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: Well, the season just ended so of course everything would have to get turned upside down, AGAIN. Can’t believe IndyCar has managed to drive off yet another person who was doing great things for the series. I was a sports car fan long before I was an IndyCar fan and I was sad to see Beaux Barfield leave ALMS, but knew he’d be great for IndyCar as I love his race directing style. Then the Grand-Am/ALMS merger really had me worried and thinking IndyCar, struggling though it is, was going to be my only hope for racing.
And now we are back to bad decision on top of bad decision. Double-file restarts that the fans fought for and finally got? OK, let’s get rid of them. Nobody wanting to end the season this early? OK let’s force the teams to run an insane schedule and then have a ridiculously long off-season where the teams will have to do layoffs, compress the schedule so much that the venues can’t get good dates in decent weather and thus attendance falls even more, AND no one wants to run the finale on Labor Day. On top of that, let’s raise prices when people are still struggling for jobs and to pay for life’s basics, let alone luxuries like a weekend at the track. And now to top it off, losing a race director who knew what he was doing, didn’t over-officiate, made some damn good calls to save the racing (like these red flags for late yellows so the race could finish under green), but also wouldn’t bow to some of the owners and drivers and give in to their whims.
It’s very frustrating to see a series you love take one step forward and two steps back almost every year. I’m not one of those fans that just gives up when things get bad because that just makes the problem worse (I’m still watching TUDOR races despite the fact I loathe DPs), but when it comes to IndyCar it seems the only option fans have is to beat their heads against the wall crying for the stupidity to end. And all we’re getting is bloody foreheads and one big headache.
RM: It seems like IndyCar’s destiny. Good season of racing overshadowed by Randy Bernard’s witch hunt in 2012 and now all the talk is Beaux Barfield leaving, the fluctuating schedule, team layoffs and the season ending way too early. You almost need to be a beat freak to stay loyal to IndyCar.
Q: My girlfriend and I are huge IndyCar fans and we’re also big fans of your insight into IndyCar. The question we have is why is there all this negativity surrounding IndyCar at the moment? I understand that the 2015 schedule is a mess and that things are not what they use to be but with the slight TV ratings increase and the fantastic racing, I don’t see why all the negativity from various journalists. Also, with the aero kits coming next season and the renewed interest from drivers, I don’t see why people are down on the series.
Nick and Steph from San Diego
RM: I think it’s the endless revolving door of officials, races and policies that frustrates the fan base. And the shortened season is responsible for a great deal of the outcry. By nature, racing journalists are a bitchy group but a lot of it right now is merited – despite the good racing at most places.
Q: It is time for Mark Miles to start listening to the IndyCar fans, owners and drivers. The season should start in February/March and go into October as it used to. It ended at Laguna Seca in October for years. It was a packed house until Tony split the series. The new head of race control CANNOT be Brian Barnhart. He is too biased and really knows nothing about IndyCar racing. He had the job once and we all can remember him at Indy with the “give me four good laps.” His great rain start at Loudon. Maybe he could go back to polishing wheels for A.J. They should get rid of the Boston Group of bean counters before they completely ruin or kill IndyCar.
Richard Klein, Torrance, CA
RM: At some point he should listen because they all have a better gauge of the landscape than a consulting group. And the compacted schedule and long layoff takes its toll on the work force, something I don’t think Mark fully comprehends.
Q: After reading your “Hot dates, cold receptions” column, I am beginning to wonder what does IndyCar have to offer? The abbreviated schedule, the shuffling of dates, the lack of promotion locally and regionally (I’ve never seen an Indy car at a Target or Verizon store, etc.), and the addition/subtraction will not help build the fan base.
In the past week, I’ve thought about why my interest has waned in IndyCar during the past couple of years, and it relates almost completely to the adoption of the DW12 instead of the DeltaWing (ABOVE). At the time of the concept, there was genuine hype throughout the automotive press, and I was excited about the concept and the innovative idea. Instead the safe choice was made, and the DeltaWing went on to race elsewhere. The automotive press has continued to cover the DeltaWing, yet little to nothing (to my knowledge) has been published about the DW12.
RM: Well it’s got the best racing among the Big 3 (F1 & NASCAR being the other two) and most diverse but, unfortunately, that’s not enough to resonate with the general public like NASCAR racing does. No doubt the DeltaWing generated lots of interest on many fronts and could have had a shot at Indy in the 1960s or 1970s when any idea was embraced. But it was the wrong design and time for IndyCar’s paddock and it ended up at Le Mans and the TUDOR Championship, where it’s been a novelty but not a game-changer.
Q: I read and generally agree with your IndyCar race dates column. However I do take issue with two things you stated. One, you said, “Nobody wants to run eight weeks in a row (that’s the rumor).” That is only because nobody is really making any money. If teams were getting paid like they should (purses worth more than the change in my couch), running eight consecutive weeks would be no problem.
