Welcome to the Robin Miller Mailbag as presented by Honda Racing / HPD. You can follow the Santa Clarita, Calif.-based company at http://hpd.honda.com/ and on social media at @HondaRacing_HPD and https://www.facebook.com/HondaRacingHPD . Your questions for Robin should continue to be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org We cannot guarantee we’ll publish all your questions and answers, but Robin will reply to you.
Q: Score one for the USA! Bravo to Ryan Hunter-Reay & Andretti Autosport for taking it to Team Penske, finishing 4 cars in the Top 6 positions, a remarkable achievement! Props go to Marco for third, and Kurt Busch, for his solid sixth-place finish in his first “500”! Once again, an Andretti doesn’t get to drink the milk in Victory Lane (the curse lives on!) despite Marco driving brilliantly. He just didn’t seem to have the speed at the end to get past Helio, although not sure he had anything for his teammate.
Hope the series will now promote the heck out of RHR, having failed to do so when he was the champion two seasons back! Hinch took a lot of the blame for his shunt w/Ed in Turn 1 on the restart, but do you think if Townsend Bell hadn’t bumped Ed’s right rear, which pushed Ed down towards where Hinch was, it might have turned out OK?
Also, do you have any understanding of why the Rahal Letterman team seems to be struggling so much?
Tony Mezzacca, Madison, N.J.
RM: When you consider that RHR was out of IndyCar a few years ago and only started out with Andretti as a part-timer it makes his story even better. And winning on the track is much sweeter than behind the pace car at 60mph. IndyCar did nothing to promote Ryan’s 2012 championship so, hopefully, that won’t be the case this time around. Hinch knows his move was optimistic, at best, and accepted most of the blame. RLL has been the big disappointment of 2014.
Q: At last, finally what a great month of May, Beaux Barfield’s decision to throw the red flag to set up the final shootout of the Indy 500 made one of the greatest moments in history. Coupled with the inaugural Grand Prix of Indianapolis captured one of the greatest months of May I have ever witnessed with my son that provided memories for a lifetime. Great racing, good times, good laughs and most important, a connection that bonds a father and son to their heritage called the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
The biggest void in the month was qualifications: it sucked. Please tell me that aero kits will be a reality and more chassis and engines will be available for beyond 33 cars in 2015? What is with all the price gouging? I don’t mind paying $9.00 for a sandwich, but $9 for dried bread and coleslaw with catsup called BBQ is a bunch of BS.
With so many international drivers in the mix, why don’t they play the victor’s national anthem? Nationalism works and what better than an “us against you” mentality to strike up the juices of pride and prejudice?
Daniel Bonham, Indianapolis, IN
RM: Beaux made the same call at Fontana two years ago and Derrick Walker said it had been decided that would be the protocol before the race but that there would not have been a red flag with only a couple laps left. It was a good month and qualifying drew decent ratings so that was the whole idea of the two-day program. Aero kits will be here in 2015. For some reason the national anthem of the winning driver is played everywhere but Indianapolis and I think it would have been popular last Sunday.
Q: That “500” was one for the ages, at least in my (relatively) young perspective! Finally a proper green-flag finish – it has been too long since that happened. So, what I’m wondering from an old-timer like you, how worthy is this “500” to be mentioned alongside such mythical races like 1960 or 1982, for example? It may have not been as crazy as last year, but I thought it had a bit of an “old-school” aura of it, as the leaders actually got spread out a tiny bit and they had to navigate through traffic. And with a classy, working hard, down-to-earth kind of guy winning, this one will be well remembered in the history books, I’d say! Also, where do you get your awesome Indy-related T-shirts and sweaters? I do want that Vukovich shirt!
RM: It ranks as one of the best ever. Four passes for the lead in the last four laps, don’t think that’s ever happened. And I agree that last year nobody wanted to lead and it was more a Hanford Device feel while last Sunday it was a dogfight to get to the front. Steve Shunck and I make the sweatshirts each May to honor the greats (Hurtubise, Foyt, Parnelli, Gurney, Uncle Bobby) and next on the list is Johnny Rutherford, followed by Gordon Johncock and Mario. But you can buy Vuky’s stuff at Café Express online. Just go to 1953 or auto racing.
