Robin Miller's Mailbag for Nov. 19 presented by Honda Racing / HPD

Robin Miller's Mailbag for Nov. 19 presented by Honda Racing / HPD

Insights & Analysis

Robin Miller's Mailbag for Nov. 19 presented by Honda Racing / HPD

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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 millersmailbag@racer.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. Please send tech questions to PruettsTechMailbag@Racer.com.


Q: Scheduling issues aside, I find the on-track product of IndyCar to be by far the best of any series. That said, while they all seem like exceedingly nice guys, I occasionally find myself a little frustrated over the somewhat robotic nature of the drivers, at least once they’re out of the car. Look, I get it, open-wheel seats are crazy competitive and thus hard to come by; but it’s made it so that practically every driver is always looking to do and say all the right things, making sure to piss off no one. F1 is even worse in this regard, which is what makes a guy like Kimi Raikkonen such a draw, even for non-F1 fans. There will only ever be one A.J. Foyt, and I’m not looking for the WWE event that is today’s NASCAR, but are we to expect the same sort of milquetoast IndyCar pilot for the conceivable future? You’re around these guys a lot. Without divulging any secrets, is there more of an edge to any of them than we’re led to believe? Who’s the iconoclast I should be rooting for?

M.G., Kentfield, CA

RM: That’s an interesting question. In his early days in CART and F1, Juan Montoya had that rare mix of balls, talent and “I don’t give a flip” attitude. Didn’t matter if it was Michael Andretti or Michael Schumacher, JPM was coming through and he was delightfully unfiltered with the media as well. Now he wears black Penske pants and gives the standard NASCAR name-the-sponsor responses in interviews. That devilish personality still exists; it’s just been neutered. His teammate, Will Power, could range from edgy to over-the-edge even as a Penske driver but has been toned down. A younger Tony Kanaan could be a time bomb as well. I guess I see a little of that old Montoya-Power dynamic in Jack Hawksworth because he’s all about passing people – not befriending them. Driving for A.J., he might be encouraged to say what’s on his mind as well. The closet assassin of the Verizon IndyCar series is probably Ryan Hunter-Reay. He can feed you a wheel with a smile on his face but he’s always aggressive and usually unremorseful. Yep, RHR is your man.

Q: Alright Miller, IMS Project 100. The scoring pylon looks great. The infield road course is improved. Other than that, I haven’t seen or heard a word about it since the $100m taxpayer funds were announced. We heard rumblings about the apron coming back in the corners, for what they said was only going to cost $1m, but then it didn’t happen for the 400, and no word since. Are they going to pave the aprons back or not? The project site still has some drawings of some “social grandstands,” but nothing new. It seems like a great time to modernize that front stretch of grandstands. Enough with the folding chairs already. Then let’s talk about getting the museum a desperately needed modernization also.
Mike Benedictis, Willoughby, OH

RM: According to IMS president Doug Boles there will be noticeable video board upgrades, concession stand improvements and restroom improvements for 2015. But new seats and larger projects won’t begin until the end of 2015 in time for the 100th Indianapolis 500. The apron project is still up in the air. The museum is a foundation and is funded by outside interests so that’s not part of IMS Project 100.

Q: IndyCar doesn’t have to manufacture good racing like F1 & NASCAR. After watching the last few laps of the last NASCRAP race that eliminated Jeff Gordon (what – no green & white checkered flag?), I thought he should have six or seven championships by now. The poor guy should return to open wheel racing before it’s too late. Wasn’t the new format going to prevent race winners from being eliminated from the Chase like Jeff & Brad K (10 victories between them)? They should just pick the champion out of a hat!