Second, you said, “Almost no one in the paddock thinks it’s smart or good business to end the season on Labor Day weekend (hence it’s real tough to find anybody that wants the season finale in 2015) and five months between the end of one season and the start of the next is suicide.” This is quite true, but only because people barely care about the season. If IndyCar had a season that people actually gave a damn about, which means at least having a comprehensible schedule, then five months off would be nothing.
Look at football. The Colts season ended about seven months before the first 2014 game. No one cares because they are so excited for the season, which seems like a flurry of activity. I gotta say, I’ve been a huge IndyCar fan for most of my life, and I don’t even care about the season. I watch a disparate collection of races, not a racing season. Therefore 5-6 months off seems like an eternity.
I get what you say about IndyCar’s competition not being football, and that’s true. IndyCar could and should, though, look at the NFL as a model of how to be the best. How’s that motto? If you want to be the best, you have to be like the best? Imagine if the NFL ran it’s season the way IndyCar does. Funny, isn’t it?
Everything else you say in that article I wholeheartedly agree with. BTW, Barfield leaving shouldn’t matter a bit to the race day operations of the series. However, I have a sneaking suspicion that it will, knowing IndyCar.
DJ, Anderson, IN
RM: True, if the purses were $1 million a race, then the economics of the paddock might improve enough to weather an 8-race stretch. Or, if TV ratings were like NASCAR’s, then sponsorships would flourish and a network might pay big money that trickles down to the competitors. Then IndyCar could run from February to November with 22 races spaced properly and in the right climates. But the reality is that the purses suck because of the Leader’s Circle program, which is the lifeblood of a series that has three owners who own half the field and averaged 378,000 viewers on cable this season and roughly 1.5 million on network (except the Indy 500).
And there’s not a big demand for an IndyCar race right now, especially an oval, so the options are limited unless IndyCar becomes a co-promoter. But the best way to get back on the radar is to race, not sit on the sidelines.
Q: Some crazy schedule ideas that will never happen. First, have the Fontana the first weekend in March because if it can’t be October or September have it be the first race in March. Next, race with Formula E in Miami and push St. Petersburg back. Lastly, they should race at Circuit of The Americas the last weekend in March. Would this work and what are the odds of it happening?
RM: NASCAR runs Fontana in March so that’s not an option but Austin might work in March or April. A fourth time in Miami for IndyCar? Doubtful.
Q: IndyCar had a great season for the most part – 11 different winners by six different teams. Passing and hard clean racing at most of the tracks. Very few duds and Indy was spectacular. Verizon came on board and there are future stars in the making – Newgarden for sure! TV ratings are up; the NBCSN coverage is fantastic and, hell, even ABC did pretty good!
But here we are at the end and it’s all doom and gloom because of some idiotic decision-making by management! I guess you could say that’s been the problem for the last 20 years? So why can’t they have someone in charge with a good vision and common sense for the series? Pocono July 4th weekend, Houston in June and then top it off with Fontana Labor Day weekend is beyond stupid!
I can understand avoiding the NFL because of nothing more than TV ratings. The question I have is why not start early? MAVTV 500 on Jan. 17, 2015. The Saturday before the NFL conference finals, so no football, no other racing, the weather in most parts of the country would draw people to watching TV. Am I missing something? Follow with maybe St. Pete the next week? Houston would have been better but they screwed that up. Or find a way to go back to Phoenix? This would make the off-season four months. If they want to do international races why are they not using the resources they have in-house to make it happen? Four Colombians in the series, why not use them to get a race in Colombia? Same with Australia but put together a 3- or 4-race swing in that part of the world to help the promoters with the cost and still make the series and teams money? Australia, Japan, China and South Korea in the fall? I just don’t get why this all has to be this hard? Please tell me there’s hope.
Joe from the racing capital of the world
RM: I like starting in January but not at Fontana (Ontario Motor Speedway tried March and it was cold) and going to New Zealand and Australia would seem worth pursuing because of Power, Dixon and Briscoe and the past history of great attendance. Miles wants to open in late February at Dubai and then go to Brazil in early March before coming back to USA and Colombia seems logical with JPM but not sure it has the funds for a race. It takes two to tango and it’s a very expensive proposition to stage an IndyCar race and make it work. Anywhere.
Q: I have a truly ludicrous idea for next year’s season finale. It’s expensive and impractical, and it would be a media spectacle: Kick MAVTV out of the Fontana sponsorship and get Carrier as the sponsor. Make it the finale, on a Sunday afternoon in the heat of the day. Then construct the world largest (by a factor of about 10) temporary air-supported dome in the world around the track. Imagine hearing on the news for six months that the world’s largest air-supported dome is going up in Fontana, Calif. That would be pretty neat. And the world’s most expensive advertising. Hey, it’s better than a 10:20 p.m. start.
RM: It sounds “cool” but logistically challenging. I’ll grant you it would create a helluva promotional buzz but doubt it could come close to justifying the expense.
