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 see a golden opportunity for IndyCar with all the turmoil in NASCAR again changing their championship format (I’m even lost on it) and reading all the fan outrage of Formula 1’s new and slow turbo 1.6-liter, ugly car designs and double point gimmick. From what I’m reading, Indy cars may now actually be faster than F1. So now if that proves to be true, IndyCar has a huge chance to gain an audience of p**sed off F1 fans who want a better product. The easiest way to do this is to secure a race at COTA and promote how much faster an Indy car is compared to F1. And, with NASCAR confusing their audience, IndyCar can jump on it by promoting the series by simply running ads highlighting how the tried and true season-long championship can produce a proper champion.
Of course, involvement from Ford and Toyota again could add more interest in the series but it seems that would only happen if IndyCar can guarantee some type of incentive for each manufacturer. Speaking of manufacturers, since we are never probably going to see multiple chassis manufacturers again and since we are getting aero packages for superspeedways, why not let Honda and Chevy make their own aero packages for road/street courses too? Call me crazy but IndyCar needs to do a simple promotion that reminds us that this is American open-wheel racing and it’s as good as it has ever been, without having to resort to any gimmicks like the other two big-name racing series have.
Ruben E. Hernandez, Austin, TX
RM: Indy cars have always been faster, technically, than F1 because of the speeds on ovals and, what little national promotion IndyCar receives, it’s always called the fastest cars and drivers. COTA may happen some day but there’s no guarantee Indy cars will be quicker in Austin just based on a couple early-season tests. Honda and Chevy are designing their own aero kits for all types of circuits. But your point is well taken: IndyCar’s ads should simply say: “Our cars are the fastest on the planet and our drivers CHASE each other around North America in a series that features great racing, multiple winners and a pure championship – devoid of contrived drama.”
Q: I can’t believe the decision NASCAR made with their ridiculously gimmicky “Chase Grid” in which the final race is a winner-take-all event. However, I don’t care too much about NASCAR, and as such, see it as an opportunity for IndyCar.
Someone in last week’s Mailbag was talking about advertising. I know the budget is limited – er… non-existent – but they really could capitalize on this. NASCAR just alienated a fair chunk of true racing fans who appreciate that winning championships is really about consistency, speed, and winning races. Scenario for the “Chase Grid”: win one race in the first 26. Coast and work on setups all year for the Grid; while finishing the season points in a lowly 28th. Finish in the top 35 percent of all Chase competitors in the first nine races so you are Top 4 going into Homestead (fourth, actually, and 100 points back). Win the race, and you are the winner. Great season and a true champion…NOT!
IndyCar: please take advantage of this opportunity. You have a tremendous product. You have great racing, balls-to-the-wall speed of over 200mph, a diverse schedule, and drivers from everywhere. Sell this product. Show NASCAR to be the sideshow that it is, and take these fans from them, and maybe we’ll get some drivers back in the process.
Sam, Fort Knox, Ky. (Born-and-raised in Avon)
RM: Good call Sam but I got a better one: Dale Earnhardt Jr. wins 13 of the first 26 races, then gets nothing but DNFs and crashes in The Chase. Jimmie Johnson wins once during the season to qualify, then finishes fourth in every race until the finale, which he wins when Junior runs out of gas on the last lap while leading. Can you say “outcry?”
Q: What a stinker of a Super Bowl this year! Is it true that NASCAR has suggested to the NFL that they reset the score of the game to a tie at halftime to ensure that we’ll always have an exciting fourth-quarter finish?
Marc, Orange County, Calif.
RM: No, the NASCAR NFL allowed Denver to throw away its two worst plays of the first half and Seattle could only use six players in the third quarter. Then, if the game was still close, they’d make up some rules for the fourth quarter.
Q: How many cars do you think IndyCar will have each race? Will it be 20-22 or more? Need 24-26 in case you have a big stack up on the first lap or attrition like Fontana last year. Also, looks like it will be hard to reach 33 at Indianapolis.
RM: It’s looking like 23 (Andretti 4, Ganassi 4, Penske 3, Schmidt 2, Rahal 2, Coyne 2, Foyt 1, Herta 1, Panther 1, KV 1, Carpenter 1, Fisher 1) for sure and maybe 24 if KV runs a second car. It will be a big challenge for 33 at Indy, but Derrick Walker is already working on that.
Q: While my fellow fans writing you all seem to have their notions of what to change to save IndyCar, it seems to me that most of these proposals fall far short of what is required. Merely “tweaking” the current product will never be enough – standing starts, double-file restarts, aero kits, ending the season on Labor Day, double-headers, a road course race at Indy, BLAH, BLAH, BLAH. In order to save this series, those who run IndyCar need to put down the pork tenderloin and remove their I-465 beer goggles and make a major change!