And after hearing Bernie say that F1 doesn’t need “younger generation fans,” what is he thinking – everyone will live forever like him? Shouldn’t he be in jail for bribery? Or in a home? Mercedes dominating, double points, virtual safety cars, red flags. When we could be watching Indy cars! More races next year please, until at least October. I feel IndyCar, with the proper management (one with racing knowledge) is just on the verge of becoming great again because the racing doesn’t need to be manufactured. I hope they stay away from the gimmicks
Tony, Mamaroneck, NY

RM: You mean you think it was ironic that Ryan Newman suddenly found the speed to be up front and the four Cup contenders were in the Top 5 all day during the finale? And, after dominating, Gordon suddenly decided to make a late pit stop out of second place to leave Harvick and Newman 1-2? I read in USA Today that all the drivers just upped their game. And, as hokey and contrived as NASCAR is, and as phony as double points for the season finale in F1 is, IndyCar is also guilty of offering double points for the three 500-milers. That’s the only reason the title went down to Fontana this year. But yes, the racing in IndyCar was superior (again) to F1 and NASCAR in 2014, no question.  


Q: It escapes me and any rational business person as to why the IndyCar Series, with declining live attendance and dismal TV numbers, would continue to demand an exorbitant sanctioning fee from any track owner or promoter. I understand that Bernie can charge $25m to secure an F1 race date in a world full of despots and thieves, but IndyCar, ever the niche sport, remains far off the general public’s sports radar and even my auto racing enthusiast friends often ask me whether IndyCar is still in business. Whether at sports cars, NASCAR events or with my F1 watch group here in Miami, which consists of some well heeled men of substantial means, I am often hit with the statement “I used to follow Indy cars back in the ’80s and ’90s but lost interest following the “Split.”

With the departure of Jeff Belskus and others associated with the TG regime, perhaps Mark Miles and the brain trust at 16th and Georgetown will take a serious look at a broken business model and make some bold and decisive changes to save what’s left of the series. Spec racing sucks but the on-track action has been compelling (except for the endless yellows for what I consider avoidable contact) and there are some personalities to profile like Will Power, Montoya, etc. It’s pathetic that I know almost all of the NASCAR regulars thanks to the heavy promotion the series and sponsors give their drivers, while IndyCar remains invisible and its drivers esoteric.
Neil Rubin

RM: It’s not so much that IndyCar’s sanctioning fees are excessive as much as it is the economic reality of staging a race. If you’re an oval and have to pay $1.2 million, a good title sponsor is a must, just to try and break even. I think Randy Bernard waived the sanction fee to get Michael Andretti to promote Milwaukee and Champ Car gave Elkhart Lake a sweetheart deal ($250,000) so discounts have been done before. And that may be necessary again to keep some tracks on the schedule.      

Q: I know you’ve probably mentioned this recently, but what are the IndyCar and Indy Lights car counts for next year looking like? I’ve heard there’s a lot of optimism about a strong Indy Lights field for 2015 with the new car making its debut, but nothing definitive on exactly how many will take the grid. Also, with Foyt expanding to two cars for next season, are we going to see a year-on-year expansion of the field for the first time in a while?
Garrick

RM: Marshall Pruett predicts 14-16 Lights cars for 2015 so that would be an encouraging start with the new package. As for IndyCar, it looks like 23 (Penske 4, Ganassi 4, Andretti 3, Schmidt 2, Foyt 2, Carpenter-Fisher 2, KVSH 2, Coyne 2, Rahal 1, Herta 1) with an outside shot at 24-25 if Andretti runs a fourth, Rahal runs a second and Davey Hamilton gets a full-time deal.    

Q: I’m sure you’ve noticed that F1 has been aired on network TV the last couple weeks directly against the NFL. I’ve been waiting patiently to see how it unfolded. The results are in, and it was just as expected. After netting a pair of 1.1’s in May & June on networks TV, F1 came in with a 0.6 & now a 0.5 overnight this past Sunday. That is a 50% loss in viewership from not going up against the NFL. That doesn’t seem like something that can just be brushed off or ignored.