Q: Please tell me that our long nightmare with Fontana ending the IndyCar season is over? I know that 0.18 rating was staggering, but it’s time to move on, don’t you think? Now the struggle is to find a good spot for the season finale, and it’s right under our noses. Why not talk The Captain into moving the Detroit event to Labor Day weekend? You could run the IMSA race Saturday with the IndyCar “finals” Sunday and Monday. Or you could run IndyCar Saturday/Monday and IMSA Sunday. Either way, you end the season in a place that actually wants an event. And there is NOTHING on TV on Sunday or Monday afternoon. Nothing. On the IMSA side, you eliminate the conflict with the Le Mans practice day. This just makes too much sense. How do we make it happen?
RM: I want Milwaukee to be the week after Indy so I really like your idea about running Detroit on Saturday-Sunday-Monday for television purposes. And split IndyCar with the sports car race so it’s a win-win for everybody. Now we just have to convince The Captain… but you know, he might like the season finale storyline, especially if it’s like this year and only his boys are in the running.
Q: So now begins a ridiculously long off-season. Whatever happened to the idea of international races during the off-season? Doesn’t look like that’s happening now; it certainly doesn’t seem to have been mentioned for a while. So what will IndyCar be doing to keep drivers, teams and of course fans occupied between now and next season?
RM: As mentioned, the plan is a street race in Dubai to open the season in late February followed by a road race in Brazil. Haven’t heard anything about Dubai for a long time but I know Tony Cotman has been dispatched to Brasilia to get things rolling. As for the teams, I worry for the mechanics being laid off and I guess the fans can watch YouTube or buy Dick Wallen videos and, of course, go to the Chili Bowl.
Q: NASCAR abandoned The Rock but it is a beautiful little track within an hour and a half of several larger cities. Southerners love good racing and with today’s Indy cars, and promoted properly, 30,000 butts in the seats should not be a problem. It also has good weather March to early December. I have only attended the 500 a few times since leaving Indy in 1985 but would love to drive a couple of hours to The Rock. Maybe you could whisper “The Rock” in Mr. Miles’ ear.
John T. Feeser, Wilmington, N.C.
RM: I gave Randy Bernard the phone number for Andy Hillenberg of Rockingham but he got fired before he could make any contact. It would be great because it’s an oval with the perfect amount of seats and a damn racy place. Just not sure about the track surface but it would certainly be worth a serious look.
Q: As I watched yesterday’s NFL opener between the Seahawks and Packers, I flipped to the other option – U.S. Open Tennis. Both were compelling options as the Seahawks ripped apart a good Packers team and Federer’s comeback shows anything is possible. That got me to thinking that IndyCar could be the second option in a weekend full of NFL kickoff frenzy. It struck me that the U.S. Open has never changed its September date and has always coincided with the start of the NFL season and yet has steadily grown over the years with this conflict.
As you stated in your article, the NFL is not the competition, NASCAR and F1 are. Positioned and right, IndyCar could be one of those support events to kick off the season similar in the way they use pre-game concerts. After all they have a unique ability to stage a street race almost anywhere. Why not put that unique ability to work? IndyCar could have a street race in a given city the weekend before the Thursday night kick off or in a city the NFL wants to promote. Think about it…get some former NFL players in attendance, have a pro-am race like Long Beach, and have a real festival atmosphere to support the carnival-super bowl like NFL kickoff? Heck even paint some of the cars in the likeness of the NFL team. Have the announcers banter about all things NFL like they do during the US Open (the McEnroes are good at this because they like and follow other sports so it builds a community of sports lovers rather than a division of sport types).
Sure, there would be hurdles to overcome and I’m sure there is a portion of the fan base that loathes the thought of IndyCar being a support event but something has got to change to increase interest. IndyCar cannot afford more Fontanas – another fine race that nobody watched.
Chris, Rochester, N.Y.
RM: I like your spirit, Chris, but we’re assuming an NFL city needs or wants a race to help kick off its season and, other than maybe Jacksonville, not sure anyplace requires much more than selling tickets. Maybe a pre-season game would work – buy a race ticket and NFL ticket for a nice discount except season ticket holders already get exhibition games. Again, Jax might be the only option since its stadium is half full on Sundays.
Q: Greetings from Deep in the Heart of Texas. Your column on IndyCar’s nightmare schedules shows precisely why I call IndyCar management the Clown Posse Brigade. Nobody, but nobody in any other business sector, genre or type would ever consider, let alone do, a business plan or action expecting any level of success that even comes close to mirroring that of IndyCar. A five-year-old with a flip phone and an Etch-a-Sketch could do better. Oh, and about Austin. Come June 1st the entire state from Brownsville (on the Rio) to Amarillo (up near the Oklahoma panhandle) is under the Texas blowtorch. Schedule Austin in the summer and don’t expect any better attendance the Houston or Dallas/Fort Worth.
