Rolex 24-IndyCar comparisons, Milwaukee time issues, more where-they-come-from gripes and other topics fill the bag this week.
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 have read on forums, etc. where people actually think IndyCar would be better off if NASCAR/ISC owned it but, having watched the Rolex 24, it’s clear that if they did it would mean the end of IndyCar racing. For all those that might be critical of IndyCar race control, just take a look at what NASCAR has put in IMSA this year. How can a driver get a contact penalty with no contact? And, on top of that, the special rules they are giving certain classes and teams would come to IndyCar as well. The Hulman family has its flaws and I was on the CART side in the split but I’ll take them running IndyCar any day over these clowns.
Gordon Smith, Edmonton
RM: I think the people who say that are talking about NASCAR’s infrastructure, layers of management, ability to market and promote – not so much the racing side. The bottom line is that whether it’s sprint cars, motorcycles or sports cars, they would ALWAYS play second fiddle to stock cars. And at least the penalty was reversed. But the Hulman/George family hasn’t run IndyCar in several years.
Q: As a marketing professional and lifelong IndyCar fan I’ve finally had enough… as in, more-pissed-than-the-split upset. At this point, with IndyCar displaying arguably the world’s best racing product, it’s time the folks at 16th and G’town took it to NASCAR – which, I believe, was complicit in giving Tony George valuable “advice” about starting the IRL, no? Why aren’t the genius “marketing” folks going after stock cars? Why aren’t we seeing IndyCar drivers in commercials talking about things like, “We do 190 mile an hour laps… in fourth gear,” or “NASCAR? Sure, if you like racing in slow motion,” or, “We make NASCAR look like granny out for a Sunday drive (complete with video of an old lady holding up traffic).”
The number one selling point with IndyCar is, and will forever be, speed. In the world of popular extreme sports, what could be more extreme than drivers moving at 240 miles an hour down the straight? As for Super Bowl ads, IndyCar should buy a 30-second spot and compare, say, Richard Sherman running the length of the field in 10-or-11 seconds… and then saying, “We can move 100 yards in two seconds — IndyCar, coming in March.” Let’s show some aggressive marketing, folks.
Patrick, West Des Moines, IA
RM: No argument that IndyCar is severely lacking in any kind of national advertising and replacing IZOD with a company that would spend marketing money on national TV commercials for the drivers and the speeds would be ideal. But I’d like to see IndyCar have a NASCAR-like commercial with the drivers that shows their personality and runs all year ‘round.
Q: Where does Jordan Taylor rank on your list of young Americans that should be in the Indy 500? Kid is a badass.
RM: I don’t know where he ranks but he’s obviously got ability and a good pedigree and I think his dad Wayne would love to see either or both of his sons in open wheel some day. And I’d love to see the Wayne Taylor Racing team in IndyCar.
Q: Great win for Sebastian Bourdais at Daytona, he can drive those sports cars. I think that’s his first win since Brickyard weekend 2012? Any chance he can sneak in a win in IndyCar at a street course?
RM: Hell yes. He had three podiums last year (all street circuits) and he’s got a shot with KV but can you imagine if he drove for Andretti, Ganassi or Roger Penske?
Q: While it was good to see fast cars racing in anger again, I was a little disappointed in the whole IMSA United SportsCar series. I guess it was a bit much to expect the big factory teams joining IMSA but it was a sad sight to see the near parity between the prototypes and the old LMP2 class. It seems to be just a combination of the sanctioning bodies and not much more. To me, it seems like they just added another category to a spec racing series to put more cars on the track. I was wondering what your take on that is?
RM: Lot of bitching from both sides about rules and the timing of them but you figure by the time they get to Sebring (March 12-15) things should be a little better. I hate to see equivalency formulas in any series but at least sports car are back under one roof. Still, the ALMS had people excited about sports cars and you wonder if that enthusiasm will wane.
Q: With the success of Andretti’s team and PR firm, is it OK to say that the torch from Penske might be handed to Michael instead of Chip?
Paul Hirsch, Erie, Pa.
RM: Well, judging by the last few years, I think it’s already been handed from RP to Ganassi but Andretti is right back in the mix like it was from 2004 to 2007.
Q: I read the article about some key marketing/promo people leaving their jobs with IndyCar for opportunities elsewhere. It’s been my experience that bright hard-working people will leave if they feel their contributions are being overlooked or disregarded. At a time when open-wheel racing is suffering from lack of exposure it seems these losses will only exacerbate an already dire situation. Any scoop on why these people left?