This is the entertainment business and the show needs to be run when people have time to get involved. The plan is simple: the racing season starts on Saturday of Thanksgiving in Fontana (no NASCAR and most of college football is complete less the bowl games) and ends with the Indy 500 on Memorial Day weekend. Could it get any better than ending the season with the Super Bowl of open-wheel racing?
Imagine having a battle for the championship (like we have had the past few years) decided at Indy! This concept isn’t new or novel. The motorcycle guys have done it for years with Supercross. The formula just works: Practice Friday, Qualification Saturday morning, race Saturday afternoon/evening. Even a doubleheader works with the second race on Sunday. Why do I go to Supercross? Besides living in Southern California, I go because there really isn’t any four-wheel racing competition to see. If the motorcycle guys (and even GOLF) can figure out how to hold events in the winter, why can’t IndyCar? Between the traditional fair weather states of California, Texas, and Florida, and the two races at Indy, we have already covered half a season!
Greig Altieri, Laguna Beach, Calif.
RM: I always said run on Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, Easter (bad idea, Champ Car tried in Las Vegas) and any time NASCAR was idle. But, since IndyCar’s season ends on Labor Day weekend in 2014, your idea isn’t too far of a stretch. The problem would be finding enough promoters and dealing with the weather.
Q: I know that we have all been writing you with suggestions on the PR problems of IndyCar. I am going to make a crazy and unrealistic suggestion but here goes. If you were to have, say, Jeff Gordon, Kurt Busch, Kyle Busch and Jimmie Johnson all transfer over to IndyCar and pay them big money, that’s all the PR you would need. You would have millions more fans instantly. They would only have to race for one year and then could move back to NASCAR if they want to. Someone would give them a job back for more big money. One person Montoya, isn’t enough. I know this is crazy but the general idea would work! IndyCar should think about trying to lure some big names over even if it is short-lived!
Lee Lewis, Galion, Ohio
RM: First off, there is no chance of getting Gordon and Johnson regardless of what you paid them and IndyCar couldn’t afford any of those four anyway. Kurt Busch wants to run Indy and he might have been tempted to try Indy cars if Tony Stewart hadn’t come along.
Q: After living both in Houston and Indianapolis I have been fortunate enough to attend almost every day of the month of May at the Speedway and the Rodeo Houston. The Rodeo Houston happens over almost three weeks in March and every night there is a headlining musical performance after the rodeo. All through the day there is a state fair-like atmosphere with a massive midway including rides and fried food. My wife and I are definitely not rodeo fans but we went twice in the two years we were living there. Once because of the novelty and the second time because it was such a great event.
By contrast, if you are not an IndyCar, fan you would not attend practice at the Speedway more than once. It can be boring day even for the fervent fan. Rodeo Houston should be a template for the month of May at the Speedway. You get the parents to bring their kids for the fair-like atmosphere by keeping the admissions price low which gives IndyCar a much greater chance of exposing potential young fans to the event. Then you can attract the young adults with musical acts they follow and snag a few more fans in the process. The icing on the cake would be if you could incorporate all of this in view of the suites so there would be more corporate entertaining thus exposing even more non-fans to the event by the lure of free food, drinks, and music on a company’s dime.
There is so much that can be done with a huge facility in two weeks that can bring more non-racing fans in and expose potential fans.
RM: I understand your premise and maybe being more family friendly (instead of charging to park and charging admission for Community Day) would serve IMS well but I look at Carb Day as the yardstick. Yes it draws a better crowd than Pole Day but how many of those kids watch racecars or become fans? Not many. I think having practice followed by an open house in Gasoline Alley for kids on Saturday followed by all the qualifying on Sunday might ramp up the enthusiasm to spend a day.
Q: I’ve heard some talk about increasing horsepower this year for IndyCar. Is this just speculation or is this something that might actually happen? The racing is great, best since the split, but the drivers have been campaigning for more power and so have the fans. I like where IndyCar is headed but they need to continue to make changes to improve the series. This, along with the new aero kits in 2015 and visiting proven tracks of the past, will continue to bring back open-wheel. Oh and a series sponsor and an advertisement every once in a while might not hurt either.
Josh from Western Pa.
RM: I’ve heard it will be close to 750hp, so that’s a step in the right direction.