RM: You know Boston Consulting Group and Clown Posse Brigade are both three-word phrases for comic relief? Austin or Houston must be spring to have a chance. Thanks for the weather update.
Q: Here’s another side to this whole ending the season early thing that I don’t think I’ve heard anyone specifically call out. Before I get into this let me first say, like a lot of Mailbag readers, I’ve been a diehard fan since 1986 and I’ve religiously watched EVERY race since then, even through football season for which I am also a diehard fan. And the Split didn’t slow me down either. I watched both the IRL and Champ Car too. Maybe I’m in the minority (amongst IndyCar fans) and I don’t understand but I’ve never seen the schedule overlap as an issue. But because of what they’ve done with this shortened schedule I’m actually going to now watch FEWER races than ever before. Here’s why…I’ve been paying $75-$100 a month (sometimes less) for cable for no reason other than to get NBCSN for IndyCar. Other than that, all I want is my local channels.
Now, IndyCar did go and do a good thing by putting some consistency to the schedule in making the first part of the year mostly televised on ABC and the rest of the year televised on NBC. But the problem here is that because of that change and the shortened schedule, I now find myself paying those high cable bills to watch races on NBC for a mere THREE months or so. So now I’m being asked to pay for an expensive cable package to support my favorite sport when 75% of the year it’s not even on it? IT’S NOT WORTH IT ANYMORE!
So a couple of weeks ago (just before the season finale) I canceled my cable. I could have stayed on for the one last race but I figured what the hell. I’ll be missing most of them from now on anyways. And it’s not to say that I’m going to be a lost fan. I’ll still go to Indy and I’ll still watch when I can. But these talking heads that run this whole thing are clueless. It is backwards to think putting your product on TV for LESS time will actually improve ratings and I’m a prime example. If a diehard fan doesn’t see the point then neither is the next guy. A new fan isn’t going to go out and purchase an upgraded TV plan to watch for such a short time.
Nick in Illinois
RM: I’ve heard from several people in your situation Nick and they all discontinued their cable package because of the same reason. It’s just one more strong argument against ending the season so early and a bad trend if even the diehards are bailing.
Q: Just read your column about IndyCar race dates and at the end, there was list of all the races/tracks that have disappeared from the schedule since 1990. Well, it shows Chicago – 1 (Arlington Park) as one the tracks it race on. That’s incorrect. I know that should be Sportsman Park in Cicero, Ill. It was also known as Chicago Motor Speedway and was built before Chicagoland was built in Joliet, Ill. I grew up in Cicero, lived only 10 minutes from Sportsman Park and worked in high school near the park. I went to all the racing events at CMS until they shut it down.
Dan S., Schaumburg, IL
RM: Thanks Dan, I’ve lost so much money betting on horses through the years I got confused. Hell, I went to those races in Cicero and the first one was packed thanks to Target’s promotion but that paper-clip racetrack made for terrible racing and it was gone in two years. Not sure Chip and the Bidwills still exchange Xmas cards, either.
Q: One point of correction (albeit small), neither ChampCar or the IRL raced at Mid-Ohio from 2004-’06. With the hefty sanctioning fee from ChampCar, Michele Trueman did not want to lose money. Additionally, with the lack of marketing from cigarette companies and Honda (all with the IRL) the track would have looked emptier than a Tony George Fan Club happy hour party (with free food and beer). Honda brought the race back in 2007 with a reported 25,000 free tickets given away and a ton of on-site activation. Honda and others still invest heavily into the race and bring thousands of associates to the track.
Unfortunately, the real damage had already been done. Most of the season ticket holders did not renew in 2004 and never came back. The core fans moved on. I have seen this first hand as this year marked my 20th consecutive season for hosting a tailgate party at this venue. Back in the day I would bring 60 cases of beer up for the weekend. Now five is plenty. To your point: multiply this times 50 tracks. The losses are incalculable. Lack of consistency will kill a brand quicker than anything else and this should be a case study in every Business 101 class.
RM: Thanks Jason, I overlooked those three missing years and, without Honda’s support, not sure Mid-Ohio would still be on the schedule. It wasn’t nearly as good a weekend crowd without the sports cars this year but race day turned out pretty good. I can’t help but wonder how cool Mid-Ohio would be today if Jim Trueman were still alive.
Q: Great article on the continued chaos that is IndyCar’s schedule; too bad the powers-that-be would rather listen to some clueless consulting group instead of the guy that has probably done more to keep fan interest in open-wheel alive for too many years to count.
Despite complaints from some locals, allow me to say it sucked not having the Baltimore GP this year. I realize it was a combo of errors with both Baltimore City scheduling the Navy-Ohio State game on Labor Day weekend (which drew about 57K versus estimates of 130K for the last GP weekend) and IndyCar ending the season on Labor Day, but I missed the fun of race weekend. As a multi-sport fan, I hear it often mentioned that boxing has suffered greatly due to the various sanctioning bodies/championships and it being tough for the average person to figure out who is who (I can’t even name the Heavyweight Champion off the top of my head, and I used to love boxing). With declining viewership and attendance across most major forms of motorsports, I wonder if auto racing is suffering from a similar problem, what are your thoughts?