IndyCar has only been able to obtain 0.6 to 0.9’s on network TV this past season while not going up against a football Sunday. What would make IndyCar so special that they would not see a similar 50% loss? I don’t think either of us are going to claim to be math experts, but any idiot can see a 50% loss on the current numbers wouldn’t exactly be a good thing.

Next up is the references to IMSA last month on Fox getting some solid ratings. It’s one of the worst comparisons I’ve ever seen and holds zero merit. You could give some random Joe off the street a two-hour program about wood splinters making good toothpicks and it would get solid ratings in that exact situation. Last time I checked, IndyCar doesn’t have the partners to be able to get on network TV directly following an NFL game on an NFL station. For that matter, virtually no one does. If IndyCar could get themselves on Fox or CBS in those timeslots…by all means race into the football season. One is looking at the situation blindly if it is seen otherwise. No doubt in my mind that if the IMSA race would have been on ABC or NBC, or even Saturday on Fox or CBS…the ratings would have been a fraction of what they were. Maybe I’m wrong, but I’d bet the farm that I’m not.

Are all racing fans also football fans? Of course not, but you’d be lying to yourself if you thought enough of them to make an impact aren’t football fans. It kind of sucks that IndyCar has to take a back seat in the fall to football, but that is reality and too many people are criticizing IndyCar management for recognizing reality. I do believe, Robin Miller, you’re also guilty of this. Mark me down as a supporter of the season ending on Labor Day. One day, IndyCar can own both Memorial Day and Labor Day in the racing eyes. Love your work and passion for the sport. I always enjoy hearing what you have to say whether good or bad.
Jeff C., Wisconsin

RM: It’s all a matter of perception, Jeff. While IndyCar tucks its tail and vanishes for six months, NASCAR, F1 and sports cars carry on like they always have. Other than NASCAR, the rest are fighting each other – not the NFL. And, trust me, when it comes time to sell sponsorships a couple of 1.1s on FOX against the NFL will likely matter. You are correct in stating that just about anything can get a 1.1 on network and, other than the Indy 500, a 1.1 on ABC for Indy qualifying was IndyCar’s best rating in 2014. And, because of ABC’s contract, IndyCar cannot ever be on NBC.

But it’s b.s. to say the IndyCar ratings on NBCSN improved because the season ended on Labor Day. They improved because they were so bad in 2013 they almost had to be better this year and maybe it was also because the racing product was good. And what about trying to sell a sponsor? Some owners tell me that only having a six-month season hurts their negotiating because sponsors want a half-price rate. There is no denying that NASCAR is the only motorsports series in North America that is relevant with the general public and mainstream media. But out of sight is out of mind for sponsors, media and casual fans – three things IndyCar desperately needs.   


Q: Is IndyCar looking into the pool of F1 people who will be out of a job between their silly season and teams going bust? Kobayashi, Ericsson, Rossi, Button, Gutierrez and maybe Raikkonen? I’ve heard of some GP2 testers, but why not people from a higher series than that? Take advantage of the opening. F1’s economic mess is IndyCar’s gain. If you are going to end IndyCar in September it needs to go out strong and not with a whimper. We have been blessed with real championship contests but not with well-considered, exposure-increasing finales.
Jay Daugherty

RM: I guess if a paying ex-F1 driver could keep an IndyCar team’s doors open it would be worth it but the only one of those drivers that interests me is Alexander Rossi (ABOVE). Button and Raikkonen are too rich and too old and not about to try IndyCar and the others wouldn’t sell one ticket. Now, if they had money, sure they’d likely be able to find something over here but I’d rather see Simona back in a car than more faceless drivers.

