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 email@example.com We cannot guarantee we’ll publish all your questions and answers, but Robin will reply to you.
And if you have a question about the technology side of racing, remember that Marshall Pruett tackles them in his Tech Mailbags each week. Please send tech questions to PruettsTechMailbag@Racer.com.
Q: Was the rain different on Saturday than Sunday? No one wants to see anyone get hurt but let’s stop with this politically correct over- analyzing everything. If, it’s raining put on rain tires. If you can’t see, then stop (a la Niki Lauda in Fuji in 1976 when Mario won). They’re the best drivers in the world? They have damaged IndyCar racing, the casual fan’s and the devoted fan’s perspective, not to mention the Toronto Indy and TV ratings. What sport waits two hours before they call the game? Not even baseball does that! Was it that they were concerned that they would wreck 75 percent of the field and not have cars for Sunday? Then bring two cars!
RM: It rained all day on Saturday and harder than Sunday’s shower but everybody said the difference was that the water was sitting on top of the surface Saturday whereas the cars were already running when it started falling Sunday so it was easy to dissipate. And, yes, IndyCar was concerned about losing a lot of cars on Day 1.
Q: I respect your opinion about everything with regards to IndyCar, but I humbly disagree with your article on “MILLER: They should have raced…. “. Unlike Houston, it seemed the atmospheric conditions were conducive to creating a foggy mist. It was apparent from the TV shot down down Lake Shore Blvd. I could not make out some of the cars going at pace car speed.
RM: No worries Sean, if you agreed with everything I said we’d have to commit you. But a couple drivers said if they’d have started and just raced to the conditions for a few laps it would have blown everything off enough to see. It seemed like the veterans lobbied loudest not to run while most of the rookies wanted to go for it.
Q: IndyCar missed a great opportunity for a memorable race doubleheader and instead had two that I hope will be forgotten. I do not like the red flags. I understand that IndyCar wants to give the fans a green finish, but to me it is no different than NASCAR’s “green white checker.” So far it has not bit anybody in the butt, but it might rob a deserving victory from someone in the future. Will Power almost took out his teammate going for the lead. I wonder how much long the Captain is going to put up with WP?
RM: IndyCar has stated it would not red flag a race inside the closing laps to get a GWC effect but, being a timed raced, that’s how it turned out (three laps). For what those loyal Canadians sat through for two days, I thought they deserved it. As long as WP doesn’t take his teammate out and cost them the championship, he’s just fine. The Captain likes winners.
Q: I KNEW that you were always a stand-up guy! And FF racer. The tires that Firestone presented as rain tires just were NOT. You are the only person (except for me) who mentioned this huge problem. But I won’t lose my job for saying so. Bon chance, as G. Hill used to say!”
RM: Actually, several drivers mentioned it to me before, during and after last weekend’s dog & pony show in Toronto so that’s why I wrote about it. As I also stated, Firestone builds great tires for IndyCar in all dry conditions and, again according to the drivers, had a decent rain tire a couple years ago but abandoned it for the current model. One prominent driver said: “It’s a joke to call it a rain tire. It’s hard, has no grooves and that’s why you saw a couple guys try slicks when the track was still very wet because there wasn’t that much difference.” Another driver said the old tire had tread/grooves that shot the water straight up and didn’t hinder visibility whereas this one just sprayed water everywhere. Firestone has always been a good partner for IndyCar so I imagine it will do the right thing and fix its rain tire. I haven’t been fired (yet) but there are still four races so…
[You’re safe. – Malsher, Ed.]
Q: I’m like you….a race fan starting way long ago. However, I love seeing races when I can actually SEE them, not just in front of me, but way down the track. And I opt for safety. Gotta go with Derrick on this one. The absolute smartest race I’ve ever seen called was when CART opted to not race at Texas Motor Speedway several years ago. Then there’s the cost of the racecars themselves. Wanna re-live old times? Think of Jim Clark running in the wet at Hockenheim. Still love ya guy, but about this, I go t’other way!
Dan Gallion, Ft. Worth
RM: No problem Dan, that’s why America is a great country, we can agree to disagree. But let’s be honest, Clark’s era was 20 times more dangerous (he hit a tree because there was no guardrail or tirewall) and these new Indy cars are strong and safe. My point is that everybody has a throttle and a brake and I would have liked to see an attempt made to try and blow off the standing water. Some drivers said it was impossible to see and others said it was challenging.
Q: I agree that they should have raced Saturday. These are supposed to be the best drivers in the world and rain always makes a race exciting. I was disappointed that they wussed out and waited until Sunday. On the plus side though, two races on Sunday! And together they had all one could ask for. A runaway winner in the first race including a podium return for a popular driver after a long dry spell. The second race had great racing, a little rain and a decent finish. Perhaps Indy car will look at Sunday and consider bringing back twin 150s. Dare to dream. Had a thought while watching the non-race on Saturday. Derrick Walker would be smart to scoop up Dario as an assistant. He could handle race control while Dario could deal with the drivers. He’s smart and well respected by all. Also, Chip would be smart to let this happen. Loved your grid run. Funny and entertaining!
Bill Phypers, Brewster, NY
RM: A.J. and Mario felt the same as you, as did a lot of fans, but I guess that shows the difference between the old gunfighters and today’s racers. USAC had same-day road racing doubleheaders on ovals and road courses so I’m all for it. Dario is WAAAAAYYYY too smart to work for IndyCar and having way too much fun.
Q: I guess I understand the reason to shorten race #1 but why in the world was race #2 shortened? First to 65 laps then to a dreaded time race. The race ended with more than 20 minutes left on the TV schedule. I’ve hated timed races since the glory days of CART but this was the worse! If it had to be timed why not make the race end five minutes before the TV schedule ends? That gives you max racing and a few minutes to interview the winner.
You have reported several times that Andretti is interested in Simon Pagenaud. If that’s the case who would be the odd man out? Will he go to five cars? Either way, why not bring up Zach Veach? Wasn’t Sage Karam an Andretti development driver? Why be a part of the feeder series if you’re not going to bring your own guys up to the big series? What the heck is going on with RHR? How many more good finishes will he just give away? Race 1 Toronto, Long Beach etc….