John, Akron, Ohio
RM: Paul Kelly was the biggest loss because he was an excellent writer who cranked out stories and releases for the past 16 years. But none of the people who left had any major impact on promoting IndyCar.
Q: As fan IndyCar (and Champ Car/USAC before that), I appreciate your comments about fans not driving from Chicago to see a Sunday race at Milwaukee. I can tell you that as someone who does not mind driving up there normally, that yes, going there on a Sunday morning (spending almost two hours getting there) spending two hours at the track for the race, 45 minutes to an hour getting out of the parking lot and then a two-hour drive home is not conducive to me going. I have been going to Milwaukee for a few years (since they stopped racing at Joliet) and this year, I’m not going. I let my option for tickets lapse because, as you mentioned, getting home that late on a Sunday night and in my case, having to be up at 4 a.m. to get to work by 6 a.m. on Monday morning just won’t cut it for me.If they would have been racing on Saturday, like they did in the past, I would have been there in a heartbeat. Not this year.
John Trapp, Chicago
RM: I know several people in Chicago that quit going to Milwaukee when it was a 4 p.m. Sunday start. Ditto for Indianapolis. Nobody is going to drive any distance to face the reality you pointed out and promoters have to understand that. A late Saturday was no problem but Sunday is death.
Q: I recently went to my local Canadian Tire store and was blown away when I saw a NASCAR stocker hanging from the ceiling. Canadian Tire is the title sponsor of Canada’s level of NASCAR. On closer inspection, I realized what was hanging there was a life size realistic balloon complete with all the stickers and colors of the livery of a real car. From not too far away, it looked real. My question is, could IndyCar have a similar idea to promote their cars and races? A blow-up Indy car could be hung from the ceiling of every Chevy and Honda dealer in North America, and would surely draw attention.
I realize a realistic IndyCar balloon would be more intricate to make than a stock car, but I’m sure there would be a company out there that would make them, and the cost would be worth it. Of course the dealers could show their sponsored car, and even stores like Target could do the same. If every Target store in North America had one of these hanging in a prominent place, the PR value of that for IndyCar would be huge. If IndyCar doesn’t do something to promote their abbreviated season, the series could just wither and die.
Keith, Pitt Meadows, B.C.
RM: Well that’s extremely depressing since Canadian Tire was a big sponsor of Jacques Villenueve (Gilles’ brother) CART effort in the 1980s, along with the races in Canada. Of course it would be beneficial to have some kind of visible promotion of IndyCar year-round in places like Target but maybe IndyCar needs to spread them all over the country in various stores and dealerships. Target obviously thought CART had value when it did the Zanardi/Vasser and Montoya/Vasser commercials in the late ’90s, as did Honda (which still promotes IndyCar on television) but that well has dried up.
Q: In your January 15 Mailbag, you indicated that there is no longer a Night Before the 500 midget race at IRP. That’s disappointing because Saturday evening at Raceway Park was always part of my Indy 500 weekend. Can you elaborate on what you know about the reason(s) for the cancellation? Would you recommend the Little 500 in Anderson as a replacement for the Night Before the 500?
Rick Johnson, Lynnwood, WA
RM: Turns out I got some bad information because the annual “Night Before the 500” will be run May 24 at ORP, as well as the Rich Vogler Classic on July 24. USAC also plans pavement midget shows at Schererville, Ind., Morris, Ill., Kalamazoo, Mich., Columbus, Ohio and possibly the Speedrome.
Q: My letter is a response to Travis R, Noblesville, Ind.’s letter in the last Mailbag. He talked about the idea of the series having fans as opposed to celebrities waving the checkered flag, drive a pace car, etc., in an effort to better promote attendance and engage fans at the races. About 10 or so years ago at one of the Cleveland races, I was talking to Billy Kamphausen while standing in the autograph line. He asked me what I thought was a good idea to involve and attract fans more and I responded that something like letting a chosen fan wave the checkered flag to start the race. He liked the idea and took my phone number saying he would call me back. After a while he called, telling me to meet him near the pit lane entrance at a given time before the race and I could wave the green flag to start the Cleveland GP! When I got there, he said that he got overruled as they had, unbeknownst to him, a semi-famous figure skater lined up to do it. As a consolation, he let my brother and me stand out just inside the main straight track wall with a few other sponsor people to watch the start and first few laps with the cars blasting just feet away from us.
