Welcome to the Robin Miller Mailbag as presented by Honda Racing / HPD. You can follow the Santa Clarita, Calif.-based company at http://hpd.honda.com/ and on social media at @HondaRacing_HPD and https://www.facebook.com/HondaRacingHPD . Your questions for Robin should continue to be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org We cannot guarantee we’ll publish all your questions and answers, but Robin will reply to you.
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: There seems to be an age-old belief in the Mailbag that putting USAC-raised Americans in Indy cars will somehow magically save IndyCar since fans have been “following their careers” right to the top. The consensus in the Mailbags also seems to be that all these guys that have recently hit the ceiling on the F1 ladder won’t move the needle and nobody cares about them. Nobody, of course, wants the traditional ride-buyer either who has excelled in no series, but brings a personal sponsor.
I have been a hard-core IndyCar fan since 1994 through all the crap of the last 20 years. Let’s be realistic. If Americans RHR, Newgarden, Rahal, and Andretti haven’t made people (those who aren’t already fans) care about IndyCar, then why do we think Daly or Rossi will? Because they win? RHR wins, he won Indy. Let’s say there are as many people following some of the young USAC drivers as there are IndyCar fans today. Zero (relative to NASCAR and F1’s popularity) times zero is still zero. Nobody who is not already a fan is going to tune in for the first time just to see how some guy who dominated GP2 or USAC does in IndyCar. The mailbags are filled with letters from fans trying to figure out how to make non-fans care. They don’t care about the same stuff as us.
Personally, I just want funded cars and shootouts for the best available (paid) driver regardless of nationality or background. Obviously that ain’t happening anytime soon, nor do I think for a second that’s going to make all the middle-aged ladies at work who discuss Johnson, Gordon, and Keselowski’s performance every Monday morning start debating the performance of Power, RHR, Rossi, or Vergne. Those are the fans that made NASCAR a monster, not us. None of the solutions in Mailbag make these people IndyCar fans. Obviously, I don’t have the answers. But we keep fooling ourselves and wasting our time in heated debates about solutions which solve nothing.
RM: Sadly, you make an excellent argument. The USAC connection and watching heroes matriculate to Indy via Terre Haute and Winchester is never coming back. If Dave Darland got a ride at Indy, most of Howard County and all the HARF members would buy a ticket this May but that represents a couple thousand people. And even a popular, young American winner like Bryan Clauson has little or no affect on attendance or TV ratings. Nor will Rossi or Daly. Hell, 75 percent of the public couldn’t tell you Ryan Hunter-Reay won last year’s Indianapolis 500. Having said that, Sage Karam, Daly or Rossi will generate more American media coverage than Sam Bird or Jean-Eric Vergne. If they turn out to be Zanardi or Montoya, sure, that kind of winner captures the public’s attention but IndyCar needs little victories to try and get back on the map. Had Karam run Pocono last summer, there would have been 5,000 more paying customers – all from Nazareth. But let’s be honest. NASCAR built its heroes through continuity, television saturation, promotion and marketing while IndyCar lost its identity after The Split. Good example? I followed Scott Dixon down the hallway last week at the PRI Show and not ONE person stopped him to say hello, take a photo or shake his hand. But Rusty Wallace couldn’t walk 10 feet without being stopped.
Q: Nice PRI interviews – kicking myself for not taking some time off and going. Next year. With the announcement by Mike Shank concerning his move to Honda in sports cars and his still obvious love for Indy coming through your interview with him, is there a good chance we’ll see a Honda powered Michael Shank car on the grid at the 500 in 2015 or perhaps a full time entry in 2016? Saw your video on the racing book ideas for Xmas. One I have in the back of my mind but can’t recall is the book by the CART/IndyCar doctor about all the accidents from the 70s-80s-90s and safety improvements. We sometimes forget about the dangers these drivers take on, and I always try to make sure my son understands that every time he reacts to a crash. Thought that would be a good book for him some day (and any other fan). Love the momentum I’m seeing in Lights and IndyCar. Can’t wait to see where Rossi lands (come on Marshall, spill it). Really curious to see how many of the F1 cast offs land in Lights for a year if they can swallow their ego. Off season is too long, but it will be March before we know it. Until then….Formula E?????