Q: This year’s Indy 500 was a BLAST! You and the entire RACER staff did an excellent job covering it. One thing that hasn’t been reported is the radio call Roger Penske made to Helio late in the race. If you recall, Hunter-Reay and Helio were locked in a tight battle after the race restarted following the red flag. They were overtaking each other like crazy. The next to the last time Helio overtook Ryan Hunter-Reay the TV broadcast broke in with the audio from Penske to Helio. Penske simply roared “Yaaah.” When I heard that I was knocked back in to my seat. I had never heard Penske get caught up in a race to allow the proceedings consume him in such a manner. For 40-plus years Penske was always the King of Cool. When Helio made that pass Penske thought he had the race won. Little did he know that Helio would lose the lead, then get it back, only to lose it again on the final lap. Pretty cool huh?
Bob, Fremont, CA
RM: Well I think you just proved how exciting the race was because even The Captain got emotional. And sometimes a driver needs a little encouragement. But I really doubt if RP thought the race was over with that pass. And thanks for reading RACER.com.
Q: RHR did his move without the benefit of a restored apron. Does this argue against the need for the apron or could it have made the finish even better?
Kurt Ullman, Carmel, CA
RM: I think it illustrates that the racing could be even wilder and closer with the return of the apron. Outside passes in the corners instead of the front straightaway, a la Michael and Mears in 1991.
Q: Last Sunday’s Indy 500 was fantastic in every way and if you are a motorsports fan and didn’t care for what you just saw, I don’t know what planet you are living on. With that said, I have this observation being a big Marco Andretti fan. I don’t know how on earth Michael Andretti does it. The massive conflict of interest he must be going through with himself and along with Mario wanting his son in Victory Lane probably more than anything in the world and at the same time, he has to try to beat his son being the strategist for RHR. With Marco driving another great race and falling just short must be very disappointing but at the same time experience great joy with RHR’s victory.
Watching the ABC telecast when they were talking to Michael in the pits and hearing him instruct RHR on the headphones on how they’re going to have to beat the 25 if they’re going to win the race was very frustrating for me to listen to, and I’m just a fan, let alone his father. Congrats to Michael Andretti, RHR and the entire Andretti Autosport team and “Go Marco!” in 2015.
Rob, Southeast Michigan
RM: You make an excellent point – it’s got to be very difficult to plot strategy against your own flesh and blood but it seems to be a better environment than when Michael ran Marco’s races.
Q: What a great race! Kudos to Kurt Busch on a very commendable drive to sixth place, which included 150 caution-free laps. Did you happen to warn him ahead of time not to expect any cautions “for debris” at the Indy 500?
Marc, Orange County, CA
RM: Busch did a helluva job and showed he’s a great racer, not just a top NASCAR driver. I didn’t warn him about anything and I imagine he thought that red flag was standard operating procedure.
Q: Great Indy 500 this past weekend the last 20 laps had me oohing and ahhing out loud like no race since 1992 (the red flag was the right call instead of a NASCAR-style green-white-checkered style finish). My question is, after his crash on Thursday and switching to Marco’s back-up car, why was Kurt Busch allowed to keep his 12th starting position? I thought if you switched cars you automatically started at the back of the field? Not that it took away from a very impressive showing by the former Cup champ. Maybe with any luck he’ll give Pocono and or Fontana a try. I believe both races are run on off days for the Cup series.
Dave M., Worcester, MA
RM: The rule changed with the advent of the Fast 9 because nobody was going to keep take chances if they crashed and had to go to the back of the field. Busch said he’d do the double again, in the right circumstances, and that performance should have made the sponsors want to re-up. But probably not for Pocono or Fontana.
Q: That was a fantastic race that had everything. Nice to see clean racing for the first 3/4ths of the race with no yellows. Happy also to see Ryan Hunter-Reay get the win and attention he deserves. Even after winning the championship two years ago it seemed to me like RHR was still unappreciated by the media and fans even though he has been the best American open-wheel driver of the last 15+ years.