Q: What is the name of the author and the name of his book you talked about on your  Fireside Chat segment? It was on the segment about A. J. Foyt’s amazing 1964 championship. I think you said his first name was Gene. My hearing is very poor. If I turn the  sound up, it gets very garbled. You said it was out of print and you said you would like IMS to reprint it. I might be able to get a used copy thru Bookfinders. Hope to find a copy.
Don Betsworth, Torrance, CA

RM: Gene Crucean is a respected photographer that has recently published a picture book titled “Fearless” on the brave men of open wheel racing from the 1950s and ’60s. The book I was referring to in my video on A.J. was the IndyCar Series record book that Steve Shunck got IndyCar to publish in 2011 and 2012. Not sure it’s available anywhere, let me see if I have an extra copy but it’s a collector’s item for any Indy car fan.  

Q: The Caterham crowd funding activity just raised around $3.7million to run only one event. How many races will $3.7 million get you in IndyCar during the 2015 season? I run my own 600cc mini sprint operation – would love to have some of that coin so the wife would quit telling me to stop wasting our money!
Kenneth Harshbarger, Mulberry, IN

RM: I think you could have a full season ride with Bryan Herta or Dale Coyne, and maybe Sam Schmidt, with that kind of money. 

Q: Any chance Simona is in Indy car next year? Sounds like she’d like to return. If so, with whom? If IndyCar is ever going to help someone get a ride, can’t think of a better person.
Wally, Eden Prairie, MN

RM: She wants to come back but it’s all about money and I can’t see IndyCar spending any on her now. They didn’t try to keep Danica or Simona from leaving and I imagine her best chance is something for Indianapolis (if IndyCar is scrambling for 33 cars it might help in May).

Q: The fastest Formula 1 car is a 2006 Honda V10 which set a record averaging 246.908mph in the mile. My question is, has an IndyCar done something similar? If this hasn’t been attempted, I would think with proper promotion this could be a boost the series. Your thoughts?
J.M., Mclean, VA

RM: No, but since Gil de Ferran holds the all-time closed-course record of 241.428 mph at Fontana (also in a Honda), that’s more impressive than any straight-line speed mark in my opinion. I mean, both are impressive but does it sell tickets? Maybe if Ryan Hunter-Reay ran 240mph on a stretch of I-465 it could generate some new fans or if IndyCar used its speed against NASCAR or F1, it might raise interest. Remember, the Penske-Mercedes PC23B at Indy in 1994 was touching 250mph on straights a hell of a lot shorter than were used for the F1 car’s record. And, just like the F1 car, the Penske achieved those speeds in both directions, as it was doing it on the front straight and the back straight….

Q: Was Portland’s Indy car demise about anything other than the loss of their title sponsor(s)?  Sonoma and Fontana are too far away! Portland is centrally located to all in the region and a race at the venue would benefit the series by reestablishing a presence in a long abandoned market. The track is good, there’s lots of history there, and you can never rule out a visit by the “great equalizer”!  And, in my opinion at least, there’s nothing like watching them stretch their legs on a natural terrain road circuit.
Jeff, Seattle, WA
 
RM: The Portland Grand Prix [BELOW, 1999] had a great partner in the Rose Festival and then G.I. Joe’s but after losing both it gradually lost its luster and crowd. 


Q: Love the Mailbag. Be honest with me: What are the chances that IndyCar comes back to Houston ever? I was gutted when we were left off the schedule again. Especially after talking to C.J. O’Donnell and hearing him tell me how important the Houston market was to IndyCar. The way IndyCar just cut the race without a second thought sure as hell didn’t make it seem like they value us Houstonians like they claim.
Kevin Kerner

RM: I think there is a chance it could re-surface at Ellington Air Force base in 2016 if Mike Lanigan still has Shell as his title sponsor. But it was Mike who pulled the plug on the Houston street race [ABOVE], not IndyCar, because he couldn’t get anything but hot weather dates. An airport road course race in the spring would seem ideal but Shell has a golf tourney in April so October might work…except the season ends in August.  

Q: So during the big bad Formula 1 extravaganza here in Austin I was able to attend some forums while the circus was in town. The first was the fan forum with Massa, Perez and Gutierrez. Although I highly respect these three drivers, do these guys seriously have to sign a contract with Bernie to completely avoid any and all questions regarding IndyCar? Are these guys required to go through a Clockwork Orange-style brainwashing?