Q: You have mentioned a desire to see the Wayne Taylor Racing in IndyCar some day. Whatever happened to the possibility of Michael Shank starting a team? I recall that he did not want to accept a Lotus engine, and Chevy and Honda couldn’t commit. Still, that team is a class act, and it seems it should be courted and encouraged to join the IndyCar series. We need increased car count. Is this another case of IndyCar shooting itself in the foot (again)?
Bill P., Wis.
RM: I suppose because he didn’t have all his ducks in a row at the start of 2012, Shank wasn’t able to secure an engine deal with Honda or GM. But he had a car and IndyCar should have made sure he at least had the opportunity to run Indianapolis. Shank is exactly what IndyCar needs – new owners with passion for open-wheel – but he certainly didn’t get much encouragement or help. Looking back, I think Randy Bernard wishes he’d have handled that situation better.
Q: I just can’t understand all these people complaining about driving two hours on Sunday to go to Milwaukee. My husband and I drive five hours from Illinois to go to the race and don’t think a thing about it. We leave on Friday night and drive part of the way and get to Milwaukee on Saturday, go to the track on Saturday and Sunday, stay in Milwaukee Sunday night and take the day off Monday to come home.Sure, we have to spend a couple of nights in a hotel and take a vacation day on Monday, but we are willing to do it to support IndyCar and see a great race. You just have to plan ahead. We do the same thing when we go to Iowa.Also spend four days in Indy for the 500. I know we are lucky to be able to do this, but so could other fans if they wanted to do so.
Karla Baalman, Granite City, Ill.
RM: Well, first off it’s nice to have loyal fans like you and your husband but for the folks who only have one day to see a race, these late starting times really limit their participation. I know people from Chicago and Indy who always drove up and back to Milwaukee on Sunday for a 1 p.m. green flag and they don’t anymore because of the late start.
Q: I’m going through the 2007 Champ Car season and really missing those cars. Imagine in 2008 that the Champ Car/IRL merger never happened. IF Tony George had still been removed, would there have been a chance for these two series to remain separate and have a BoP between the DP01 and IRL cars for the Indy 500? The TUDOR United SportsCar Championship is proving that rival series can get along if the right people are in place.
RM: I suppose they could have remained separate but Champ Car would have eventually died without the Indianapolis 500. And the DP01 wasn’t an oval-track car so I doubt it could have worked.
Q: Been thinking for several years to go to the Indy 500, and as a complete racing obsessive, I want to go to the other races that are in the area during the week. I understand that the Hoosier 100 is around that time of year, and that there’s action on Indianapolis Raceway Park too…? What should I complete my Indy 500 experience with? When traveling so far, I want to make the most of it and learn as much as I can of the local racing culture!
Jacob in Sweden
RM: Yes sir, the dirt cars run the Indiana State Fairgrounds on Friday night (May 22), followed by the Night Before the 500 midget race at O’Reilly Raceway Park [the current name for Indianapolis Raceway Park] and you need to go to the memorabilia show at IMS on Saturday. You should also check out the IMS Museum and take a lap around the track on the bus. If Kenny Brack is in town, make him buy you dinner (fat chance, The Meatball is pretty tight) at the Mug ‘N’ Bun.
Q: Who are in your top 10 racers you have seen in your lifetime? It seems we have some good ones right now. Scott Dixon is a beast. I watch at least one old Indy car race a night on YouTube. Why do you think Bobby Rahal doesn’t get the respect he deserves? He could drive any course fast and smooth, ovals or road courses! He’s got my respect.
RM: Parnelli, A.J., Mario, Dan Gurney, the Unsers, Johncock, Rutherford, Jackie Stewart, Gary Bettenhausen, Mears, Tom Sneva, Jan Opperman, Pancho Carter, Bubby Jones, Kenny Roberts, Jay Springsteen, Steve Kinser, Sammy Swindell, Lee Kunzman, David Pearson, Cale Yarborough, Michael Andretti, Dario Franchitti, Emerson Fittipaldi, Nigel Mansell, Tony Stewart, Bryan Clauson, Kyle Larson, and Jeff Gordon. Is that 10? I think everyone does respect Rahal: he was a complete racer and a smart one as well.
Q: I’ve been a fan of NASCAR since 2007/’08 and I have shown interest in IndyCar in the past couple years. Because of my idiosyncrasies, I tend to “thoroughly and methodically” research a topic, such as the “History of IndyCar owners (post-CART and other entity split). I’ve done that fairly dedicatedly over the past 10 years or so years. It APPEARS to me that IMS, IMSC, Hulman Institute (and a few other Hulman entities) and the DOZENS of people named “_____ George have, so far, been “in bed with each other” as far as IndyCar goes and probably will be forever. So, how can you say this statement – “The Hulman/George family hasn’t run IndyCar in several years,” and what do you mean?