Andy Bauer, Carmel
RM: I hope Shank evolves into an IndyCar operation; it’s a crime he got so little cooperation a couple years ago because he’s exactly what IndyCar needs for the future. Dr. Steve Olvey’s excellent book is called Rapid Response and is available on amazon.com. Marshall’s new Silly Season story on RACER.com talks about Rossi and Schmidt but not in the detail he’d hoped to be able to write. Looks like there is a Lights at the end of the tunnel after all.
Q: Do you see both Sage Karam and Gabby Chaves [ABOVE] in the series full time next year? Also, out of those two, who do you think has more long term potential? Sage, being the American would seem to be the popular choice, but Chaves also impressed in the lower ranks.
Drew Bogarts, Austin TX
RM: All signs indicate Sage being in the fourth Ganassi car for 2015 and Chaves (testing for Bryan Herta this week at Sebring) certainly seems to have the tools but will need money. The guys that worked with Karam last May are all veterans and they raved about his racecraft, calm demeanor and aggressiveness as he kept overcoming obstacles during his IndyCar debut. I’d say his upside is higher.
Q: I am a big fan of Davey Hamilton and really hope that his team does get to race in IndyCar next year. The car count looks good but an additional car is better. I have heard rumors about IndyCar coming back to Gateway. Is that possible, they will come back in 2016? Who will be the sponsor for Pagenaud at Penske? Did he bring some sponsorship? How do you feel about the new talent that is interested in coming to IndyCar? I am surprised that Rossi and now Max Chilton are interested. I don’t see Chilton having a problem getting a ride.
RM: As Davey said on the video we did at PRI, it was looking real good until some outsiders got involved and he’s not very optimistic. IndyCar visited Gateway recently but I have no idea if it’s got a chance. Don’t think Simon is bringing anything but his helmet and don’t know if his sponsor is just The Captain or a new company. Like to see Rossi get a shot along with Conor Daly but couldn’t care less about most of those other guys.
Q: Seems the double points idea is not well loved and I agree. If IndyCar is going to play games with the points how about this idea: let’s make running near the front for the whole race a bit more important. Instead of points for leading the most laps, let’s give points for say leading the first, second and third most laps? Just an idea.
Tom Spehert, Miwaukee, WI
RM: It might make more drivers want to lead at the three 500s instead of holding back and trying not to lead to save fuel but I think I’d rather see more points for wins, leading the most laps and winning the pole position.
Q: So, what’s the deal with double points and Sonoma? Do you know what the thinking behind it is, given almost no one liked Formula 1’s double points at Abu Dhabi this year? I totally understand double points on the Triple Crown 500-mile races but not on a normal length road course. Also, given all the European interest in IndyCar this off-season, what’s the maximum full time field you could see happening in 2015, in terms of how many cars each team could run?
Stu, United Kingdom
RM: I guess the thinking is that this year’s championship only came down to the season finale because it offered double points and IndyCar wants to try and ensure drama. But it’s b.s. because for almost a decade the title was always decided in the last race and it needed no gimmicks. I think the most regular starters would be 24 (Andretti 4, Ganassi 4, Penske 4, Foyt 2, Schmidt 2, KVSH 2, Carpenter/Fisher 2, Coyne 2, Rahal 1, Herta 1) as it stands right now.
Q: After reading Mario’s comments in the IndyCar 2018 article I agree (as we all do), that IndyCar needs more promotion. I think show cars could go a long way to this end. Put one at Dodgers Stadium prior to the LBGP. Put one outside the Superdome for the Sugar Bowl on New Year’s Day for the NOLA event. Detroit could have a car parked at Comerica Park at Tiger’s games. A car outside Rangers Ballpark at Arlington prior to the Ft. Worth race. And why not put show cars in the various auto shows around the country? Seem too logical.
Vincent Martinez, Arcadia, CA
RM: I suppose that could help a little but I doubt if it would make anyone drive to a race and buy a ticket. Your auto show idea seems more logical, except a lot of those people are already fans or familiar with IndyCar. Promotion, to me, is having Ryan Hunter-Reay in the X Games rally competition, on the sidelines of an NBC Sunday night football game for a quick soundbyte, co-hosting Sports Center segments during racing season or making an appearance on “The View.” IndyCar needs to run a national TV spot in prime time all winter with RHR’s in-the-grass pass to win Indy and his explanation of what going for broke means to a race driver with a teaser to watch him on ABC and NBCSN. Maybe easier said than done but RHR is the perfect demographic for kids, housewives and 30-somethings so he needs to be jammed down their throat – not soft-peddled.