Lastly, one thing that has me concerned was how at the end of the race the lead pack was diving to the inside wall on the front stretch coming off of Turn 4 to block the inside line. This has the potential to become a terrible accident as they were only a couple feet away from where the pit wall starts. Any one mistake doing this could lead to fatal results. I was watching those last few laps nervously as it really looked unsafe to me.
Either IMS needs to extend the pit in wall to Turn 4 itself to have drivers enter the pits on the backstretch, or there needs to be an out-of-bounds, do-not-cross line on the front stretch in the area of where the pit wall starts keeping drivers at least two or three car widths away. I fear that someone is going to make a mistake or get pushed head on into that wall at over 200mph if they continue to race down the inside.
RM: Will Power said last year that RHR was the best all-around driver in the series and along with Scott Dixon it’s true. He got nothing from being IndyCar champion and you would hope IndyCar and IMS spend some of that $100 million loan on getting the new American winner some national exposure. The pit wall needs to put up that debris fence that’s used for MotoGP because the danger is a car being squeezed, riding over a wheel and clearing the pit wall. That would be a calamity.
Q: The rookies (especially the oldest, Kurt Busch) have gave everything they had and two of them ended up in the top 10. But I am very impressed with “The Indy 500 Prom King” Sage Karam (pictured, ABOVE) coming from the last row becoming the biggest mover of the race. In my opinion, both Kurt and Sage should share honors for the Rookie of the Year. Hopefully it could add up for more prizes such as a call up for the Formula 1 Young Driver Test Program. J.R. Hildebrand was phenomenal in his return after a seven-month absence. Even after being dropped but managing a top 15 finish, Hildebrand could at least work out some kind of a deal and hopefully convince Ed Carpenter into expanding to a 2-car stable.
RM: You are spot on Juan, regarding the Rookie of the Year: that would have been the fairest thing to do because both guys were outstanding. When you think about how little time Karam had in the car compared to Busch, he might have even been more impressive. And J.R. ran a nice race too and was unlucky to have pit problems. Ed wants to expand, he just needs to find another sponsor.
Q: What is Roger Penske like after losing the “500”? We’ve all heard his public comments from before, “good drive, good racing, it was close, next year,” blah, blah, et. What’s it really like the next time he talks with Cindric or he’s out of earshot of the press? He must know he and Helio don’t have all that many years left to get to wins 4 & 5. I can only imagine how much a loss grinds on him for the 12 months and it must have been a very quiet flight to Charlotte (if he even went).
Donald McElvain, Polson, Montana
RM: That’s an interesting question and I have no idea since I’ve never spent any time with R.P. in that environment. He’s always gracious and classy in public and I doubt if he throws tantrums after a tough loss like last Sunday. He’s won a lot more of those than he’s lost, so that probably tempers things.
Q: I know this topic has been vetted, but it demands to be fixed NOW as I’m not sure I can take it much longer. The ABC booth is AWFUL. Not only do they lack chemistry and fail to say anything interesting for the entire duration of a race, it’s downright uncomfortable to listen to Cheever, who’s as much fun as a teeth cleaning, and Goodyear who’s as godawful boring as a seminar on reverse mortgages. And the two don’t seem to like each other or at least have professional respect for one another. Of all the former drivers who can still breathe and stand, how in the world did those two get a booth job? It’s been said numerous times, however one only need watch/listen to an F1 broadcast to know where the bar is – intelligent, interesting, educational, entertaining. Duh!
Todd, Ft. Lauderdale, FL
RM: I only heard bits and pieces but I thought Bestwick brought out some energy in Cheever. I think Paul Tracy and Al Unser Jr. would both be good and Tony Kanaan is a natural in a couple more years. And when he retires James Hinchcliffe will likely have his own channel. He will be the best color analyst ever.