Steve J. Sollon, Baltimore
RM: Scheduling conflicts aside, it was shocking to hear how much money was lost on that race despite the big crowds – especially in Year 1. And there seemed to be a great energy and big feel to the event so losing it was a double whammy because the racing was entertaining as hell. There are a lot of options out there and that’s why it’s imperative TUDOR runs with IndyCar as many times as possible because it’s a win/win for both series, promoters and paying customers. But it’s all the other options, the ever-changing dates and lost races plus a lack of presence that conspires against IndyCar. But, hey, maybe we’ll be in Boston for a couple years before moving on.
Q: Robin now the season is over I have been reading racing forums and of course RACER.com looking at news because I already miss IndyCar. I have to admit it’s difficult being a fan at times because the fans themselves argue on the forums and watching on TV and seeing all those empty seats it makes you wonder how so few people seem to enjoy what I find as the best race series hands down. I went to four races this year, took new people, drove around with my IndyCar stickers on my back window talking to people all the time about the series. I’m also a big fan of Simon Pagenaud and Josef Newgarden so I can appreciate the American and international driver.
But when is IndyCar going to make as much effort as their fans do? I love Indy but there are more races; we need to get IndyCar off their duff and doing everything possible to support and grow those other races as well. They need to be busting down doors getting news out to TV and social media markets. Heck, I click on Yahoo.com and I am hit with story after story about NASCAR. We need to have stories about aero kit development, news about testing, news about drivers and developments during the off-season. And every stone should be turned to try to attract more teams as there should be no fewer than 26 cars at each race.
Ending the season at Fontana late at night is plain crazy. The race needs to be on the east coast and if it needs to be an oval Kentucky Speedway makes the most sense. No conflict with any other racing series and it’s close to the strongest markets for IndyCar – Ohio, Indiana and Virginia. It’s owned by SMI so we do have a relationship with them. Why is this stuff not happening? On a side note since it appears we are losing two of the double-headers, I would love to see Mid-Ohio rewarded with a double-header weekend because they have great fans and have supported Indy car racing strongly over the years.
RM: First off, thanks for being a tireless supporter of IndyCar and attending four races. Folks like you are the lifeblood of the fanbase and, unfortunately, you also represent a vanishing breed. NASCAR gets 10 times the national exposure on websites, newspapers and television simply because it’s supply and demand – it’s what people want. And, to be honest, other than RACER.com, the Indy Star and a few scattered radio shows around the Midwest, IndyCar just doesn’t have any full-time media coverage. Verizon did some good things for IndyCar on radio and television and got a late start so I think you’ll like what it has planned for 2015. We do need more car owners but it has to be more inviting. Kentucky started out with good crowds and dropped off severely, but I suppose it could be considered for the finale.
Q: So here I sit, reading the Mailbag and realizing that I get to watch SEVEN MORE F1 races. How sad that there are no more IndyCar races for the year. I wish management had stayed away from the Boston Consulting Group. Those things are rubbish. Focus groups and consulting companies are just a bunch of young MBA’s fresh out of biz school that don’t know a damn thing because they haven’t done a damn thing yet. Look at the Pontiac Aztek, built purely on the recommendations from focus groups.
I digress. It was a damn good season. We had great racing for the most part, no one ran away with it, multiple winners, my boy Bourdais even won a race. It was good stuff. It’s just going to be a long off-season. IndyCar should poll their fans instead of blowing millions on the Boston Consulting group. What would the fans say? I’m a racing guy but I watch football too, I can handle both. I’m pretty sure the rest of us IndyCar nuts can too!
When are you going to write a book? You need to do more videos too, get AJ, the Unser’s, the Captain, Mario. Your bit on the Big Eagle was awesome! I got to go to the Collier Collection in Naples, Fla. in July and saw his Spa-winning F1 car. Thanks for doing that!
Bruce Davison, Huntington Beach, Calif.
RM: The fans have spoken in volumes in the past couple weeks because the Mailbag is overflowing with people like yourself – upset with the short season, late races and a lack of continuity. No book yet but RACER wants to do more videos and I’m glad you enjoyed Dan Gurney; I want to make the full three hours a DVD for Christmas. Talking of the Collier Collection, the new issue of RACER has a great feature on the Mercedes-Benz W154, featuring a studio shoot with the car you must have seen.
Q: After a day of working in a hot garage, BBQing, swimming and having a few cocktails, the last thing I want to do is stay up till 8 p.m. to watch the pre-race activities at Fontana. Then, the race doesn’t start till 9:20 p.m. CST! How stupid can IndyCar be? Naturally, I watched till 10 p.m., then went to bed. I didn’t bother DVR-ing it, either.