He needs to be smarter. Finally …I grew up a Michael Andretti fan so as far as I was concerned, every time I saw his front wing fly off the car into the air, it was Paul Tracy’s fault!!! With that said…PT is FANTASTIC in the booth!!! Him and Townsend Bell make a great combo.
Chris Z, Ft. Lauderdale, FL
RM: From Derrick Walker: “Once we had to reschedule Saturday’s race, we took into account a number of issues like other series who needed track time, the approaching weather, the chance to repeat of Saturday’s race, and driver committee input. But, on reflection, I wish we had kept the race distance for Race 2. We’ll try to do better next time.”
The early line from Andretti was that a fifth car would be added but now we hear that James Hinchcliffe opted out of 2015 so maybe Karam replaces him. RHR is usually smarter and those two mistakes may cost him the title. I agree, PT and TBell are very entertaining, as well as knowledgeable.
Q: Yet another amazing weekend of racing north of the border, eh? Seriously, I know I said last week that Iowa had it all, but so did Toronto and the entire NBCSN crew absolutely killed it this weekend. And especially you, Robin, for convincing Sarah Fisher to work on the car under red – she owes you dinner at the Mug ‘n’ Bun. Anyway, do you foresee any rule changes based on what happened this weekend? I wanna see a rule change where, when Race Control broadcasts to all drivers/teams, that the broadcast is also played over the PA system at the track so everyone can hear it in real time. I have a feeling that the so-called Robin Miller strategy of repairing under red will get eliminated or made more severe.
Jared in Grand Rapids
RM: Thanks but Dale Coyne is the reason Sarah pulled the trigger during the red flag. I asked him the rule and then relayed his response and suggestion to Sarah, and her team started rebuilding Josef’s suspension. I was just a messenger. As for your request to have Race Control’s dialogue shared over the PA system, I doubt it but I’ll ask.
Q: As a longtime fan of IndyCar who attends the Toronto race every year, I could never understand why IndyCar struggles so much with popularity. I think today we all finally learned why: you can’t treat your paying fans the way they were treated last weekend and expect to run a popular series. The issue was not that it was raining (not IndyCar’s fault) or even that they couldn’t run in the rain – the spray was so bad that sitting in Row 12, we were being soaked by the spray from the cars, not the drizzle. The issue was the lack of organization and the mistreatment of paying fans. IndyCar looked like they had no clue what they were doing and frankly I don’t think they did. After they rolled out the first time and couldn’t start, it was mass confusion. The failed restart, the pace car going too fast and wrecking, whether or not teams could work on their cars…
But the biggest problem was that at the track, fans were given ZERO updates! Even after the race was called, around 6:15, the big screens continued to show footage of old races without telling fans the race was off, which did not come until almost 7:00, leaving us sitting out in the increasingly heavy rain for another 45 minutes! For casual or first-time fans that was a HUGE turn off, and was even so for diehards as well. Even after the fact, nobody knew if two races would be run Sunday, one on Monday (as a Toronto resident I know you couldn’t keep Lakeshore Blvd. closed on Monday) or even running next Saturday was mentioned. My question is: what can be done to fix IndyCar’s organization and the overall fan experience in the future to help IndyCar grow?
Ben from Toronto
RM: I’ll grant you that IndyCar looked pretty minor league on Saturday but the problem you’re discussing (and what I mentioned in Saturday night’s commentary on RACER.com) was the total lack of communication with the paying customers. And that’s on the promoters as well as IndyCar. There was never one message on the big screens, not one announcement on the PA system and the only way fans knew that Saturday was cancelled was when they saw the teams rolling the cars back to the paddock. I heard several fans say they wouldn’t ever come back and I wouldn’t blame them. We don’t have enough time to answer your first question but the fan experience is usually good with paddock/pit access and autograph sessions.
Q: Watching great Toronto race with rain and the stands are full! I was wondering what is the TV rating in Canada?? With that kind of support why aren’t there four or five races north of the border? Come on IndyCar, open your eyes.??
RM: Well, the few grandstands that are still in use were pretty full and the corporate suites were packed but there weren’t 20,000 people at Sunday’s races. I estimated no more than 12,000 on Saturday and Dean McNulty of The Toronto Star said 12,000-15,000 on Saturday and a little better on Sunday. Kinda sad since it used to be 70,000 on Sunday alone. Having said that, I’d run in Montreal, Calgary and Vancouver if I could because Canadian fans are loyal, passionate and knowledgeable about IndyCar racing.
Q: It didn’t seem like the cars were capable of racing on Saturday. As disappointed as I was to not see an exciting standing start on a wet track, that spray looked unmanageable. With the amount of rain they were getting, I’m not even sure having the cars run at whatever speed they were capable of would have minimized the spray sufficiently. Whatever happened to Newgarden’s penalty for working on the car under red? He never served one in Race 1. There is no way he served a 20-second hold penalty and tagged on to the back of the field 10 laps or so in to the race. Speaking of penalties, RHR’s penalty needs a rules revision. In the second race Will Power was on pit lane and jumped out because the pits closed. What if they had been at Barber Motorsports Park? There is no way to jump out of those pits. If you’re committed to pitting you should be OK to pit even if a yellow comes out, otherwise you get a potentially unsafe move like Power made.
While we’re on the subject of rules changes, since when can a timed race stop under a red flag? Don’t get me wrong I liked the call for the fans at the track. After all they put up with, they deserved to see cars racing to the line. And on the subject of rules what rules dictated Power, Montoya, and Briscoe start in the back for Race 1 when the race never happened in the first place? First they were going to be restored to their grid position and then they were put to the back again. I respect that Race Control was in an unprecedented situation, but it seemed like they made things up along the way.
Ryan in West Michigan
RM: Josef served a drive-through penalty under green and Power was almost in pit lane but still on the track when he swerved to stay out and went over the curbing. Not sure about the red flag ruling pertaining to a timed race but I’ll request an answer.