Q: While a lot of folks are bitching about the no standing starts (would be nice to have) double points (would be nice not to have) lack of ovals (more please) and lack of teams (more please) it is good to see some new tracks. The best news I’ve heard about IndyCar as of late is what Dan Andersen is doing for the Mazda Road to Indy and especially what he’s done with Indy Lights. More teams coming on board with a potential to double the field from what it was last year and along with the new car, new sponsors and extending the finale beyond IndyCar to a standalone event at Laguna Seca is absolutely incredible. With the solid foundation that Dan is building I think it can only improve on what is happening with IndyCar eventually. I’ll be sure to pay attention to the Mazda Road to Indy a lot more than I have in the past. Happy Holidays and keep up the great videos – we need something to get us through this long, long, long, long off-season!
RM: I think it’s fair to say without Mazda’s continued support and Dan’s determination to make the Road to Indy relevant there would be no ladder system for IndyCar. And I’m not sure IndyCar truly appreciates their commitments. I also can’t emphasize enough what a big deal it is to have Trevor Carlin put his stakes down in America and this story makes it very clear that IndyCar is in his future after starting in Lights.
Q: All this talk about how the launch program must/should be improved is bogus. What’s the point of standing starts if the electronics makes each one perfect? The reason they are intriguing is because they demonstrate the skill of the driver. Have Graham Rahal’s fiancee stop by and show the little boys how to start a car. Then send Castroneves and Kanaan to Charlotte to show the NASCAR boys how to do a rolling restart without 20 cars running into each other. I swear, the 100th Indy 500 should start with AJ walking down the grid and bitch-slap every one of them. I’m sure he would derive extra pleasure when he got to Marco. Park Kevin “Coogan” in the back row for the grand finale. For extra punishment, extend the driver’s meeting by two hours so that Uncle Bobby can speak.
Woody G, NC
RM: As long as there have been standing starts, there have been stalled cars and, I’m with you, it’s part of the deal. I’d also much rather see drivers shifting conventionally than using paddle-shifters and heeling and toeing because it’s all part of the craft. Uncle Bobby leading the driver’s meeting would make a good three-part series.
Q: So I’m sitting here on a December Sunday afternoon watching a crappy NFL matchup. But I’m okay with it, the NFL is most likely catching its breath after not being threatened by the behemoth called IndyCar again this fall. Seriously I’m missing some racing here in Michigan. And I’m thinking IndyCar, F1 and NASCAR has a percentage of fans that would love to watch some racing opposed to the Toronto, excuse me Buffalo Bills vs. the Discount Double Check guy. What I’m wondering has IndyCar ever thought of running races in places like Brazil or Mexico maybe using last year’s cars or as a test for the new cars? Paying some points or dollars as a tune-up for the crews and drivers? I’m thinking some of the fans of other forms of racing might tune in and see what the Indy cars and drivers might have to offer. Who knows? A one-off to drive might pull in other series’ drivers, or established teams may want to try some up-and- comers.
Doug Harris, Westland, Mich
RM: Well, last year’s cars are also this year’s cars and the aero kits are currently being tested around the USA so no market for that. Maybe a separate season from September to December in some warm weather countries, which had been discussed, could be implemented some day but right now Brazil is opening the 2015 season. If you scored Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso an IndyCar ride for a race in Madrid, it might work but that’s never going to happen; too many binding contracts.
Q: I remember when aero kits were first discussed there was a mention that the sanctioning body would police any advantage one kit might have. I thought that was complete BS, but never saw another reference to it. Until the Q&A today at IndyCar.com. Now it looks like if one kit gets an advantage they will be punished by letting the other guys re-design at least part of their (slow/poorly designed) kits? I suppose I am a hopeless throwback, but cripes, I remember when a better idea/design/concept was the whole point of a new design. The whole idea was to go faster than your competitor. Makes me sick. It just ain’t racing anymore. By the way, I just finished reading Beast. THAT was racing.
RM: It’s rather redundant isn’t it? Make everyone spend money on aero kits but then make sure nobody gets an advantage. Of course that was the whole concept of racing – build a better mousetrap and kick everyone’s ass. The best thing about IndyCar racing today is the close competition and so I guess that’s more important than any advantage. But, if that’s the case, then leave the cars alone and table the kits.