When asked about motorsports here in America, they seemed completely clueless about giving IndyCar any credit, although when asked what American circuit they’d like to race at, Gutierrez did say he’d love to run Long Beach (in an F1 car) while the others said the Glen. Example, when asked about childhood racing heroes, the two Mexicans gave the Senna answer. Get real! Ayrton died when they were three or four. We all know damn well they were raised on Adrian Fernandez, Michel Jourdain and Mario Dominguez.

At least when an IndyCar driver is asked about if they would like to be in F1, they say they are happy in IndyCar and actually seem truthful about it. And how can they think Alexander Rossi is the best American driver? RHR would destroy that kid, not to mention we got Conor Daly in GP2.

This brings me to another topic: why don’t we see drivers switching series for one-offs anymore? In my eyes it’s a win-win for both series, just look at Kurt Busch’s double duty this year. I’d love to see Gutierrez or Perez run Long Beach or Fontana and Massa run the Brazil race next year. And I’m 100% positive you’d see Mexican fans making the drive up to Long Beach or Fontana like back in the late ’90s/ early ’00s. And a 3rd car option for F1 would be great if they restricted it to a one-off for each race. Like Ferrari fielding a 3rd car at the USGP for Rossi, etc.
Ruben Hernandez

RM: I’m not sure there’s any “company line” regarding IndyCar in the F1 ranks, it’s likely more of a reality that they don’t know or care. And I imagine Senna was their favorite because of his worldwide status and the fact he’s still revered 20 years on. And they say Rossi because they raced against him and he was in the F1 picture. Most name drivers have owners that wouldn’t let them try another series; Kurt was lucky enough to have Tony Stewart. And not many guys want to venture out of their comfort zone anymore.     

Q: I’m not sure I read this correctly: “not sure Holbert ever drove an Indy Car.” In 1984, he drove for Alex Morales, with a fourth place finish at Indy. Three year later, he brought Porsche to CART. Jackie Stewart said he was a sleeper for the race because he put the majority of his time doing long runs instead of grabbing headlines with fast laps, I’ll now reread the mailbox with the hope that my eyes need to be checked or my mind is starting to slip.
Redding

RM: No, what I wrote was that I didn’t think Holbert ever got to race the Porsche Indy car but, thanks to Michael Knight and Rick Shaffer, he did try to qualify for the 1987 season finale at Tamiami Park. The car was way off the pace and, as Knight recalls, they were hoping for a promoter’s option since Al had won the IMSA race in Miami but it didn’t happen.  

Q: Looks like USAC Sprints has upped their game for this upcoming February in Florida. Six races over a two-weekend span. Combine that with the All Stars, WoO, and ASCS and there will be 17 nights of sprint car racing at various dirt tracks that month, not to mention late models and mods. You making any?
Mike Desmet, Stevensville, MI

RM: Yep, USAC’s Winter Dirt Games VI now includes Feb. 19-21 at Bubba Raceway in Ocala, Fla. followed by three nights at East Bay (Feb. 26-28) in Gibsonton, Fla. And Brady Bacon edged Bryan Clauson for the 2014 USAC/Amsoil sprint car title over the weekend while Tracy Hines won his 47th career USAC feature and Robert Ballou scored a victory in the Oval Nationals at Perris Speedway. If it stays nine degrees here, I may be going.


Q: It’s a shame that Fernando Alonso has signed with McLaren, and didn’t consider racing Indy cars. I know some drivers don’t want to race IndyCar because of money but to see Alonso do so would be sweet. Especially because I can’t stand nor watch F1 racing ever since they came out with those God-awful car designs in 2009. Formula 1 is dead to me because of that. 