My brother went to the Houston race on Sunday morning to watch practice and walk around. He noticed one thing about IndyCar drivers versus NASCAR drivers. He said that Indy drivers tend to go everywhere on fast scooters. He said that Montoya passed him in the paddock and brushed his arm as if to say, “YOU are in MY way.” He also said that none of the drivers would make eye contact with him, and he was CLOSE to many of them. When they’d walk right past him, none of them would say hello or make eye contact. He felt NASCAR drivers were friendlier (as they walked through the pits to get to their cars) than “the prima donna jerks in IndyCar” (his words). My brother also felt that the only time the Indy drivers talk to the public is when they are “cornered” and HAVE to talk. We know they are friendly to you because they HAVE to talk to you and the press.
Jerry Wilt, Houston
RM: I think IndyCar understands it needs to move the season finale to a fan-friendlier, Eastern time zone but it’s not that easy because of the Labor Day deadline. Some IndyCar drivers can be elusive or even evasive, but many of them like Hinch, Newgarden, RHR, Wilson, Dixon, TK and Pagenaud are usually very fan friendly. I know the IndyCar paddock is a lot more open to fans than Sprint Cup so tell your brother to give IndyCar another chance.
Q: Interesting development with Beaux Barfield throwing in the towel. His explanation seemed to hint at his distaste for internal politics. Over the years you have stated that race control should never have to be mentioned after a race. I think two factors have brought this position into the limelight. One is the aggressive F1 driving-style brought into this series. The other factor is the addition of more street courses. The aggressive driving style, coupled with the tight confines of street courses, create a recipe for controversy. Having race control run by committee only adds opportunity for seemingly arbitrary decisions. Finding a replacement will no doubt bring even more hand-wringing to a series steeped in uncertainty. How many good people have been run out of this series over the years? Way too many.
John Fulton, Akron, Ohio
RM: His quotes were pretty to the point; officiating a race is hard enough without being second-guessed all the time. I know Beaux favored less officiating and more of letting the drivers police each other at the start of the season and you are right – street racing identical cars triples the chances for contact. A prominent member of the IndyCar community called me last week and was upset that Barfield left: “He cared about the job, put a lot of time into it and didn’t play favorites. He made a tough call to red flag Indy and the fans loved it. I wasn’t in favor of it but it was smart. It’s going to be hard to replace him.”
Q: After reading the IndyCar article and the IMSA article about Beaux Barfield leaving it seems everything wasn’t quite hunky dory in race control but more argie bargie. What was the real story behind Beaux leaving? Was it the owners messing with the decisions, like in the past? Paragraphs 4 & 5 seem to say upper management was messing with him. Also the Indy article mentioned that Jon Beekhuis was working in race control. Was that a secret? Never heard anything about that previously. Will Jon being doing that in 2015 as well or will he be returning to broadcasting/reporting?
Peter in Phoenix
RM: I think Beaux was very honest about why he left and it wasn’t the owners or drivers. I don’t think it’s any secret he and Derrick Walker didn’t agree on many things. Beekhuis was a steward for a couple races (there are three stewards) and seemed to enjoy it so I imagine he’ll have a spot next year if he chooses. Not sure of his television plans but doing both would seem possible.
Q: Barfield leaves IndyCar control to go back to IMSA. WHY? Is it because he actually wants to be the one to enforce the racing rules? Or, is it because he was being told by someone that this or that was how he was to define the rules – say like Verizon? Or was it the people at 16th and Georgetown? Or was it because he sees the ship heading for a reef and he wants off before it sinks? Or – and this one has a certain appeal – TGBB was to become the headmaster and Beaux decided that even returning to a position he left because IndyCar was sooooo much better than IMSA was now light years better? Hey, you have almost six months to try to convince the 12-15 people who really give a poop that all is well and Miles and Boston Consulting have it all under control! Good luck. You’ve got to admit that as a comedy, it’s hard to beat the ever-changing, but never improving mess that what was once the envy of the racing world!
RM: I think Beaux wanted autonomy and sports cars gave it to him. I will tell you that he enjoyed IndyCar, even with all the BS that comes with the job, and a lot of people misjudged him because they thought he was this cocky SOB with sunglasses and an agenda. That’s what I thought when I first met him years ago but I was wrong. Beaux is a smart guy and a good guy who really wanted this job and spent a lot of time thinking about it and trying to simplify things. He was fair and I thought he made a lot more good calls than bad ones.
Q: “It is our opinion that Brian Barnhart should re-assume the duties of chief steward of IndyCar, that he should be autonomous, and that all his decisions should be final and binding. We believe that Barnhart’s resumption of his duties may be as crucial to the success of IndyCar as ending the season on or before Labor Day.” The Boston Consulting Group.
RM: Thanks for sharing Bill, I didn’t get that release.