Q: Greetings from Indonesia! Thanks for the wonderful job that you do each week keeping us informed! Too bad the internet was only in its infancy in the mid-’90s for CART’s heydays. Had your column been around back then I think the owners would have seen what asses they were being before The Split ever came to be! Here’s my bit for the Mailbag…if you care to publish: I have found the solution for Indy’s 2015 season finally! It has everything for both the powers that be and us racing fans…it’s a road course and an oval — a true roval with non-stop passing every lap. A real bull-ring that favors a bold and aggressive strategy, and would be thrilling from start to finish. The track layout strongly favors double-file restarts and pretty much ensures that the whole field would be at the same speed when the green flag falls. Seating would be very limited so a sellout is guaranteed, which totally eliminates the need for any promotion. Every seat would have a view of the whole track, and it’s currently being built in Indy, so the hospitality and season-ending banquet facilities would be perfect. It’s easy to find too, all Mr. Miles has to do is look out his window…it’s the 16th & Georgetown roundabout. As an added suggestion, quadruple points should be offered to guarantee that even a back marker would still have a chance at the championship. I only wish this track was around when P.T. was still driving!
Randy Madiun, Indonesia
RM: Damn Randy, I hate it when somebody is more sarcastic than me but I like your idea. Can you imagine P.T. starting at the back of the Roundabout 300? They could either auction off sitting on the park bench inside the roundabout (there really is one) or make a Death Row inmate sit there for two hours and, if he survives, he walks. But, as for your first statement, car owners never listen to anyone and certainly nobody that gave them as much grief (they earned it) as I did.
Q: OK, let me get this straight. IndyCar has an attendance problem right? So what do they do? They take away the things the fans loved (standing/double file starts/restarts) What? Really? If you want to draw fans, shouldn’t you listen to them? I’m really confused by this. Maybe I shouldn’t be though, its just par for the course. To quote Vince Lombardi, “What the hell is going on out there?”
RM: As I recall, Roger and Chip convinced Randy Bernard to try double-file restarts and, not only did they work most of the time, they were quite popular with the paying customers. Ditto for standing starts on places like Long Beach and Toronto, where the back half of the field was hopelessly behind on flying starts. Drivers bitched about both and IndyCar listened to them rather than its fans.
Q: For nine months you’ve been assuring us that if we just hold on a little longer the watershed of Verizon IndyCar television commercials will rain upon us. Is there anyone who has not seen the Microsoft F1 Team Lotus commercial? Lotus is the absolute bottom of F1 constructors yet they have national exposure while Verizon promotes the NFL and retreads of their 2011 service maps. Is Verizon drinking the Boston Consulting Group Kool-Aid? Is Miles on the Verizon board? If a flying pig landed on Derrick Walker would it be wearing a Team Lotus sweater? When for the love of God will there ever be a Verizon IndyCar commercial?
RM: There were a couple of cool ones last summer and I’m told there are new ones on the way for 2015. But it doesn’t make a lot of sense to advertise IndyCar in November or December when the season opener isn’t until March.
Q: I just read the article in SI on Roger Penske, and although I sometimes don’t agree with all the things he says, he has done a tremendous amount for racing and Indy cars. I can’t help but think what will happen when he retires. Will Penske continue like McLaren, Williams, Ferrari but the driving force will be gone? How is AJ doing?
Tony in N.Y.
RM: R.P. is 76, as sharp as ever and still running wide open 24/7 so I don’t think we need to contemplate that question for a few more years but it’s a good one. I imagine there is a plan in place to continue Team Penske, but whether it’s his sons or Tim Cindric or all of them, I don’t know. I’ll try to remember to ask him some time this coming season. A.J. is healing, slowly but surely.
Q: I’m starting to plan my annual Sebring 12 Hours trip (may be my last for a while as NASCAR oversight was very evident last year). When talking to my friends in Orlando area, they said that they did not plan on attending the St. Pete IndyCar race due to the cost of going to two races for two weekends in a row. However they did say that they would go if Indy offered honored a Sebring ticket for a GA pass at St. Pete. Obviously NASCAR is not going out of its way to help, but if IndyCar offered free admission (even if it were on Saturday) to anyone with a Sebring ticket, I think there would be a noticeable increase in attendance. What are your thoughts?
RM: Well that would be Kim Green and Kevin Savoree’s call and I imagine they might consider Friday or Saturday but certainly not Sunday. Unless they worked out some kind of a deal with Sebring, which obviously doesn’t need to because it’s always packed.