Q: Just some random thoughts. Another great Indy 500 without the somewhat contrived passing from last year. If you didn’t like this year’s race then you don’t like racing at its purest form. The red flag was ABSOLUTELY the right call. J.R. Hildebrand deserves a full-time ride next year. Come on ABC, 50 years of televising this great race and you still don’t get it. I know I am not the only one who wanted to see post-race interviews with Marco, Juan Pablo and Kurt Busch. Extend the time window 10 more minutes, instead we’re sent to taped surfing. Surfing?! Really?! Who ever replaces Jim Nabors has mighty big shoes to fill. PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE Robin join us on Twitter. Do it for the fans.
Scott, SW Florida
RM: ABC was supposed to go off air at 3:30 so it stuck around for the top two, but I agree, just go to 4 o’clock and get everyone – especially Busch. Beaux Barfield got lots of positive feedback for the red flag. LeeAnn Rimes was very good, maybe her? No Twitter for me. Just keeping reading RACER.com – that’s how I like to communicate.
Q: No qualms about the 2014 Indy 500, on the track, at least. RHR and HCN dueling it out at the end was great, and either would have been a deserving winner. My vitriol is reserved for ABC. One of the closest finishes in Indy 500 history, and what does ABC do? Split the screen, with half of it devoted to RHR’s wife. I concede that the shots of the spouse/girlfriend may have appeal to a certain (but probably small) part of the audience, but why must it be so intrusive? It seems that auto racing is the only sport where the TV directors forget that the action on the track or field should take first priority. Other sports get their reactions shots in as well, but as replays. People aren’t tuning in to watch the drivers’ wives and girlfriends, as attractive as some of them are. They want to watch the race. Not crammed into less than half of the screen (when the borders and padding are considered). Are the Powers That Be oblivious to the fact that their marquee event is covered so poorly? Pathetic. And someone needs to poke Eddie Cheever to make sure he’s awake, and that those mumbles he emits aren’t just coming from some odd dreams.
John in California
RM: The biggest complaint (by a wide margin) from readers this week is exactly what ticked you off. But, don’t forget, ABC started this “tradition” a long time ago (remember Rick Mears diving inside Gordon Johncock on the white flag lap in 1982? Of course you don’t, we were watching Dina Mears cheer for her man). I’ve backed off criticizing ABC because I think they’re trying and Allen Bestwick has been a breath of fresh air but the Wife/Girlfriend Cam needs to go.
Q: Great race, I was so glad to see the red flag to get a real race at the end for a change. The one thing I noticed, aside from the cars, was the number of empty seats. There were places where entire sections were empty. Did the track purposely not sell certain sections? Also, of all places, the paddock looked pretty empty as well; was that due to new ticket prices? I know it is great to get another American driver on the trophy but man, I sure would have like to have seen Helio get his fourth. Looking forward to Detroit. I think you, PT, and Bob Varsha should get a turn in the booth calling the race.
Tom in Waco
RM: Actually, it was a better crowd this year than the last few and not nearly as many noticeable gaps from the blimp shot. I estimated 210,000 (Channel 13 in Indy said 300,000 and I think The Indianapolis Star guessed 230,000) but if there are still 225,000 permanent seats then there were at least 10,000 empty ones. Varsha and PT will be doing several more races from the booth.
Q: Please don’t laugh at this suggestion. With Gene Haas getting into F1 soon, perhaps it’s time to start thinking of Kurt Busch doing the ultimate triple crown of motorsports in one day. Kurt could run the Monaco F1; Indy 500; and the Coke 600 in one day. Yes, don’t laugh, it would be logistically possible. The F1 race would have to begin a little earlier, and the starts of Indy, and the 600 would need to be delayed an hour or so each. The biggest hitch is the transportation between Monte Carlo and Indy, but it could be done. A helicopter ride from Monte Carlo to Nice, then Kurt jumps into a recomissioned USAF SR-71 Blackbird for the quick flight to Indy. And then he is on track for the next two races. Ah, gee Robin, please stop laughing. This would be the most phenomenal feat of motorsports ever! Honest, I was completely sober coming up with this idea. Try running it by Kurt before the race Sunday, I bet his eyes would light up to the idea.
Allen Lasko, Manitoba, Canada
RM: I promise you that Busch might entertain this idea and Mario would have made it happen but too many hoops to jump through. And the only thing that made me laugh was your suggestion that NASCAR might move its race to help somebody else.
