fact that he was declared the pole winner? And what would happen if that scenario happened today?‬ I’ve seen and met Jigger at the Speedway the last couple of years and he is a very nice guy, but doesn’t seem to want to answer the question.‬‬
Dave Krueger‬, West Allis, Wis.

 

RM: Of course he would have been bumped if 33 others beat his speed but that’s the cruel irony: his average of 161mph-plus was quicker than Peter Revson’s slowest speed of 160.851mph, so Jigger would have not only made the race but kept the pole because he was the fastest qualifier on the first day. I’m sure he’s tired of talking about it but I was with him last week in Tulsa when he was inducted into the National Midget Hall of Fame and he remains one of the classiest and best people on this planet. Pretty damn good midget racer too. 

 

Q: What’s wrong with you, Miller?! Tim Adams asked you what to do & see on his first trip to Indy for the 500 and you didn’t tell him to go to the Mug N Bun for a Tenderloin and a Root Beer Float! Are you slipping?
Tony Piergallini
, Steubenville, Ohio

 

RM: A momentary lapse of sanity, of course, the Mug N Bun needs to be on Tim’s itinerary. My bad, thanks for the save, Tony.

 

Q: I read recently that Tony Stewart is gung-ho about Kurt Busch doing the Indy-Charlotte double. Do you think it’s true? Seemed like once Kurt signed up with SHR that was the end of the double, but if Stew is behind it and Kurt is feeling like this is his last chance, that’s a guy who might really do it. What do you think?
Clint, Chicago

RM: I hadn’t heard that but I’m happy if it’s true, because Busch is a racer and likes a challenge. Saw Stew at the Chili Bowl but didn’t know about this or I could have asked him. Be a good story for Indy and General Motors.

 

Q: I saw where Brian France is changing the Chase again. NASCAR has to create excitement artificially. Look how many times they have changed the Chase already. Let alone the All-Star race. Maybe race fans will get tired of it and start watching a form of racing that is exciting without manipulating it, i.e., IndyCar.
Joe Mullins

RM: I have it on good authority that The Chase will expand to 40 cars with three provisionals because they want to keep Carl Long out of it.

MX-5 Cup | Watkins Glen – Round 8

More RACER