Q: As always, I read your mailbag and all of your other contributions. Your column about how many tracks that have been lost over the years was not surprising nor was it uplifting. Much of what you said as possible solutions made sense from an owner/driver perspective but, respectfully, it does not do much for getting tracks to host races. I wrote you earlier when you were talking about the demise of oval support among fans and I suggested that short ovals should be a fan savior as you can actually SEE a lot of the race where on road courses you cannot. You countered that the experience of being at a race was something special and you cannot get that on TV. Of course you are correct but if you can’t get people to a race then you can’t have a race.
I have no idea how much the sanctioning fees are or how much they contribute to the operating expenses of IndyCar. Given that, one of the big complaints from track owners is they can’t get a race sponsor and they cannot make a profit given the fees they have to pay. Ticket prices and food prices go up and fans stay away. Could IndyCar really enter into a partnership with track owners and negotiate percentages of the gate for a few years to see if the reduced fees could result in track owners being willing to take on a race? Reduced fees might convince some new entities to take a chance on sponsoring a race as they would not have to contribute as much. Reduced fees might allow a track owner to take a chance on a three-year contract to see if the race can become popular plus there could be more money to promote the race.
There are certainly a lot of problems these days, Beaux leaving and the reasons why, the crazy schedule, the timing of some races, etc. but you still have to have a place for the fans to go that is fairly close to home and good value WITHOUT the track owners and sponsors losing money!
Tom in Waco
RM: CART co-promoted races in its infancy, Tony George paid IRL purses, Champ Car cut Road America a great deal and Randy Bernard made Michael Andretti a sweetheart deal to take Milwaukee so helping out tracks isn’t anything new. It’s likely going to take a partnership to either get old venues back on the schedule or sign new ones.
Q: Robin, can you explain what is involved when IndyCar races at oval tracks? Does IndyCar pay to use the facilities? Does the track pay IndyCar to race there? I know there is a sanction fee but don’t know exactly what that entails.
After watching another season of dismal attendance at ovals other than IMS, it seems like IndyCar needs to try something drastically different to bring back old fans and create new ones. Co-promoting, giving tickets away for free…something, anything, to put more butts in seats. Also, how big an effect do you think aero kits will have on the racing in 2015? Will it be like 2012 again where teams had to figure out a brand new car or will setups remain basically the same?
Blake, Flower Mound, TX
RM: I think Pocono, Iowa, Milwaukee and Fontana all pay IndyCar a sanction fee to host a race but not sure if it’s $1.2 million or a pro-rated deal based on miles or possibly a good-guy price based on a previous agreement to keep the race X number of years. As I’ve written several times, no need to have 500-milers without at least 28 cars and a substantial purse or payout. Go to twin 150s. Discount Milwaukee and Iowa with an Indy 500 stub. Free pit passes with gate admission at Pocono and Fontana (subsidized in part by IndyCar). STATUS QUO ISN’T WORKING!
Educated guesses are that the aero kits will show more separation on ovals than road racing but it’s just a guess right now.
Q: We sure missed having IndyCar in Baltimore this Labor Day weekend after three successful years. I know there is a scheduling conflict for a race 2015 but is there any reason to believe IndyCar will return to Baltimore in 2016? How about Pocono for 2015? IndyCar needs a presence somewhere in the Mid-Atlantic.
James S. Aist
RM: Highly doubtful on Baltimore, but Boston is supposedly gung-ho to end the 2016 season with a street race. And I think Pocono is returning.
Q: I’m going to throw a name at you for the next chief steward – Jim Swintal. He seems like the obvious choice based on everything he’s done in open-wheel.
How much do you think Verizon would push for WP to carry #1 or am I the only one who gives a damn about that anymore? Call me old-fashioned (I’m 30) but I do find it disrespectful to not at least once have #1 when you’re the champion.
Is there any talk of changing the format for Pole Day at Indy? It was boring to watch on TV and I can’t imagine what it was like being there in person.
RM: I like Jim but I don’t think the drivers would listen to him and I doubt he’d want that headache anyway. I would think Willy P wants to carry #1 but I imagine it depends on marketing, souvenirs and Verizon’s vote. Haven’t heard anything about Pole Day but with only 33 cars, we only need one day to qualify. And the Sunday qualifying ratings were the second best of 2014 for IndyCar so some people liked it.
Q: As always, it’s a blast to read and listen to your insight concerning the state of IndyCar. I think IndyCar has put together a great package for the high-speed ovals. They have been good since the DW12 was introduced. That being said, I am from Chicago and would love to see this series back at Chicagoland Speedway. Before the new car the racing there was always fantastic; in fact I’d say it has been better than the NASCAR races. Any chance we could see some more 1.5-mile tracks ever get added, especially now that the field seems spread out again? More specifically back to Chicagoland? Understanding that IndyCar needs to promote the ovals better, but I think a track that has matured over the years would put on a great race. Your thoughts?