Q: It’s bad enough that IndyCar can’t race in a mist. It’s even worse that they can’t post a correct TV schedule. On Saturday, they said the race would be on NBCSN at 10:30 am on Sunday. That when I set the DVR. Then a genius moved the race to CNBC. I know we’re trying to NOT look clueless, but this doesn’t help.
Kyle in Raleigh
RM: To be truthful, when we left the track Saturday night nobody knew where the race would air to my knowledge. And the Tour de France was always scheduled for Sunday morning on NBCSN. I’m sorry you missed the race but it was a scramble with Formula 1 moving to CNBC as well and leading into IndyCar.
Q: IndyCar needs to add a new flag to clear up confusion like that seen at rainy Toronto on Saturday. The red flag was just inadequate to explain the whole situation. When circumstances like these occur in the future, I propose substituting a flag carrying the Marlboro logo.? No excuses. IndyCar is clearly making stuff up as they go along.?
John, Fort Myers
RM: That’s funny except Marlboro no longer sponsors Team Penske and, according to the rule book, if a race hasn’t officially started it’s legal to work on cars during a red flag. That’s why Michael Andretti didn’t file an official protest and A.J. didn’t take a swing at The Captain. I know it looked crooked but it wasn’t and that antiquated rule from the 1960s about not working on cars under red flags needs to go away. With only 22 cars, they need everyone to be out there if possible, so let Newgarden’s crew repair their car with NO PENALTY.
Q: I just wanted to say Thank you, Thank you, Thank you for your comment that the, ‘Penske boys should be glad they are still on the track.’ It seems to me that Power receives more breaks from Race Control than anyone else. I suspect a NASCAR-type decision to make sure he wins the championship this year after messing it up the last three years. At least he was made to start at the back.
Debbie Biere, St. Louis, MO
RM: I just couldn’t believe Tim Cindric was whining about not being able to pit for fuel when his driver had just received the greatest gift of the season. But, trust me, there is no conspiracy to make sure Will or RP wins the championship. He gets penalized his fair share when it’s merited and what happened Saturday was just lucky.
Q: Totally pissed at the debacle of officiating by the “Verizon Penske Car Series”. What a disgrace and display of favoritism along with stupidity and scramble to cover up their mess. Walker’s failed attempt at excuses was a total disgrace! Power didn’t take the warm up laps? How did he end up hitting the wall if he wasn’t even there? These bozos can’t get out of their own way!
Skip Ranfone, Summerfield, FL
RM: The fact the race never took the green flag is what saved Power, not the officiating. I think Walker’s explanation about Power not taking the warm-up laps was actually to explain why he was being made to start at the back for Race 1, rather than at the front. But I do understand why fans are confused. If the race never started, why weren’t Power, Montoya and Briscoe allowed to start in their original place? My guess is that Montoya and Briscoe had issues and had to pit so it’s just like any other race when, if you can’t remain in formation, you have to go to the back.
Q: I’ve just about had it with IndyCar. I’m tired of fuel mileage and pit strategy. I’m tired of Race Control seemingly making up rules as they go along and then seemingly changing them at every event. I’m tired of road and street courses dominating the schedule. I’m tired of the series not fortifying the schedule with quality events and not having any date consistency from year to year. I’m tired of not knowing if an event will come back next year or if an event will be given a fair shot. I’m tired of the lack of marketing of the series and the drivers. I’m tired of seeing highlights from 30-something baseball teams’ 162 games on ESPN (that’s nearly 5,000 games!). Does anyone even watch that sport anymore? It’s terribly boring and horribly out of date, yet IndyCar can’t get a 30-second highlight for any race other than the Indy 500.
I really thought IndyCar would be on an upswing with the new leadership, but I haven’t been impressed. Race Control is a joke and I say that thinking it couldn’t get any worse after Brian Barnhart. I mean, how can you red flag a race that’s on a time limit? That was the last of about a dozen screw-ups by the boys in the booth this weekend in Toronto.
And I’m tired of Will Power’s act. I tried to like him for several seasons but I’m done with the Aussie. He’s dirty, whiny and he’s going to get someone hurt — or worse. I’ve thought all season he’d get canned by The Captain if he doesn’t clean up his act, but he doesn’t seem to get it. I know you’ve said he’s safe but I’m not so sure. I say give his seat to someone younger and more, how shall I say it, American.
I’ve been a lifelong IndyCar fan and I’m just tired. This series is the best thing going on-track (besides the aforementioned fuel mileage and pit strategy), but off-track it’s a comedy of errors. I watch every event either live or on DVR and I’ve even been to a couple other tracks besides Indianapolis. I go to Indy every year — at least we’ll always have that, right? And I’ll always love that place and event — but I’m about to be finished. And if they lose me? Well, then just turn out the lights because it’s over.
Brian, Mt. Juliet, Tenn.
RM: Fuel mileage and pit strategy are just part of today’s landscape and it’s nobody’s fault, just the way it is. I understand your frustration in the ever-changing schedule and ESPN’s total lack of professionalism in recognizing IndyCar. The longest and loudest complaint I’ve heard is consistency and IndyCar still to needs to work on that.
Q: All of the racing series want their races to be entertaining. Since the drivers were not able to qualify for the Toronto #2 race, IndyCar had the option to set the starting grid however they wanted. I would have liked to see them invert the field. Having the leading points drivers go through the field, would definitely have been entertaining.
Ken, Sarasota, Fla.
RM: That’s an option but I think it would require incentive bonuses, the fairest thing might have been to start the way Race 1 finished but the rules call for owner points if qualifying is cancelled.
Q: When you hark back to the days of badass, brave racers (and let’s be frank, you do that a lot), you mention certain tracks. Of the paved, high-bank class, you usually mention Salem, but not Winchester. I watched sprints on those tracks before and after cages and they both scared the beejeezus out of me. I’m just curious – what is it about Salem that makes you pick it instead of Winchester (or Dayton, for that matter) for the badass hall of fame?