Q: After many long years, the Month of May is back, and it’s been terrific. I cannot say enough “thank yous” to everyone whose vision, hard work and willingness to take chances has made this possible.
For my money, the most electrifying headline of the month has been: “Carpenter Paces 9 Qualifiers Above 230.” I think raw speed is what the sport needs to emphasize to the public, because speed is the most easily comprehensible element distinguishing IndyCar from NASCAR and F1. Also, I think being over 230 is important. Retailers price their products with “.99” at the end because it sounds much cheaper than only a penny more. I think the same holds true when it comes to speed because 230mph just sounds a whole lot faster than 229.9. I’ve been a “500” fan long enough to have a well-developed fear of pushing for ever-higher speeds on a low-banked track enclosed by steel and concrete. I don’t think the “500” needs a new track record. What I do think it needs is to continue to have several qualifiers above 230, and for every announcer, sponsor, advertiser, team, driver and fan to proclaim “over 230mph!” at every opportunity. Because 230 is really, really fast, and between IndyCar, NASCAR and F1, it’s fastest.
Al Kuhlman, Indianapolis
RM: Sometimes I think we are a little numb to a rather staggering number like 230mph and you make a great point. It’s a good suggestion for marketing department. Kurt Busch qualified at 230mph and started 12th in the 98th Indianapolis 500.
Q: We remember Indy and how it used to be. I was aghast at the emptiness of the grandstands on both days of “qualifications.” Though, Saturday’s “crowd” may have been better before the rain (then they missed some good runs) but late Saturday and Sunday, it looked mighty sparse out there. I can remember going to practices in the late ’60s in which there were more people at Indy in the middle of the week (back when it was a Month of May) than there was on Sunday! I pondered – why so few?
1) There aren’t enough cars entered to make the ‘new’ qualification system work. 2) The COSTS to make these cars is too high. It’ll never happen but the technology required is just not worth the cost and reduction in entrants. Do we need to have brake bias and weight jacker adjustment ability in car? That wings can be tweaked in micro-millimeters? When a driver is heard to say how much is now needed to adjust the slightest amount. How does that relate to ME?
As to the new quali system, as I see it, Saturday was only done to determine the order for Sunday, with the Top 9 being protected to be in the Top 9…. unlimited chances now? Where’s the strategy? (The “pulling your time” to move to the front of the line was interesting.) Still only 33 cars even then there was no risk. The tension… the hand-wringing stress of the final 10 minutes? Has Indy become ‘Just another race’? I refuse to believe that, but where’s the magic? As a kid, I couldn’t wait for the 500 as a young man, I’d start having nightmares in April that I’d MISSED the race! And I’ve never missed a race since ’58, with Sam Hanks introducing me to being a “500” winner in ’57 when I was nine years old: I didn’t know really what it was, but it sounded SPECIAL – unique! The IndyCar series seems to be improving – I watch the races, all of them! – but Indy has lost the draw it once had (sigh.)
Bruce Boembeke, Mishawaka, IN
RM: The new qualifying format was put in place for ABC and, even though IMS was empty, both days garnered good ratings (by IndyCar standards) so as much sense as it makes to qualify in one day, it’s likely going to remain if ABC wants to come back for that weekend. When there are only 33 cars, qualifying has no drama other than the pole position, so why would people come? Answer: They didn’t. But at least the race should have revitalized your spirits. Thanks for being a loyal fan.
Q: I think Helio’s Yellow Submarine is a beautiful car, the best paint scheme of the year. I have seen several published accounts with the same opinion. However, I have not seen anyone mention the problem with this story: in 20 years will anyone care enough about the 2014 cars to copy one? This is the problem with the current situation/spec cars – few people care now, and fewer will care in the future. I know I have made this point before, but I thought with Helio’s car it was glaringly obvious how much IndyCar has been diminished – and mostly by self-inflicted wounds.
RM: Doubtful. When I go to the memorabilia show at IMS it’s to find treasure from the old days, because it was different, exotic and inventive. There won’t even be memorabilia for this generation.