As for F1 drivers without an F1 ride, money aside, I wonder why they wouldn’t consider racing in Indy cars? True they’d have less pay but at least with any money they earned in F1, before it runs out, try to get a ride with someone in IndyCar. At least they’d still be racing something, not to mention a chance to win an event more prestigious than any F1 race can offer – the Indianapolis 500. As for manufacturers, I’ve heard of people asking this and that about IndyCar reaching out to some in particular. But have they ever asked Volkswagen?
Aaron Cylinder, Media, PA

RM: You have to remember that not many of today’s F1 stars seem to have the mentality and drive of Nigel Mansell (ABOVE). And Rubens Barrichello was able to try IndyCar because he was out of an F1 ride and always had the desire to run the Indy 500. Not sure Alonso, Hamilton, Vettel or Rosberg have any desire to drive on an oval, plus their contracts would forbid it anyway. Money would be a consideration, sure, but not the determining factor. I believe there were discussions with VW a few years ago that went nowhere, obviously.  

Q: Loved you picking on NASCAR, and how the 12 people (outside of my family) who give a poop about IndyCar…all jumped in!! But…psssst: I know IndyCar people NEVER watch NASCAR, but who always seem to know every “caution” is faked (some are), so I guess they are like secret drinkers. They love it but don’t dare let it be known.

NASCAR actually did something that made for a good race, and entertainment for their fans, and had to please the sponsors! And surprise, surprise they have a champion most people would recognize, and Kevin and SHR actually will be paid a lot of money for their efforts. And IndyCar?

Just one question: Nothing in IndyCar has changed that will bring one new, YOUNG fan, (Mark, and Bernie don’t want them), so why not throw out this formula and go to a “junk” formula? They have tried “spec” cars, they have tried to promote drivers that nobody knows, they have increased prices, they have tried to be F1 Lite, they have lost people, and sponsors…and except for the “Danica Effect,” nothing has worked including an orchestrated 68 passes, and having “red” flags, “push-to-pass,” and making sure a so-called hero wins the race under yellow. Isn’t it about time to give the fans something to look at and hear that is different from car to car? See you at the first race in 2015…….INDY!!! Still laughing, NASCAR is!
Terrible Ted

RM: Haven’t seen Sunday’s rating but I’m sure it was pretty good and, you are right, NASCAR wins again with the national media and Harvick was a deserving champion. But please don’t insult my intelligence by suggesting IndyCar is anything like NASCAR in terms of gimmicks. When Harvick-Newman-Hamlin and Logano were running 1-4 at Homestead, it just confirmed what we already know about Velodrome Racing.

Q: By now you have probably read Bernie Ecclestone’s recent interview about F1 not needing young fans. However, I do believe that there is a broader message that applies to major motorsports in general; particularly in these times of decreasing attendance and sponsorship. I understand what he said about marketing to 70-year-olds with money. For spectators, attending events is not an inexpensive proposition when you consider travel, living expenses and tickets. So yes, it does take significant disposable income and as we know, attending F1 events in particular is not cheap.

But, the question to Bernie (and a parallel for all of motorsports) is HOW do you create a 70-year-old fan? I seriously doubt that there are many folks who discover motorsports at 60, so it makes sense to do things to attract kids, teenagers and young adults. I think the sooner you start, the better the chances of gaining a long-term fan. If you wait until 60 or 70, think of all those missed marketing opportunities. Sorry Bernie, you’re just not making sense…So Robin, agree or not?
Don Hopings, Corning, NY

RM: I don’t pretend to understand much about Bernie anymore but there was a tried and true formula for cultivating fans. The SnakePit crowd contained a lot of kids who eventually grew into race fans and became Indy 500 regulars. Today, it’s $40 to get into the IMS infield before you buy that first $5 bottle of water so almost all racing is too expensive for young people except maybe a place like Pocono which offered very reasonable prices.