Andrew Hess, Chicago, IL
RM: When you consider the crux of IndyCar’s fan base is the Midwest and Chicago is a major city, it would seem a no-brainer. But the Chicago media ignored the last couple IRL races there and Joliet isn’t exactly a garden spot that entices fans. The attendance was paltry at the end – just like the Nationwide race this year. And I don’t think ISC has any interest in IndyCar at a Chase track. I’d rather try Gateway or go back to Kentucky.
Q: I just read the August 27th Mailbag and I have to agree with Kris for Ocala, FL. The season is ending far too early. I am a racing fan and I think I am fairly representative of the “base.” I am not a fan of “stick and ball sports” and I do not care when the NFL starts or ends. I do feel as though IndyCar is ignoring me, a core fan, in the hopes of ??? I do not think I would feel so disenfranchised if I had an idea of what the gain might be, but as near as I can tell, it just allows us hardcore racing people an opportunity to align more closely with F1 or any other series that is actually RACING instead of disappearing. The Boston Consulting Group’s report contains some recommendations that were much better than I expected (Indy road course) – but the early end to the season is not one of them.
Christ Ruske, Millville, NJ
RM: That’s my argument. IndyCar shouldn’t be arrogant enough to think it’s in competition with the NFL – it’s in competition with NASCAR, sports cars, short tracks, motorcycles and Monster Jam. And don’t tell me that the viewership on NBCSN went up 100,000 people per race because the season was compressed to avoid football. IndyCar fans are going to watch 12 months a year if given the opportunity.
Q: As an Ohio native, I was very happy to see Graham Rahal running so well at Sonoma before the fuel strategy bit him at the end. Graham has shown flashes at times of being very quick and being able to run up front. I thought that the combination of some new pieces to the team over the last year as well as a reliable sponsor would give RLLR some stability to the program and things would start coming together for Graham. Now that the National Guard has said they won’t be returning for next year, is there any news on a new primary sponsor coming onboard and is there any possibility of RLL getting back to running a second car?
Kyle, Columbus, OH
RM: Not yet but Bob Rahal said RLLR will be back in 2015 and already has some sponsorship lined up. Nothing to replace The National Guard, mind you, but between David Letterman, Mike Lanigan and Rahal, they should be able to field one car.
Q: Great season! Can’t wait for aero kits. Now for the important question: Will Paul Tracy be back on NBCSN’s coverage? He and Townsend Bell are awesome together!
Vincent Martinez, Arcadia, CA
RM: As his pseudo agent, I can report that everyone was quite happy with PT’s performance and all signs point to him returning.
Q: I just read that the attendance at the MAVTV 500 was about 10,000. I’m baffled and disappointed why they have this kind of small crowd show up. Also, Long Beach is just down the road and draws a very good crowd. The race was very good, too. What gives?
RM: The simplest explanation is 98 degrees at 6 p.m. and Labor Day.
Q: When Power charged to the front at Fontana, I thought “Oh no – not again!” but it worked out and as you wrote: “The right man won the IndyCar title.” You could really see his intensity before the race and after. Now he needs to win a “500.” Paul Tracy was great in the booth – very interesting hearing his analysis of Power and the similarities to his own driving style. I couldn’t help feeling bad for Helio Castroneves – he was very classy in defeat. With Newgarden on the front row next to the Penske cars, were we seeing a glimpse of the future? Do you think he was advised not to sign a multi-year deal in anticipation of a better offer for 2016?
RM: We heard a rumor that Chip told him to do that because something would open up in 2016 and I would hope The Captain has noticed this 23-year-old kid on a one-car team out-ran his three-car armada a bunch in 2014.
Q: Thanks for everything you and the NBCSN team did this season. Along with the racing, you guys are a big reason I tune to watch…the presentation and coverage you guys provide is excellent. With that, I began to think and wondered if you can look into your crystal ball for the future of IndyCar on TV and see what you think will happen within the next five years.
First question: the races from July on, do you think NBCSN will tape delay the races or move them to other channels to ensure the races are shown live in light of the NASCAR clashes?
My second question is, do you believe NBC will hold on to IndyCar after 2018? I can imagine IndyCar is not going to want to play second fiddle to NASCAR at the peacock, but they cover the series better than anyone has in recent memory. Plus, if NBCSN keeps giving them money, how can they say no? One last question…Do you think the 2019 Indy 500 will be on ABC, NBC, or other? Thanks for continuing to cover and serve the sport with the respect it deserves.
RM: Well, although I’m a very small part of the telecast, thanks for watching NBCSN. I like the idea of every race being at 1 p.m. and being tape delayed but I don’t think NBCSN shares that opinion. I doubt any races will be tape delayed and MSNBC could be an outlet. With all the money NBC spent on NASCAR, obviously it’s the No. 1 priority but since Formula 1 and IndyCar are also on the network, the hope is that it becomes the racing channel.
Will NBCSN keep paying for IndyCar? Hard to imagine. ABC has a contract to do the Indianapolis 500 through 2018 but then it’s up for bid. Would NBC go after it? Depends on whether it’s still got IndyCar as a whole.