Q: For the March 12th Mailbag I asked you which under-funded team was going to make some noise, who was going to win Indy and the championship. You said, Carpenter and Conway, RHR for Indy and Dixie as champion. You got two-thirds of the trifecta. My prediction in March was Simon Pagenaud to win Indy, and he looked strong leading up to the “500.” I haven’t had the chance to see the telecast yet, but I attended the race and listened to the broadcast. It was like Pagenaud was invisible. After your March predictions, you are my official guru, so what’s the story of Simon’s uncharacteristically quiet race after a sizzling start to his season?
Gerry Courtney, San Francisco, CA
RM: Well I wish I’d have bet on RHR at 9-1 instead of taking a flyer on Josef Newgarden at 75-1 and Dixie at 8-1. Dario told me race morning that RHR was going to be tough and he was spot on. Pagenaud only had one surge to the front as I recall but I didn’t talk to him, so not sure what happened. Just one of those days.
Q: Lost in the fact that the race was great again this year was the announcement that this was the last year for Jim Nabors to perform “Back Home Again in Indiana.” It won’t be the same without him and I admit I always looked forward to hearing him sing it because it meant the race was just about to start. Do you know what the plans are for a replacement? I just hope the Speedway doesn’t pick some country singer who will murder the tune like they do the national anthem by insisting on adding “effects” or attempting to hit high C.
Steve C., Ithaca, NY
RM: Got no idea but my suggestion would be just to play a recording of Jim’s rendition. I think the fans would like it. Unless Steven Tyler is available.
Q: Do you know who will fill Leigh Diffey’s position on the NBCSN broadcasts during the IndyCar races at Texas, Pocono, Toronto and Sonoma when F1 is in action on those weekends?
RM: Bob Varsha will do all of them except Texas and I’m not sure who will be in the booth there – maybe Brian Till or Bob Jenkins.
Q: The reason that Indy has only 33 cars every year has nothing to do with car or engine availability. It is economics: Running an Indy-only program costs too much money AND there is too little reward for making the field. Both numbers are to blame. In the “old days” the monetary risk (cost of running a car) was a little lower, but the prize for success (prize money for making the field) was higher. Now, who in their right mind is going to put up $1 million on the chance they finish 34th and get nothing?
IMS can’t do a lot in the short term about the cost of running a car. The current spec is locked in for the rest of the decade. But it can raise the reward for making the field, and perhaps offer a meaningful appearance fee for finishing 34-to-37. If they want bumping, IMS is going to have to prime the pump somehow. And more teams could lead to more regular competitors in the series. They have to try something if they want things to change. Otherwise, you are going to see teams like Andretti running 10 cars just to fill up the 33-car field.
RM: You are preaching to the choir, Ed. I’ve said for years either sell some Clabber Girl stock, blow up the Leader’s Circle or find a big corporate sponsor so you can pay $5 million to win and $1 million to start. Lower the car costs and triple the purse – that’s the only thing that’s going to attract a United SportsCar, NASCAR or WoO team. Right now, three owners own half the field and that’s not healthy.
Q: There is obviously a lot of commentary about the new qualifying format for the “500” and the low attendance. I was wondering if qualifying is blacked out in the Indianapolis area like the race is? If not, that might explain part of the dwindling attendance for qualifying. Other blog sites often comment on how the proliferation of high-definition wide-screen TV’s have changed consumer habits. If you are not a hardcore fan in the Indianapolis area that prefers to experience qualifying at the Speedway, you can enjoy watching the telecast in the comfort of your own home at no cost, and at your leisure with a DVR.
And this is probably even more the case for casual fans who 25 years ago might have driven a couple of hours for a day trip to see qualifying. You can pay $1m to win the pole and have 45 cars trying to qualify, but if it’s easy to watch it in the comfort of your home, why would the casual fan invest time and money to go to the Speedway? IMS has had to adapt and add more “content” to keep and recruit younger attendees of the 500. They may have to consider adding similar content to increase attendance for practice and qualifying. And hope they never end the TV blackout of the “500.”