I will never forget his efforts and responsiveness to a fan. Thanks for trying Billy! We need more people like him in the current configuration of IndyCar racing.
Steve Gray, Vincennes Ind.
RM: Good story Steve. Billy was a tireless supporter of CART for a long time. But only a handful of fans can wave the green flag since there’s only 18 opportunities so I think I’d like to see IndyCar raffle off 2-seater rides and give away hats and T-shirts – the cheapest and most effective form of advertising.
Q: Why didn’t some other manufacturer pick up the Lotus engine when Lotus pulled out? Doesn’t make sense. Somebody has already done the hard part. I know it was underfunded but John Judd does know what he is doing. He doesn’t get the credit he deserves. In the mid to late ’80s, his engine was close to Cosworth’s but he never got with a team that would develop it. Or am I wrong? As a fan of the Buick V6, I like an underdog. We need one more make of engine right now to take the load off of Honda and Chevy. An underdog. And not an Alfa Romeo!
RM: I suppose it would have made sense but it seemed like nobody wanted to come in late and go up against General Motors and Honda. A third engine would be great, providing it was competitive and a major player like Ford that would market, because last year it was about as even as could be hoped for with only two. And three might unbalance the competition again.
Q: Actually the first time Zanardi did a donut was Long Beach ’97. I remember that vividly. I was 11 and saw it happen live. There is a YouTube video of it: [[ http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PDj-jOuZHvI&list=PL39D197B677FB29BF ]] Take a look at 13:00 when Jack Arute asks him what he was doing on the cool down lap.
John Baadilla, Norwalk, Calif.
RM: Thanks John. So it seems Zanardi’s donuts weren’t yet perfect, but he became the master of them.
Q: A buddy of mine gave me a part of a front wing from what he claims is a 2003 Dallara Indy car. It’s got a label with a serial number on it. I was wondering if there was somewhere I could go to get more info on whose car it was on? It’s an awesome conversation piece, it would be better to have the back story.
Pete K., Arnold, MD
RM: I would call the Dallara shop in Indianapolis (317-243-7171) and they should be able to give you some help.
Q: I was at the Chili Bowl; it was a great event as always, I’ve been several times. As an open-wheel racing fan (anything open-wheel), I’m supposed to believe the skills to drive a midget don’t translate to driving an IndyCar? Sure, there’s a learning curve with any “new” type of racecar a driver gets into. It would be the same if an IndyCar driver tried a midget. However, if you can drive, you can drive. Period.
With that said, I’m supposed to be interested in drivers from Europe who I’ve never heard of until they show up for an IndyCar test? If I as an IndyCar fan am not really interested in it, then the casual fan who doesn’t pay attention now isn’t going to care at all. A race team is a business so I understand the need to do whatever you have to do to keep the doors open. You have employees to take care of, etc. I don’t expect a team to say, “We are shutting the doors because we aren’t hiring somebody from Europe with money.” And I do understand that many of these guys have had success overseas, and I’m not saying they are hacks with a checkbook.
The point is, those not watching now don’t care about success in Europe; they just don’t. “Hiring” a driver from Europe because his budget doesn’t get him anything in Europe does NOTHING for the sport. A driver running one or two years, then being out of the series to then be replaced by the next driver with a budget, is a cycle that is leading nowhere.
The IndyCar product is absolutely fantastic on track so there is no issue there. The IndyCar ladder is a great thing: Dan Andersen is really going to make it a great way to learn and move up. The problem is (with getting fans that aren’t already plugged into the IndyCar scene) you can’t go on a Saturday night and watch a Pro Mazda/USF2000 race somewhere. Therefore, those people know none of the drivers, no matter where they are from (it could be a grid of 100 percent Americans and those not plugged in now still wouldn’t know anybody). That ladder needs to be an option and SOMEHOW the short track drivers need a path (at least to Indy). Look at the “heroes” of the ’50s, ’60s, ’70s, ’80s… Where did a great number of drivers come from? I understand times are different, but that has to be restored on some level.
Look at the attention the Chili Bowl received (especially this year being on live TV). You can’t tell me a few of those drivers wouldn’t help IndyCar (at least being at Indy). If none of them are good enough (no way that’s the case…many are good enough), then so be it. Point is, to help move the needle with those not plugged in now, those people need some drivers to get behind.