Q: Do you know if Jean-Eric Vergne still carries Red Bull sponsorship with him, sort of like when Neel Jani was moved to Champ Car in 2007 [ABOVE]? I didn’t watch the Formula E race, but the one picture that I think is him looks like he still has Red Bull on the helmet, but it might be his only helmet available too. Also will it be possible that some field fillers at Indy or other races may revert to using the stock Dallara chassis/aero because of cost?
RM: I have no idea, Buddy Rice used to have a personal Red Bull deal so I’m sure a lot of drivers still do and carry the colors/decals. It’s going to be a struggle to get 33 cars in May so I imagine a car could run without a new aero kit if it was the only one available. But highly unlikely, because raising money for Indy is easier than raising money for IndyCar.
Q: First, there isn’t any chance of ANYONE replacing Jim Nabors, so just find the best looking clip of him singing “Back Home” and put that up on the screens and be done with it- then we’ll ALWAYS have Jim. We’ll remember, we’ll cry but we’ll still have him and “his” song and that’s the way it should be.
Miles’ comment on not having breaks in the season because the season will lose momentum is a joke. This off-season is the biggest joke! Have the series end sometime in October where you’d get at least another six weekends for the promoters to use and choose to get better dates (because of weather, heat etc…). It seems a two-week break here and there would cause excitement during the season and give you something to look forward to and I’m sure the teams wouldn’t mind it. And finally, how about all of the major series sponsors or suppliers, especially Honda, Chevy and Firestone give four tickets to the IndyCar race near their location with every purchase of a new car, set of tires… you name it? Make it four tickets so that they could bring another couple or friends and do it through out the season, not just a one time only thing. Kids go to dealers with their Dads and we have to get new young fans from somewhere – plus a sign or two in each dealership or store wouldn’t hurt either.
RM: I like your ideas about Jim Nabors’ recording and giving away race tickets with new car or tire purchases but, again, that has to be in concert with the tracks. I would think they’d go for it because just getting people in the seats gives you the opportunity to sell them concessions and souvenirs. I know Firestone used to give away tickets at certain places and every little bit helps. We all know the season ending in late August is a joke. Well, almost all of us.
Q: If you could get an exclusive, 20-minute interview with Bernie Ecclestone, what would you ask him?
Marc, Orange County, CA
RM: I’d ask if he remembers me calling his house at midnight in 1979, waking him up and asking him a question about Porsche that he refused to answer before slamming the phone down. Then I’d ask him (have to use a polygraph) just how scared of CART was he in 1993 when ol’ Nige defected?
Q: With all of the well-funded drivers from Europe that are currently showing interest in IndyCar, do you think it is possible that some existing two-car teams could surprise us and expand to three cars? I mean, if a guy shows up with a check book big enough to fund 1.25 cars, and the personnel can be acquired, why wouldn’t some team (Dale Coyne, Schmidt Peterson, etc.) be willing to do that?
RM: It probably depends on the engine situation. General Motors and Honda are committed to X number for 2015 so I’m not sure how much room there is for late add-ons.
Q: I have lost my share of open wheel races over the years; Nazareth, Watkins Glen, and Richmond. All three events were filled with support races and added to the value of the ticket and the weekend. For the Pocono race, good seating cost between $65-100 and then the $20 price for Saturday admission. For around or over 100 bucks there will only be a few practice sessions, qualifying, and the race. With three support series and many series who work with IndyCar how is there not one support race? Even if Andersen doesn’t want Lights on the oval, why can’t they run on the road course? There must be more options than a standalone event. Fans wanted more action in the weekend not less. For $90 tickets at Watkins Glen for the NASCAR weekend we get admittance Friday-Sunday and we see three races. How can IndyCar or anyone say oval racing is so important to IndyCar and still put forth a poor effort of a race weekend? Please tell me something is in the works?
RM: I can tell you that you make a very valid point and fans have been complaining about the lack of action at ovals for years. I believe there has been talk between IndyCar and oval promoters about what can be done to enhance the show but I don’t know yet what, if anything, has been decided. Can’t imagine Pocono using its road course (nowhere to sit for starters) but it would be nice to see Red Bull Global Rallycross or X Games jumpers or something like that to keep fans entertained. Iowa always had decent crowds for the USAC races until the pavement divisions were killed off but maybe Davey Hamilton’s series could go there. If racing started at noon or 1 p.m. at Milwaukee, people could see Indy Lights at 11 a.m., eat lunch, watch IndyCar and be home at a decent hour.