Tom Hinshaw, Santa Barbara, Ca.lif.
RM: I didn’t realize I mentioned one more than the other but it’s purely accidental because all three were a wicked test of balls and skill. I can attest to that. I made my Winchester debut in 1976 and started last because it was my first time (USAC rule) on the high banks. The feature started and I passed a couple cars and thought I was going pretty quick until Rich Vogler and Johnny Parsons went by me sideways while hazing their right rear tires and disappeared. Hmm, maybe I wasn’t going so fast.
Q: We have four races to go, do you think it is a two-, three-, or four-dog fight? I’m picturing a three-way title fight between Power, Helio, and RHR at California. I think the next three races favor Helio and RHR the best. A lot can happen in the next four races. TCGR could be the fly in the ointment; Dixon is winless after all, and he hasn’t had a winless season since 2004. I had a question about Newgarden: how long is this kid under contract for? His results do not show how good a racer he really is, if only he could buy some luck or learn to be just a wee bit more patient.
CJ Shoemaker, SW Michigan
RM: Pagenaud needs to win Mid-Ohio and have the other three struggle a little bit to make a 4-horse show. Not sure about Josef’s contract length but if I won the lottery, I’d be his sponsor, get him a teammate and give Sarah’s team the depth it lacks. He was pressing at Toronto, going from last to 11th and trying to get around Power for 10th when he over-cooked Turn 3 and clipped the wall. But the kid is worth believing in.
Q: The NBC commentary has been GREAT this year! Townsend Bell and Paul Tracy are the best I have heard, they even get my fiancé interested in watching races!? What is the deal with Ganassi this year? What has them so off their usual game? Is it just the absence of Dario?
RM: I agree those two have great chemistry and make it fun, plus they’re both excellent analysts. It takes some time to develop chemistry and I think T.K. and Chris Simmons are clicking, while Dixie has made a couple rare mistakes and can’t buy a break. Dario was in Toronto and Kanaan praised him for his input all weekend. “I call him ‘Coach,’” said the 2013 Indy winner.
Q: In last week’s Mailbag, I think you said that ABC has a clause that prevents NBC from showing IndyCar races? Is that true? Don’t they understand that the more eyeballs watching would be good for the series, and thereby, good for their race coverage as more people might see a race and watch the races on ABC? As you continually state, the racing right now in IndyCar is first rate, and if a few were shown on NBC maybe more people would catch on. Don’t get me wrong, I am not complaining about the coverage on NBCSN. I think they do a great job (glad that they do a qualifying show by the way). I’m just saying that having more people get the opportunity to see some of the races might get a few more interested in it. I don’t get why they would want such an exclusivity clause. This surely doesn’t help with the exposure IndyCar could possibly be getting. Also, I agree with you completely that Watkins Glen needs to be on the schedule. I attended each race they had there and thoroughly enjoyed all of them.
Paul, Lancaster, NY
RM: That is correct. The ABC contract doesn’t allow any IndyCar races to be shown on another Big 4 network, hence NBC is shut out. I believe Mark Miles is trying to get that changed and, obviously, it would be a big boon for IndyCar to have two networks televising their races because there are so many more available eyeballs. The Glen and Road America should be on the schedule and double-headers with IndyCar and the TUDOR SportsCar Championship.
Q: I love your role at RACER.com and on NBCSN. IndyCar just blows NASCAR and F1 out of the water. I used to watch all the NASCAR races but for the past several years, I only watch a very few as it has gotten very boring. I watch all the F1 races but their racing is not as exciting as IndyCar and their drivers are very standoff-ish. IndyCar drivers are very personable and fan-friendly. I cannot wait for every IndyCar race. I have been to every Indianapolis 500 since 1966 and still get chills every time the command is given.
After watching the Toronto races I have a couple of suggestions to improve the racing. Let teams work on cars during any red-flag period without penalty. With the limited car count anyway, doing things to make sure as many cars as possible are on the lead lap would benefit the fans. I have never understood the reason for this rule and it has the potential to help any of the teams. Eliminate timed races on road and street courses. Fans pay to see a set number of laps. To change to a timed race robs the fans and serves no purpose and I cringe when this happens. You don’t see timed races on ovals. Run the full distance.
Don’t end the season on Aug. 30. IndyCar will be forgotten about. This was done originally because IndyCar did not want to go up against football. Guess what: I can watch both IndyCar and football because I have a DVR so that excuse does not hold water. More ovals. I won’t get in that debate but I am an oval track person but still watch all the races anyway. IndyCar has the best oval racing in the world and it used to be tons better than it is now – Indy 500 excluded as that is always exciting. IndyCar has a fantastic product and fantastic drivers. Thanks for listening and keep doing the Dan Wheldon Grid Walk!
RM: If you like good racing and unpredictability, IndyCar has no rival. Ten different winners in 14 races says it all. Like to see IndyCar go back to Richmond and Phoenix but it may have to be a joint partnership to add or keep the ovals it has right now. Thanks for reading RACER.com and watching NBCSN.
Q: Can you elaborate why there aren’t potential owners lining up for IndyCar? The show is fantastic, almost every team has a shot at a victory, there are a ton of eligible drivers, in comparison to F1, NASCAR, and the other open wheel series, it appears to be the cheapest or best bang for your buck to win.
Paul Hirsch, Erie, Pa.
RM: If you enjoy competition, IndyCar is the best because you can buy the same car and engine as Roger Penske and if you have a good driver/engineer and pit stops, you can win. But, like sports cars, the purses in IndyCar are a joke and, unless you’re part of the Leader’s Circle, there’s not a lot of incentive to join. NASCAR’s lure is the money an owner can make just starting and parking and it’s still expensive to go IndyCar racing unless you have a big sponsor.