Q: John Fulton wrote a question about race attendance leading to race watching. I’m not sure how much due diligence has been done on this but here are some quick back-of-the-napkin math and some reasonable Wild Ass Guesses (WAGs). CART in 1995: 16 non-Indy races. Average non-Indy attendance (WAG): 125,000. Total non-Indy attendance: two million. Average non-Indy TV audience (WAG): two million? 2014 IndyCar: 17 non-Indy races. Average non-Indy attendance (WAG): 45,000. Total Non-Indy attendance: 765,000. Average non-Indy TV audience (WAG): 600,000?

2014 NASCAR: 36 non-Daytona races. Average non-Daytona attendance (WAG): 80,000. Total non-Daytona attendance: 2,880,000. Average non-Daytona TV audience (WAG): three million. No idea if this is correct. And certainly correlation does not equal causation but it strikes me that John may be on to something. Essentially, the total attendance for the non “major” weekends roughly equals the average TV audience. I know I got hooked on racing again (after watching as a little kid circa late ‘87-’93) when I went to the Kentucky IRL race in 2002. Personally, I don’t hear much anecdotal evidence saying they saw racing on TV and got hooked; normally people talk about seeing the racecars in person.

My whole point with this is that maybe it is time for IndyCar to invest in gathering some empirical data to figure out if there is real correlation and, if correlation, then if there is causation. Maybe this data is already available? Either way, the point is I think John is very right: people go to the race and get hooked and then watch on TV, and it might be time to put some energy and dollars into supporting that and then figuring out a plan to capitalize on it. Nothing else seems to be working all that well.

One other thing tangentially related: Indy car was popular when it was incredible to look at and hear live. Now…the cars don’t seem as fast, don’t sound nearly as good and don’t look nearly as good. And IndyCar isn’t nearly as popular. Correlation? Maybe. Causation? Probably worth finding out. Final thing: I like racing, am an IndyCar fan and always will be. I love the series and just want to see it succeed. Feel free to print this or not—it’s not really an email specifically for the Mailbag. It is more to raise the point with you all, and I fully admit I am probably not the first!
Justin Brown, Louisville

RM: Reasonably good guesses (although 45,000 per IndyCar race in 2014 is way too optimistic) and a good theory: almost everyone I know that got hooked on racing was because of the spectator experience. But it doesn’t always translate to TV ratings. Portland used to draw big crowds for the CART races but barely watched the rest of the season. However, it’s a good bet that the 500,000 or so diehard IndyCar fans still remaining do a little of both.  


Q: Today I went on YouTube to watch the greatest race of all time, the 1982 Indy 500, and something about this race always bothered me and nobody seemed to talk about it. No it has nothing to do with the “Coogin” crash, or ABC’s obsession with showing Rick Mears’ wife, but it has to do with Bobby Unser. I’m wondering how in the heck did Uncle Bobby go from defending winner to managing a small team like Garza Racing? Seemed like a very odd pairing to me, can you give us the story behind that?
Derrick, Lancaster, PA

RM: A quick phone call to Robert Unser for his story. “It was all because of my youngest son, Robby, and trying to help get his racing career going. I’d neglected my other boy, Bobby Jr., for the most part and he was a stranger to me so I wanted to make it right with Robby. And, believe me, it was tough to walk away from that PC10 of Roger’s [Penske] because I developed it and I knew how fast it was. It ranked right there with Dan Gurney’s 1972 Eagle. I’d broken every track record testing it and I promised Roger I would run five races for him in 1982 but I just couldn’t get along with Derrick Walker [team manager] so I quit. Flew home to Albuquerque and called Roger and told him I wasn’t going to drive anymore. That was a tough day.”

Unser then agreed to help develop Pat Patrick’s Wildcat in the spring of 1982 but the bodywork flew off during a test at Phoenix and damn near decapitated the three-time Indy winner.

“That was it,” says Unser. “Damn near put out my eye, and I drove myself to the hospital and decided, ‘No more.’ I wasn’t broke and I was healthy so I put away my helmet – at least, for Indy cars.”