RM: The Hulman/George family still has clout and veto power over big issues and a healthy investment in the series but they don’t make day-to-day decisions about the business of IndyCar or determine rules like when Tony George ran the IRL. They don’t even have control of the IMS board anymore but still have five of the 10 votes.
Q: I was in the neighborhood the other day, so I swung by Newman/Haas Racing in Lincolnshire, Ill., to see if their facility was still occupied by one of the best teams in the history of racing, in my opinion. Much to my surprise, they’re still there. There was also a semi-truck parked outside with the Newman/Haas team logo on the side. So, with that being said, have you heard anything lately about NHR? Do you think there is any chance at all for them to return to IndyCar?
Steve Sporer, Chicago
RM: To my knowledge there are only a couple people left on the payroll and no plans to return to IndyCar or any other series.
Q: Greg Pickett looked at IndyCar in the fall and ultimately chose to stick with TUDOR sports cars; any insight on what were the reasons? IndyCar needs to be attractive to new teams so hopefully someone can look at the reasons why he wasn’t interested. I believe Ganassi was running a twin-turbo V6 Ford at the Rolex 24; could this be an engine that could be used in IndyCar?
John, Brownsburg, Ind.
RM: Greg seemed like he was leaning toward sports cars and maybe a factory deal but is keeping IndyCar on the back burner. He’d be a great addition. RACER‘s Marshall Pruett kindly provided a detailed answer to your question about Ford:
“Ford produced an ALMS-spec 2.8-liter twin-turbo V6 back in 2011 to fit the P2 prototypes. The P2 class requires production-based engines, and the Ford, from its EcoBoost line. The ALMS version of the engine, built by NASCAR powerhouse Roush Yates, never really took off, and before long, they sought a home for it in Grand-Am to replace its V8 Daytona Prototype engine. They readied it throughout 2013, stroked it up to 3.5 liters, and added Chip Ganassi’s DP team to Michael Shank’s program to run in the new TUDOR United SportsCar Championship. Ford Racing boss Jamie Allison has always maintained they will only race what they sell, and he’s long been critical of IndyCar’s choice to go for purebred racing engines in 2012. The Ford, by comparison, is too big and too heavy for IndyCar. Plus, it’s over capacity by a large margin–1.3 liters–and would need a cradle to help it carry the chassis load experienced in an Indy car. For now, and until IndyCar changes its engine regulations, this Ford and every other production-based engine wouldn’t be suitable for open-wheel success.”
Q: The double-header in Detroit is the best thing that could happen for me. I was in Detroit two years ago when the track fell apart. I actually left that race before the red flag. I needed to get home and had seen a full weekend of racing. If I didn’t see the rest of the IndyCar race, oh well. Now with the double-header I can see the IMSA race and the IndyCar race on Saturday and watch Sunday at home on TV. I get to see a full IndyCar race, get cheaper tickets, and I get a full night’s rest before getting up for work on Monday. Unless of course they’d like a more reasonable start time locally on Sunday, then I’d stay for both.
Ryan in West Michigan
RM: The promoters in Detroit, Toronto and Houston all liked the double-header format and saw increased attendance in Motown and Canada so it does give fans a couple of options.
Q: Many IndyCar fans think the DW12 is an ugly car. I am not one of them. While it’s no ’96 Reynard, it’s still not that bad looking. Those who think it’s ugly obviously have not seen an F1 car lately. What in God’s good name are they doing over in Europe? Last year it was the platypus noses and this year, who knows what to call them? Those F1 cars are sinful looking. I’ll take the looks of the DW12 over any of those designs anytime.
Mark Storms, Centerville, Ohio
RM: I’ve got to agree with you Mark, those new F1 cars are hideous and make even the DW12 palatable.
Q: Hello from Northern Cal., always good to see you at Sonoma Raceway. I used to watched Paul Newman when I was in high school in a Datsun 510 at what was then called Sears Point. I’m from a large Filipino family and we need to know if Philippines’ racing sensation Michele Bumgarner will ever get a chance to race for in an Indy car. We hope she will get a chance – is there hope for her?
Billy V. Dimalanta
RM: Well she competed in Pro Mazda last year so I imagine her ascension depends on results and financing. With it looking like Simona is out of IndyCar, it could be time for a new female face if she’s got the driving talent.