Q: The Iowa race was fantastic, I was sorry to see the crowd down but glad to hear TV viewership was up. And the fact that Ryan Hunter-Reay won the ESPY for best driver has to be putting in IndyCar back on the map. We have by far the best racing in the world, the fastest cars in the world, the most diverse tracks in the world, and Verizon as a sponsor. I am really optimistic and purchasing my tickets for Fontana as we speak. We have some great American drivers in Hunter-Reay, Newgarden, and if we can get Andretti and Rahal back on track, things will really be looking up for American open-wheel racing.
The one way that us fans can help other than watching the races on TV and buying tickets at our local tracks is to purchase from the sponsors of IndyCar. As I said before, I switched all 12 of my business phones for personal phones to Verizon, I’m using DHL for shipping, buying my building materials for my construction company at ABC supply, using Firestone tires and happily drinking Fuzzy’s vodka. Our series and teams needs sponsors to survive and the ones they have deserve to be rewarded any way we can. Thanks for all the great commentary over the years, Robin.
CAM in LA
RM: What sucked about the ESPYs is that RHR wasn’t presented with Driver of the Year in front of the national television audience and, on top of that, ESPN showed Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s Daytona 500 win clip and Jimmie Johnson’s celebration after winning the title but zero footage of RHR’s thrilling victory at Indianapolis. Thanks for being a super fan.
Q: Maybe this is unrealistic but shouldn’t Iowa and Milwaukee be double-headers? I mean it seems the double-header is no longer a gimmick and I think the series would benefit greatly at the smaller tracks. Also, Pocono and Fontana MUST adopt a qualify and race on the same day format to be a success. Your thoughts?
RM: As I’ve said forever, some of the best Indy car races ever were the Twin 125s and 150s at Michigan, Atlanta and Trenton. It would be perfect at Iowa – a day/night twin bill – and you could do noon and 4 p.m. at Milwaukee. Ovals must give the fans more bang for their buck and one day shows at Pocono and Fontana is what I suggested a couple weeks ago.
Q: I’ve been thinking about your comments about Pocono wanting off of the July 4th weekend date. It seems to me that the most logical thing to do for Pocono (or whichever track would replace Pocono on that date) is to embrace the holiday and run on the 4th itself, no matter where it falls on the calendar. Just about everybody has the 4th off of work, but outside of the hotdog-eating contest, afternoon baseball, and Wimbledon, there really isn’t a lot of sports to consume.
Make it an all-day show with qualifying in the morning, lights around noon, and then the IndyCar race around 3 p.m. EST. Attendance-wise it would be a calculated risk, but can it really get much worse? There’s no doubt it would get a better TV rating on a day with such little competition, and best-case scenario, it builds into a holiday tradition that people look forward to each year.
Kyle W, Ohio
RM: I’m all for it and you have to remember that CART used to run at Cleveland on the July 4th weekend and it was a big hit so it can be done in the right place. It wasn’t successful at Watkins Glen either so maybe it needs to be a big city street race with everyone already downtown or heading there.
Q: I read your excellent article about how IndyCar needs ovals. To prove your point about the lack of promotion for the Pocono 500, I live in the Harrisburg, Pa., metropolitan area and saw/heard no TV ads, newspaper ads or radio ads promoting the race. I wanted to go but sadly had to work to cover a co-worker’s vacation. For me, the most frustrating part is that I manage a pharmacy right next to the HUGE Bobby Rahal car dealerships in Mechanicsburg. Every time someone from Rahal was in my store I would tell them that they should have Graham and one of the cars at the dealership to promote the race. They all thought it was a great idea and it never happened.
I remember the good old days of the 1970s when Pocono would be packed for the Indy cars. IndyCar needs ovals to remain the most diverse racing series in the world. I hope you have some pull with Bobby Rahal because if IndyCar is hopefully back at Pocono next year, he should have his son at the dealership with a car to promote the race. They could have contests and give out free tickets. It makes no sense that Pocono shouldn’t be packed with east coast fans desperate for open wheel racing.
Mark Rosnick, Shiremanstown, Pa
RM: Thanks for the info, I heard from people in Philly there was next to nothing about the race there either. Pocono has very fan-friendly prices and the promoters like IndyCar so it makes sense to heavily promote it when it falls on July 4th so people can plan ahead. Having a show car at Rahal’s dealership and maybe an autograph session seems like a no-brainer.
Q: I just read your piece on the state of IndyCar and ovals….and you have nailed it on the head. I have been going to Milwaukee the last two years and I make it my full-experience weekend; I go for qualifying, I buy the Paddock Pass, I watch all the support races and I leave feeling I got my money’s worth.
This year I added two new events…GP of Indy and Iowa. The Indy GP was awesome, plenty of on track activity, you can see the Museum, tour the infield and overall, I got my money’s worth. Iowa, yeah, can’t say as much. I got to the track a good two-and-a half hours before the race and there was nothing going on track beyond the two-seater (whoopee). The Fan Village was there, but again, if you go to more than one race, that becomes boring. The Iowa facility is a great venue; the food was great, the parking in and out was easy (and free), but I thought my $65 ticket should have given me more.
Chris, Oak Forest, IL
RM: Thanks for the feedback, Chris, I’ll pass it along to Jimmy Small at Iowa. Like to see Robby Gordon’s truck series at a short track like Iowa – the fans in Long Beach, Indy, Detroit, St. Pete and Toronto love them and it’s loud and entertaining. Every oval needs at least a mid-morning (if it’s a day race) or mid-afternoon support show.
Q: Loved your article about what IndyCar should do to save ovals. I would like to get your insight or opinion on attendance: ovals vs. road/street courses. Ovals typically seem to be getting 10k to 20K max people – are street courses really that better attended than ovals? I have never been to a street race/road course but it appears on TV that the temporary seating is spread out and just as empty as an oval race? Where are all these people walking around? TV obviously makes oval attendance look worse because a big ‘ol grandstand is front and center but is it, really??
RM: I’m afraid it’s the reality of IndyCar: other than Indianapolis ovals just don’t draw anymore. Texas used to be big but it’s dwindled to 25K and Iowa, once packed, is half full. Long Beach, Mid-Ohio and Barber are the three largest crowds outside Indy but we’ve got to understand that 30,000 is a good crowd nowadays for any IndyCar race.