THAT is the No. 1 problem that needs fixed to attract/bring back fans. Fans cheer for drivers. I know a pretty big audience that was at the Chili Bowl in person and on TV that would be interested, who isn’t interested now. The point of this is how to attract big time race fans who don’t watch IndyCar during a given year. Unfortunately, that’s a pretty big number. I just wish Mark Miles saw this the same way Randy did. NASCAR isn’t popular because of the racing. It can’t be.
KT, Noblesville, Ind.
RM: The first time I took Randy to a USAC sprint race he was blown away by the horsepower, close competition, talent and loyal fans with T-shirts. I told him none of those people at Kokomo Speedway would watch the next IndyCar race or any IndyCar race because they didn’t care about the drivers. He helped get Bryan Clauson to Indy but that program is now gone and I’m going to take Mark Miles to Indiana Sprint Week this summer so he can see the disconnect for himself.
The funny thing is that midget and sprint drivers in front-engine cars had to learn rear-engine Indy cars in the ’60s and ’70s and (drum roll) they did it because they raced 100 times a year and they had talent. Clauson was going to qualify in the fourth row for the 2012 Indy 500 before he hit the wall on his last lap and, given proper testing, I have no doubt he would run good at IMS this year. I get it that a USACer in his late 20s or early 30s probably can’t expect to be a full-timer in IndyCar because of all the road races but Ed Carpenter has done a damn good job on the ovals the past several years and he’s no Bryan Clauson. But Ed adapted to high speeds and is one of the guys to beat on any oval nowadays. I want to see Clauson, Chris Bell, Rico Abreu, Chris Windom, Darren Hagen and Tracy Hines at least competing at the Speedway every May. So I’ll keep buying those lottery tickets so I can start a team. But don’t tell me those guys couldn’t adapt. History says otherwise.
Q: Chili Bowl Results are in and congrats to Bryan Clauson. My question is when is the media going to wake up and take note of Rico Abreu? Are they blind? His story is so inspirational. I don’t care if he apparently come from a fairly wealthy family. His family sponsor Abreu Vineyards sells lots of expensive and (so I’m told) wonderful wine. The guy can flat-out wheel a car! He struts around like a Portuguese matador and goes fearlessly into the bullring. He’s obviously overcome great hurdles (no pun intended) to get to where he is. He just goes along like he’s one of the boys. He’s Kyle Larson’s buddy/teammate and earned Tony Stewart’s respect.
If Danica can attract sponsorship and media frenzy because she is a fairly good driver, why doesn’t the media notice the midget driver doing battle in Midget/Sprints? He kicks butt, then slides down the wing and then you notice he’s only 4’4″. There have been a bunch of midget actors in Hollywood, but NEVER a midget race driver that stands out in a star studded field of some of the world best drivers. IndyCar should court this guy, Hollywood too, and the media should pull their heads out of a very dark place.
RM: I think the grassroots magazines like Doug Auld’s Midget/Sprint Car and writers like Kevin & Steve Eckert, Dave Argabright and Pat Sullivan all know that Rico is a little badass (pardon the pun) and he scored some big victories last year and will only get better. But there is very little mainstream media for IndyCar, let alone midget and sprint racing, so it may take a story in People magazine to get Abreu some national ink. But I’m going to say something to Nate Ryan of USA Today because he likes open-wheel and has a national mainstream forum.
Q: A BIG thanks goes to you at RACER.com and MAVTV’s David Despain for having coverage of midget/sprint racing and the Chili Bowl.Hope we can get a version of the ESPN Thursday Thunder events going again, even if they are taped events that only air for an hour program.Open-wheel has some great talent that no one knows about … yet.
It was nice to see Bryan Clauson win at the Chili Bowl.Tough race to win and helps to have a team willing to build a “Special” or one off car for the event. Hope Bryan can get someone to take a chance on him for ride at Indy and put a dirt racer into the show again.
I found myself in need of a pump primer before the Chili Bowl, was doing a little web surfing, and came across http://www.loudpedalvideo.com/. WOW … these folks do a great job of telling the story of midget and sprint racing in just a few minutes.The clips are cool, move at various speed, music is not bad, and just a lot of fun to watch.I am looking forward to spring and going to take my teenage boys out to Gas City or Kokomo for USAC show for some live action.
RM: Well, it was nice of RACER to send me to Tulsa and thanks to MAVTV for stepping up and showing the race live. Despain is the best host you can have for any race and adds a real presence to an event. I think MAVTV is going to try and be the second coming of SPEEDVISION and you are going to like some of their summer programming and future plans. The LoudPedal guys do a great job with a small budget and it’s always entertaining video.