David, Greensboro, NC
RM: Qualifying is not blacked out and IMS has spent the past few years trying to get kids to show up with concerts. Well, they had a good crowd for Jason Aldean but how many of those people went to practice, qualifying or the race? Spec cars don’t excite many people and 230mph didn’t make one bit of difference this month. The race is still a draw, thankfully, but with a disappointing TV rating (3.8 was the final number) you can rest assured Indy will remain blacked out in Indianapolis.
Q: ESPN Classic has been showing old Indy 500s, and I just finished the 1971 race. Several things caught my eye. I saw few cars with sponsors. Where did teams get money? For example, Unser’s Colt (pictured, ABOVE) just had lightning bolts on it. Who was Johnny Lightning, anyways?
The pace car wasn’t deployed during cautions. What tools did drivers have to know they weren’t gaining an unfair advantage under yellow?
I’ve seen you write that some drivers did have an unfair advantage over others under yellow. Did USAC really trust drivers to “maintain spacing” under yellow? Under one caution, Jim McKay commented that Al Unser’s mechanic was complaining to the flagman about second place catching Unser. At the end of the race, there were five cars on the lead lap. There may have been five total lead changes during the race. In terms of on-track action, is today the golden age of IndyCar?
Kyle in Raleigh
RM: First off, racing was not that expensive back then and sportsmen like Bob Wilke, Tassi Vatis, Al Dean, Lindsey Hopkins and J.C. Agajanian could pay for it out of their own pocket. Johnny Lightning was a popular toy car from Mattel that got lots of mileage from Unser’s back-to-back wins. The second-place car Unser was complaining about was brother Bobby, who was cheating the Pacer lights right in front of USAC’s eyes with non-stop pit stops. Today’s racing is much closer because of spec cars and much more reliable because of engine leases. But the ’60s and ’70s were the golden age for many and they still matter to some of us.
Q: Can we give a big shout-out to Dan Andersen? I know he didn’t initiate the project to bring the new Lights car to the track, but I don’t hear near the negativity about it we heard in 2011 about the DW12, and he seems to have a vision for creating real value in ascending the Mazda Road to Indy.
I think it’s great to have recent Lights graduates Munoz and Hawksworth in the field on merit and sponsorship, but I also think it is fantastic that under the new format a guy like Sage Karam would have a tune-up race to get a little wheel time in the DW12 before the month of May. As much as I love former winners like Buddy Lazier and Jacques Villeneuve coming back to the track, I think it helps the series more to have young drivers (new owners, sponsors, etc.) see that having success last year can get you into the Indianapolis 500, and closer to a full time ride than winning 15+ years ago. I know Buddy and Jacques are around purely because of low car counts and the need to fill 11 rows of three on Sunday, but if those seats could be filled by guys that came up through the MRTI in the last few years as opposed to guys who retired from full time racing years ago I think it would be good business for the series.
Dan Wagner, Ft. Worth, TX
RM: Yes we can. Big Dan started USF2000, came to ProMazda’s rescue and now is saving Indy Lights. And the fact the new Lights car looks great, will have 450hp + 50hp push-to-pass and the champion gets three IndyCar races guaranteed is excellent news. Here’s a link to the video interviews we did with Dan and Tony Cotman at the launch last Thursday.
Q: I have immensely enjoyed the Dan Gurney series you are doing on RACER.com. It brings back a lot of memories and gives me so much info I never knew of. I love the pic of him changing in his truck! Dan Gurney has been one of my heroes since I first heard of him back in the early 1960s. I have never thought a great driver was measured by the number of victories but by more subtle and intangible qualities. Victories are nice, though. Please pass along my felicitations and admiration for a man with an astounding career, always exemplified by real class.
Dicky Neely, Corpus Christi, TX
RM: To think he went from sports racing to a Formula 1 car in 16 races is almost as staggering as what he accomplished. Look at all the F1 races he was leading when something broke and you’ll know why Jimmy Clark feared him. He’s the class act of the past 60 years and an American treasure. Thanks for watching the series. You can watch the latest here.