Q: Your story on RACER.com “Why IndyCar must make ovals work” was excellent but there is a point that needs some emphasis. Over the last two races (Pocono & Iowa) IndyCar has put on quite a show yet there was nothing in the way of sports media coverage. What am I talking about? At Pocono, IndyCar set a record average speed for 500 miles in excess of 202mph. The previous record was set in the twilight of CART at Fontana (197mph) in 2002. To put this in perspective for NASCAR heads: The highest average speed for the Daytona 500 was set by Buddy Baker at 177mph in 1980! One would think that setting this landmark would warrant some coverage on ESPN’s SportsCenter. Was anything said? NOT A PEEP!
Now fast forward to Saturday’s race at Iowa. It doesn’t take a leap of logic to say a fair number of people left the track early or turned off their TV sets prior to lap 288 with the expectation that Tony Kanaan had the race in the bag – the guy had lead 247 laps. But I would have loved to see the look on their faces when they opened the Sunday morning newspaper only to find out the guy in 9th place at Lap 288 won. Through all the excitement of last week’s race, did SportsCenter have anything to say? Nope.
When it was announced last year that NASCAR would be leaving ESPN in 2015, they issued the plea that they hoped NASCAR’s decision would not preclude NASCAR’s coverage on ESPN’s SportsCenter in the future. ESPN responded in a public statement that they would continue to cover NASCAR. Robin, I have been critical of apathetic fans regarding IndyCar’s woes as they share some responsibility for its situation. But the last two races illustrate the need for sports media to step up their coverage of IndyCar.
Breaking a 12-year-old record is newsworthy in and of itself. The fact that IndyCar runs a limited part of its schedule on ABC only serves to add insult to injury. In light of this, it is pretty clear to me some executive action is needed to rectify this situation. I’m talking about Mark Miles, CJ O’Donnell and Jay Frye getting on the horn and writing some letters to top executives at Disney and top periodicals like Sports Illustrated, asking the question, “Hey, what gives with the dearth of coverage?” IndyCar gets excellent coverage in specialty publications and websites but how can one honestly expect to reach a broader audience when there is zero coverage on major outlets?
Bob Marston, Fremont, CA
RM: You are spot on regarding ESPN’s total lack of professionalism and its failure to give IndyCar even a modicum of coverage but nothing Miles or anybody else can say will change anything. I’d just be thrilled to see the results of races on the crawl. But, unless it’s baseball, football, basketball or soccer, ESPN doesn’t recognize IndyCar as a sport except when it comes to Indy in May for SportsCenter. That’s the only time IndyCar is treated with any respect and that’s why ending the season on Labor Day is comical. IndyCar only exists one month of the year for ESPN. It’s pathetic to think in a 60-minute show that an American winner and Indy 500 champ like RHR can’t even be recognized for his improbable win at Iowa.
Q: As a longtime Indy fan and someone who has thoroughly enjoyed in my opinion the best racing in the world, I get depressed when the series hits the oval stretch of the season and I just don’t see IndyCar doing anything to improve the situation. I’ve been saying for years that IndyCar needs to take ownership of its events and began seeing that under Randy Bernard’s leadership. That guy was a promoter. Do you see anybody within the management team that gets it that they just can’t expect a sanctioning fee and their job is over?
Having Verizon is great, Firestone and Honda have had commercials in race broadcasts but that doesn’t help the desperate need to attract new fans. IndyCar needs to be the leading force in promoting its product and the time is now. Do you think they understand that? Are the Hulmans unwilling? Or unable to make the serious investment needed to bring IndyCar back? To do whatever possible to get on SportsCenter and other sports reporting shows? Have it’s own promotional commercials? Buy tickets and give them away through promotional events for a race? And above that, hire some grassroots open-wheel drivers even if it’s just for the ovals like Carpenter does? Maybe even throw some money at Kasey Kahne and Kyle Busch to run IndyCars? IndyCar needs ovals so do you see a sense of urgency at 16th and Georgetown or are we doomed?
Joe from Indy
RM: The Hulman-George family has spent a fortune keeping IndyCar on the track so singling them out isn’t fair. I imagine it they didn’t spend millions on the Leader’s Circle every season, some of that money could go toward promotions or purses (or both) but hopefully this is where Verizon will come in and shine. It’s only their first year so give them some time to market and promote IndyCar. As for whether the new regime embraces ovals as something that must remain at all costs, I can’t say yet. But a couple NASCAR drivers aren’t going to save the ovals – it’s going to take some kind of partnership/discount/working agreement.
Q: Not sure it would still be the case today, but compared with the Nationwide crowd at Chicagoland last weekend, IndyCar had at least four times as many fans in the stands the last time they ran there, especially since Chicagoland has removed seats since then. With all the money in Chicago and its proximity to all the fans in Indianapolis, I can’t believe IndyCar doesn’t push to run there.
Matt Converset, Decatur, IN
RM: Ed Carpenter and I were having that conversation at Toronto and maybe Chicago could be re-visited with some special pricing and promotions. It started out good but faded.
Q: I empathize with your plight on ovals. I agree somewhat. Yes, we need them. But they have to work with IndyCar. Pocono, Milwaukee, Indy that’s about it anymore. I disagree with Iowa. Watching it on TV, it looks like they are driving in a circle. It looks ridiculous. Keep in mind that everyone has a million diversions these days. Yes, Penske says we need ovals, but Penske is 80 years old. Road racing is more exciting for both committed and casual fans. Take a casual fan, especially a kid, to an oval race. Within five laps his eyes glaze over. Unless IndyCar does something to the cars – huge horsepower, noise, etc – to make them more entertaining (intimidating), it’s useless.
S.P. Brown, Grand Junction, Colo.
RM: Well, technically they are just driving in circles but I thought Iowa was a helluva show from start to finish. Sure, TK was long gone before that last caution but there was good racing all night in every corner. And Iowa’s fans are some of the best so I would hate to lose it.