Uncle Bobby got paid a pretty penny to help Garza, who reportedly needed a shrink after two years ;-)

Q: Didn’t James Hylton (not sure of the spelling) win a NASCAR title back in the late ’60s/early ’70s without winning a race? I’m going to say once again. Champions should be winners! Not guys that just try to finish in the top 10.

As for IndyCars points system; if you want to pay points all the way down to last place, I’m OK with that. The difference in points should be substantial. They made a good move by getting rid of that stupid system where everyone below 19th place got 10 points. They need to step it up again and award more for winning. I suggest 1000, 600, 400, 300, 200, 100, 90, 80, 70, 60, 50, 45, 40, 36, 32, 28, 24, 22, 20, 18, 16, 14, 12, 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1. That’s 33 positions and it’s based on the old F1 points system of 10, 6, 4, 3, 2, 1.

If you apply that system to this year’s championship Will Power would still be champion, but Ryan Hunter-Reay would be second. Since he won more races than everyone other than Power, he gets rewarded for being a winner rather than a “Top-Tenner”. The same thing applies to 2013.

Hunter-Reay, Power and Hinchcliffe would all be ahead of Castroneves and Pagenaud. They should be because they won more races. You can’t say that there would have been different champions, because the drivers were racing with the points system that they had. A points system that rewards mediocrity. It needs to end.
Doug Mayer, Revelstoke, B.C., Canada

RM: No, Hylton finished second one year despite no wins but was never champ. The old F1 system you mentioned was the best because it did reward performance and winning. IndyCar’s isn’t bad but I still think winning a race deserves more separation.  

Q: I was reading the question from Josh Brown in last week’s Mailbag. He said he is combining the race with the weekend seeing the Cubs and Sox playing. In my case, coming from the suburbs to Milwaukee is about 90mins to 2 hours on a non-race weekend, with no construction traffic on either 294 in Illinois or 94 through the rest of northern Illinois and Wisconsin. There’s also dealing with the speed traps all the way from the Wisconsin state line to Milwaukee.

Then it is the traffic around the track – getting in is pretty easy, but getting out can be a pain. Depending on where someone parks at the track, it will take them anywhere from 30-45 minutes to get out and then either try to get back to the freeway to get back to Illinois. So a race that starts at 4pm, runs 225 laps (at approximately three laps per minute if the race stays green all the way through) will run until 5:15. If not, then you are talking about adding extra time-the race will run until at least 5:30, then you still need to get back to your car (let’s say a 10-15 minute walk).

Right there you are looking at the time being 5:45, get out of the parking lot and back onto the freeway will put you at approximately 6:15 or 6:30. Then the time back to Chicago will have someone getting back home at 8:30 at the earliest (again with no traffic or construction delays). If there is someone driving back to Indy, add 3-4 hours more (especially getting through the traffic along the Illinois/Indiana border to get to I-65). I hope this helps for him to understand why many of us from Chicago are no longer going to the race.
John Trapp

RM: I think it does plus the fact I know a lot of people from Chitown and Indy that no longer go to Milwaukee ONLY because of the starting time.

Q: It’s always great to hear about Dick Simon [BELOW looking to the inside of Johnny Rutherford at Brands Hatch in 1978]. I was at Indy in 1983 and have his driving suit he wore in the race. I have pictures of him standing with Tom Bigelow and Bill Alsup. He grew up here in Ballard (Seattle) and the last time I talked to him he was living on a yacht in Dana Point, California. An article about Dick and Lyn St. James [RIGHT, at the SVRA Festival at Indy this year] would be cool. Ask him about putting his motor home on cruise control while his wife slept, and going back to make a cup of coffee. I believe he said the road was crowned, so he figured it would go straight on its own! Anyhow, that’s the story I heard!
Don H.

RM: That would explain why he’s been married five times.

 

MX-5 CUP | ROUND 9 – ROAD AMERICA

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