Q: Just wanted to say I have enjoyed your commentary over the years and your presence on the TV broadcasts, and the honesty and candidness you bring to the sport. It is refreshing and appreciated for a long-time fan! I casually followed IndyCar in the early/mid-’90s and really fell in love with the sport just in time for the split in 1996, so I’ve sort of grown up with seeing the sport through its worst possible periods and have seen it morph back into what it is today. I was always a CART fan because of the heightened technology, tire/engine competition, etc. and because all the drivers I knew were there, and also because I had a bit of a grassroots connection to it with my family being in Ohio near the Mid-Ohio course. I’ve also always been more of a road course fan, so the original IRL ovals-only mission seemed short-sighted and selfish really. I also grew up in NASCAR country so I guess it’s a bit of rebellion in that I dislike ovals to a large degree.
I had the opportunity to go to Barber for the first time this year [ABOVE] and it was wonderful… reminded me of the vibe I got from Mid-Ohio when I was younger. Anyway, I’ve often wondered, when talking about lack of sponsorship dollars in the modern era, what hurt the sport most over the years? Was it The Split itself and the confusion that ensued, the complete shutdown legislation with tobacco advertising, or other factors in addition to those two? Surely the visibility of the sport compared with NASCAR is/was an obvious issue, but it seems to me that when the tobacco sponsorship was killed across the board, EVERYTHING fell apart on a large scale with IndyCar sponsorships: beer/alcohol, oil/petroleum sponsorships, etc. just seemed to dissolve and pull out.
I do remember observing that from around 2004-’07 or so, there were still some bigger sponsors involved in both IndyCar and Champ Car, but with the merger a lot of those went away as well. I also don’t remember hearing about drivers having to bring their own sponsors quite as much – or maybe it just wasn’t as visible then. It just seemed like sponsors always wanted to be in the sport, even on an associate level, so it wasn’t as much of a ‘make or break’ issue back then. All in all though, I get the impression that once tobacco was forced out, the wind just left the sails all around and other sponsors couldn’t/didn’t want to take up the slack. Marlboro seemed to be on every single car and helmet in some form or another in CART (and F1) in the ’80s/’90s so it just illustrates how much money was there to go around.
My point: Is there any way (in your opinion) to ever attract bigger sponsors back to the sport with the same purse strings that were present in the “good ol’ days” or did tobacco sponsorships prop up motorsports in general so much that there is no way back to that level of funding? With NASCAR struggling like it is, I wonder if some sponsors would consider jumping ship or re-allocating to be part of the Indy 500 environment again?
Bryan White, Asheville, NC
RM: First off, thanks for the kind words, your check is in the mail. As for what happened to open-wheel, no doubt that the tobacco laws hurt since Marlboro, Players and KOOL were big sponsors and proponents of Indy car racing in North America. The IRL revisionists will claim that CART was on its way done and Indy interest was sagging so Tony George had to step in and save the day. The truth is that in 1995, CART had record crowds, four engine manufacturers, five chassis, two tire companies, TV ratings equal with NASCAR and massive sponsorship. Indy had 75,000 on Pole Day, 40,000 on Bump Day (when Penske missed the show) and Race Day was a sellout. When the CART teams went to MIS instead of Indy in 1996 (after TG guaranteed 28 of the 33 slots for IRL teams), it pissed off a lot of fans and they never came back to Indy or a CART or IRL race. Open wheel will NEVER recover and NEVER get back to those CART heydays. And, while NASCAR may be removing seats from several tracks, it still gets college football-type crowds and solid TV ratings so not sure there’s any reason to look at IndyCar, other than the Indy 500.
Q: I noticed that you left Lyn St. James out of the list of competent female drivers. I always thought she was a pretty good shoe and also showed she could work well with sponsors – personable, attractive and intelligent. I, too, loved Indy cars when there was innovation and imagination (and some really nutball stuff) at the track. This spec series idea seems to be a step back. I know the engine mileage rule is to protect the engine cost structure but it seems to me that a more primitive engine like a turbo Ford or Offy made so much more horsepower than we have now and the cost was way less. Sometimes technology is not better just because it is new. Drivers from any discipline, whether F1, USAC, WoO, SCCA, or whatever should be welcomed if they have the talent. I am a fan of all open wheel as well as sports car racing and think a driver is a driver is a driver. More fans from other series that might watch IndyCar because of a driver they like is not a bad thing. I really enjoyed watching Rubens B. trying to adapt to a different style of racing. See ya at the USAC show at Bubba Raceway Park.