Q: After watching a lot of races ruined over the past few weeks due to pit speed violations, I’m right with you on changing the rules. As a compromise between a free-for-all and the current system, how about only running the pit speed limit during yellow flags? That’s really the only time where you don’t want every car racing into the pit lane at different speeds. It might even encourage cars in adjacent stalls to pit on different green flag laps, since there would be a greater time penalty for needing to maneuver around another car.
P.S. You are preaching to the choir about restoring Milwaukee to its proper race date. I can’t tell you how excited I used to get about watching Indy, knowing that I’d be up in Milwaukee a week later. Now I have to be content to be excited about Indy all by itself…
RM: I like your suggestion. I just cringe when somebody is penalized for SPEEDING IN THE PITS at a race. I worked for Lloyd Ruby’s team and he’d come into the pits at 160mph and never hit anybody. Just make the crew stay behind the wall until the car stops.
Q: Regarding multi-day events and partnering with other series: I’m sitting in my kitchen right now and I’m 17 miles from Watkins Glen. A few weeks ago I attended the 6-Hour weekend for the TUSCC. I was there all 4 days and averaged six hours a day except for four hours on Sunday (never have had the endurance to stay for six hours). The series that were present were the TUSCC, the Continental Tire Series, Prototype Lites, the GT3 Porsche Cup and the Lamborghini series. Those last three series all had two feature events during the weekend. These five series plus practice and qualifying made for a very busy weekend. Personally I covered a lot of ground with many trips through the paddock areas to watch what was happening as well as from one end of the track to the other. I took a pedometer on Saturday and covered almost 13,000 steps for a distance of a little over six miles. I had a similar experience last year at Petit Le Mans. Basically what I am saying is that 1-day events wouldn’t do it for me.
Don Hopings, Corning, NY
RM: I was advocating 1-day oval events, not road courses or street circuits. They know how to make three-day shows work.
Q: Saw Indy cars at four different venues in Colorado – Continental Divide Raceway , a natural terrain road course (now a housing development); two different street courses in downtown Denver; and IRL at PPIR, a slightly banked one-mile oval. When they raced around the Pepsi Center, it was an amazing event with lots of activities, vendors, and even a young Danica meeting fans. You could hear and smell practice from outside the circuit and there were some kind of cars on the track all the time. The race wasn’t great, which I had to watch on tape later, but the excitement was palpable. On the other hand, the IRL at Pikes Peak had no supporting races but you could see the whole track and the racing itself was good despite the ghastly engine song. This is why I get street racing for the casual fan, natural terrain courses are fun on TV, but ovals are so much more exciting to watch. Do you have any memories of these great Colorado venues?
Kevin, Boerne, TX
RM: My best memory is when Bruno Junqueira won the Denver Grand Prix in what was the 350th Indy car event for Newman/Haas, in 2003. [ABOVE: Sebastien Bourdais and Junqueira in Denver following year]. I asked Paul and Carl if they would do a live shot for ESPN with me and they agreed. Here’s how it went: “Paul, did you ever think you and Carl would be together for 350 races?” Newman cupped his hands and said: “What?” So I turned to Carl Haas and asked basically the same question and he shook his head and said: “I can’t hear you, speak up.” After PLN finally said a few things, we were off camera and walking away. He put his arm around me and said: “Well, that should get you an Emmy.” I laughed for 10 minutes.
Q: Is there any news about when we might see an aero kit from either Chevy or Honda? Will they be testing them soon? Also, are we still a go for them in 2015? Seems like we have not heard much on that front lately.
On a different subject, man, has the racing been incredible this year or what? It blows my mind that there are not more fans showing up at these races and I’m starting to wonder if the only oval we see will be the Indy 500. I hope IndyCar reads your story and does something about it. I like the diversity of IndyCar. That is what sets it apart from NASCAR and F1. As always, thank you for your Mailbag; I always look forward to it.
Scott, upstate New York
RM: Aero kits will be tested after the season ends and I’m told the teams will get them in early March 2015 (which means the first two races outside the USA won’t have them). The racing has been superb, I just hope the aero kits don’t separate the competition too much. Thanks for reading and participating.
Q: I see all the talk about how to fix the low attendance at some of the ovals and the answer is pretty simple. IndyCar has to promote the race and the event! History has proven that you can’t count on ISC to promote anything but NASCAR. Other track owners just don’t know how to promote. IndyCar has to control its own destiny and either form a real business partnership with a few select tracks or purchase tracks like Gateway and Nashville. We also need more bang for the buck at every event. Indy Lights needs a shot in the arm that I think they will get with next year’s car and engine. IndyCar needs to use the Mazda series and the FF2000 series at most events. One of the best things about the Mid-Ohio race is the packed schedule!
Tony in Indy
RM: I believe those are the suggestions I made last week in a column and ISC was certainly not much of a partner for the Indy Racing League. But I know Gillian Zucker and Fontana have tried to spread the word about IndyCar the past couple years and I think Iowa (owned by NASCAR) will do everything it can to try and fill the grandstands next year.
Q: Hope you don’t mind a throwback question, but when Sarah Fisher was an active driver, what were her two best chances to win? If there had been a late caution with, say, 10 laps to go at Homestead in ’01, could she have caught Sam Hornish on the restart and made it a shootout? Or was her best chance at MIS in ’02, where she led laps, was in the hunt all day, and if not for cooking her tires, might have brought it home? If she had, would the sponsorship issues that dogged her have gone away?
Matt, Auberry, Calif.
RM: I think MIS was her best chance because she had some horsepower that day but I think she was only a couple seconds behind Sam at Homestead so…who knows on a restart? I was always amazed that with all the money TG spent on the IRL, he didn’t pony up enough to keep her in a ride with Derrick Walker’s team. She was the most popular driver and didn’t have a ride one year when they presented her with that award before the season opener.
Q: I talk with my friend every week and we come to the same conclusion; IndyCar has the best wheel-to-wheel racing of any series in the world, but very few people are watching. So here some questions about the schedule and the cars that may require you to write a follow-up article.