Q: Thanks for the rivalry story about Michael and Al Jr. Gave a warm feeling to an IndyCar fan in snowy frigid winter in Indy! Just a staggering amount of laps led by Michael. I have always wondered how many 500s Mario and Michael could have won as a family?
Phil Berg, Homecroft
RM: Well when you consider they led almost 1,000 laps at Indy between them (Mario 556 and Michael 431) it’s unfathomable they only made it to Victory Lane once. But 1987 and 1992 were the two that really hurt because they dominated and were long gone when their cars broke down.
Keep reading RACER.com – over the course of the year, we’ve got around 25 more Great Rivalry stories of man and machine.
Q: Why is there not a “Jayski” style portal for IndyCar? Would such a site not enhance the brand and possibly draw new fans and sponsorships?
Lynn, Orlando, Fla.
RM: There was and is so much interest in NASCAR, so many teams and so much news, it made sense and ESPN bought into the concept. Not sure that’s true for IndyCar. With six months between races it’s tough to manufacture daily news for 20-some drivers.
Q: It’s a slow IndyCar news week, so I thought I’d comment on the recent first F1 test at Jerez last week. Obviously, it is a vastly different formula from last year with the new turbocharged cars and the associated changes to the aero and KERS, but the fastest time on Day 3, set by Massa in the Williams, was still about nine seconds slower than the fastest time set last year at the first F1 test, also at Jerez. This has to put the F1 cars in the territory of the DW12, but at 30 x the cost. Comments?Secondly, any info on where Paul di Resta may wind up?
Trevor Bohay, Kamloops, BC Canada
RM: Well I never get too excited about early pre-season testing in F1 because teams like Red Bull never seem to show their hand and I imagine the times will pick up. A lot of last week’s running was interrupted by wet weather. The fastest time of the test was by Kevin Magnussen in the McLaren and he was eight seconds off the actual lap record, which is still held by Michael Schumacher from 2004, not any of the cars from 2013.
But if the F1 cars are considerably slower, does that hurt their audience and drive them to IndyCar? I think not. F1 is an acquired taste and their fans are loyal and plentiful. Paul di Resta will race for Mercedes in DTM.
Q: Open-wheel (CART, IRL, IndyCar) has some of the most myopic fans on planet Earth!They either hate everything, or spend all their time whining about how stupid NASCAR fans are, and think that F1 is almost as bad. Yet day by day fewer and fewer young drivers stay anywhere near IndyCar and those (with real talent) choose to go to NASCAR because NASCAR teams pay money – something IndyCar fans seem to ignore. It’s nice that some people think that a driver should be so in love with the DW12 that they’ll drive for pennies.That is just one of the foolish ideas.
Here is another – thinking that how many passes for the lead makes a great race which since it didn’t improve the TV audience is another “false god” that seems to fill the minds of not only fans, but broadcasters and management as well.Drivers with personality can bring fans but IndyCar drivers as a group are as exciting as a mouth full of warm water! A.J. and Mario had personality, Bobby and Mario still really don’t like each other, Eddie Sachs and Parnelli Jones had personality. Andy Granatelli was a star.
Racing was fun to watch, engines exploded, races were won by using your head. Roger found a hole in the rules and brought Mercedes engines and the next year no Penske qualified. The point? Since a wee lady led IndyCar, the total field of drivers – with the possible exceptions of Pippa and Simona –might as well be robots. Pippa can’t get a ride, and Simona is as yet an unproven talent. She showed signs at times of having a future on road courses, but then seeing her race on an oval I wonder why she bothers.
Since 2003, not a single decision made by management has improved the fan base and sports attendance is falling. Bernie Ecclestone has it right: the only thing that counts is the TV audience. IndyCar management has failed. Drivers without personality CAN NOT, WILL NOT, NEVER HAVE brought fans.So if you want new fans? Better think of something not yet tried. “Everything is hunky-dory” fans or “it’s NASCAR’s fault” fans fill your Mailbag and management follows the “Just wait till 2018-’19-’20” as its plan, and the teams run the show. The future seems all but assured!
The Grim Reaper
RM: Whoa. I’ll grant you that IndyCar sucks at promoting and marketing its drivers but don’t tell me that they lack personality. Tony Kanaan and James Hinchcliffe have it in spades, Helio Castroneves is great with fans and press while Josef Newgarden and Justin Wilson are as good with the media as they are with the paying customers. Dixon has become a great interview and along with RHR, Rahal, Pagenaud, Carpenter, Servia and Hildebrand, all of them connect with the fans. Simona is unproven and Pippa can’t get a ride? What series have you been watching? I agree IndyCar has its problems but its drivers’ personality isn’t one of them.