1. Why does the series race double-headers but won’t race at Cleveland or Road America? I know there is a sanction fee involved but what does that mean? If they cut the fee in half, would that immediately open the door for Road America?
2. How much does TV control the schedule? A double-header in Houston in the heat of the summer makes no sense. And we saw what happened to the crowd at Pocono having that race on the July 4th weekend.
In conclusion, time has run out for us diehard fans. We are tired of waiting for Cleveland and Road America to come back. We are tired of hearing the excuses of why the cars can’t have onboard starters. And we are fed up with hearing there is another delay of the aero kits because the owners don’t have the money.
Rick Schneider, Charlotte
RM: You must have a promoter to go back to Cleveland and Road America recently said it had no plans to bring back IndyCar because of the expense involved. I think both would do just fine with an IndyCar/sports car twin bill or with IndyCar sharing expenses or co-promoting. Aero kits will be here in 2015.
Q: James Garner was a big fan of Indy car racing: do you have a favorite memory?
Barry G. in Baltimore
RM: In 1973, about the only thing between Ontario Motor Speedway and the Holiday Inn (where we all stayed) was desert. Johnnie Parsons and I didn’t have a car so we were walking the three miles and hoping somebody might give us a ride. A convertible speeds past, stops and backs up. It’s Garner and he sees JP is carrying a helmet bag. “Hop in boys, it’s too hot to walk.” Like Paul Newman, he was just one of the guys, loved racing and was such a class act. He and Parnelli became golfing buddies and he was a popular guest at Indy almost every May. [ABOVE, 1967, post-race with third-place finisher Joe Leonard. Photo courtesy of Steve Shunck].
Q: I was blown away by the July 16 Mailbag. This series of intelligent, insightful observations and suggestions by passionate IndyCar fans and your weighty responses should be required reading for every employee of the series and any track owner or promoter who wants to be successful. You provided some great additional insight on making ovals work and the response from Kevin Healy of Milwaukee was exciting and encouraging. With some of the best racing anywhere and such loyal, knowledgeable fans and insiders like Healy, I would say the future is bright for IndyCar despite the weaknesses we all see. The Mailbag has become a must-read for me every week and I thank you and your bosses for providing such a great opportunity for learning, venting, and staying up-to-date.
Great race in Iowa. Thanks to NBCSN for adding qualifying coverage. Thanks for PT and it’s impressive to be able to attract David Hobbs (although, with all due respect, he’s not TB on IndyCar). More exciting racing, points battle, controversy and comments than ever – let’s take time to enjoy it!
Brian in Florida
RM: I’m continually amazed at the volume of mail I receive and the passionate letters from you fans. I know it was a must-read for Randy Bernard because he wanted to know what the fans were thinking and what they liked and disliked about IndyCar. I try to send Mark Miles and Derrick Walker certain questions or letters but not sure if anybody in the IndyCar office reads it. Kevin Healy is a sharp guy and I wish IndyCar would hire him to help promote the series.
Q: I appreciate all the feedback in the Mailbag about why ovals can’t attract a crowd, but I don’t think ANY of the respondents got to the real problem. And you have in the past (essentially) so I wanted to remind everyone. IndyCar, after all, doesn’t operate in an auto racing vacuum. NASCAR succeeds because it markets itself as the best oval track drivers in the world. It doesn’t market itself as having the best cars (because it can’t), so it flips the script on its head – these are the cars you drive, just with giant engines. That’s a lie, too, but the marketing mostly succeeds on its own terms.
I know NASCAR has its own issues lately, but let’s face it, people still recognize Dale Jr. far more than, say, Helio (unless you’re a “Dancing With The Stars” fan) or, before he retired, Dario (unless you’re an Ashley Judd fan). Oh, and it helps to have the France family as friendly dictators. F1 succeeds because it markets itself as the best road racers AND best racing cars in the world. Again, the marketing mostly succeeds on its own terms – certainly with the cars, mostly with the drivers (would be nice if Bernie didn’t discriminate against Americans). I dare say the average racing fan IN THE UNITED STATES probably knows more about Lewis Hamilton or Fernando Alonso than about Tony Kanaan or Ryan Hunter-Reay. Oh, and it helps to have Bernie as a friendly dictator.
The CART/IRL/IndyCar business and marketing model only succeeds if you can plausibly claim that you have the best of both worlds – best drivers from America and the world, and the best cars, on both ovals and road courses. In the 1990s, that was true and that’s why Mansell came and Senna almost came from F1. And why CART could MAKE stars like Paul Tracy, Jacques Villeneuve, Alex Zanardi and Juan Montoya. But then of course came The Split, and everything that followed. And Tony George proved to be a dictator of remarkable incompetence, with Randy Bernard and Mark Miles picking up the pieces.
So today we have a single-make series (so much for best cars), some awesome veterans and newbies who are not marketed to the American public AT ALL – even Dario and Helio gained their fame in other ways, not on the track – amazing drivers and 3-time Indy winners though they are.
The biggest star IndyCar has has been retired for decades – Mario – and the car he drives is the two-seater. And I dare say that for road racing, American fans probably are following TUDOR sports cars today as much, if not more, than IndyCar. Even you have pleaded for more TUDOR/IndyCar double-headers, without investment in young drivers (the Frances and Bernie have pushed their young favorites forward over the years, not at all a bad thing), in the cars, of course in the marketing, and even in the tracks (besides Indy itself, COTA is the only world-class track in the United States) – IndyCar is doomed to wither and die. That’s reality.
It could make the Indy 500 more interesting since it would have to be opened to a wider class of cars (a la Le Mans), but you’re going to have a tough time attracting the best drivers if they only have one shot a year to make their mark. Regardless, at this stage maybe IndyCar has to die in order to be reborn one day.
Larry Parker, Miami
RM: I believe you have identified the problem and stated it quite eloquently, Larry. IndyCar is the most versatile series in the world but that’s not resonating with the general public. Neither is the great racing. It has to be the stars and the cars to make people care the way they do about NASCAR and F1.