RM: Lyn St. James was much better out of the car than in it. I don’t ever recall her passing many cars and she was capable of going fast for four laps in qualifying but certainly not racy like Sarah, Danica or Simona. To be fair, though, like Janet Guthrie, St. James was also older (45) when she came to Indianapolis but benefitted from Dick Simon’s expertise and equipment. All drivers are welcome to try IndyCar but most couldn’t take the paycut.
Q: I am Brazilian and a friend recommended me to read your publications and liked a lot, but this is the first time I had the courage to send you an email – forgive the bad English. I will relate a dream I had and please ask you to answer whether it is valid and/or possible. Well, I dreamed that the last race in the IndyCar schedule was in Iowa, but it was not just any race: it was a special test of 1,000 laps exactly. That’s right, 1,000 laps with an open wheel car. There was some great marketing by directors of IndyCar and even a small fight between two stations broadcasting the race. The interest was so great that more than 40 cars entered for test and even NASCAR drivers Brad Keselowski, Jimmie Johnson and Kyle Busch were invited to join. The race took place with the same attention as the Indianapolis 500 and was a success that leveraged IndyCar into becoming truly great and one that was recognized among Americans. It was nicknamed “Endurance of open wheel,” and became an established championship-deciding event. Then there is the question whether it would be possible and interesting to IndyCar to perform this type of race, especially as championship final in the future. What’s your take on this?
Thanks for your attention from your faithful Brazilian reader!
RM: It’s possible in some kind of an exhibition form or special team race after the IndyCar season but the main problem is getting anyone besides IndyCar regulars. Penske might let Keselowski compete and Stewart would let Kurt Busch but their season doesn’t end until Thanksgiving and it’s too cold to race in Iowa in December. A team-type format might be clever, putting an IndyCar regular with a NASCAR regular, but it would likely have to be in sedans to ever get enough participation from the stock car set. Too many contracts and obligations. But thanks for the idea.
Q: So why is it that in the middle of the IndyCar dead season, an online news outlet that isn’t racing-oriented decides to run a story about a car that ran at Indy in 1967? One that didn’t even win the race. Could it be the cool paint job? Could it be the driver’s unusual first name? Or might it be that the damned car was so INNOVATIVE that it still captures people’s imaginations nearly 50 years later?
Let’s peer into the future to 2060; what are the chances that some non-racing writer relives the story of the “groundbreaking” Dallara that won Indy in 2006? Slim to none. There’s nothing about spec cars and zero innovation to capture the imagination. I know the argument against opening the doors to innovation involves unlimited spending, etc. But as always, some racers will be rich and many not so rich. But they’ll have an idea that they think could be a world beater on their hands and access to the big stage. As a fan growing up in the ‘70s and ‘80s, the attraction to Indy (besides track records and girls sporting Q95 stickers in imaginative places) was looking forward to seeing what new ideas were going to roll out of Gasoline Alley. Didn’t matter if it was the latest rocket penned by Nigel Bennett or something Bill Finley cooked up behind his house. There was innovation, intrigue, and uncontrived drama. And that’s why a 4-wheel drive turbine still makes a headline nearly 50 years later. Note to the IndyCar powers that be: it always comes back to the fundamentals. That holds true for NFL players and teams, iconic businesses, and yes, even automobile racing. That’s my rant for the week. “Now you kids get off my lawn!” (Hikes pants back up to his chest and slams the door)
Darrick, Brownsburg, IN
RM: Because it captured the imagination of the common man, including Johnny Carson who came to IMS to run it, and set off a firestorm among racing fans and media. I was talking to Dan Gurney the other day about how we always waited to hear the first test times on the new Eagle at Phoenix, or the new Penske or Lola or March or Reynard or Wildcat. I was lucky enough to spend many winter days watching Finley build his homemade Indy car from scratch and then put it in the race. People argue that it’s not about the cars, the engines and the innovation but those things were all part of the magic. And it’s not fair to blame today’s leaders, they inherited this mess but it doesn’t look like anything is ever going to change. But opening the rule book and encouraging ideas is the only thing that will ever restore Indy’s sizeable footprint – and the only chance of ever having more than 33 cars.
Q: Thank you for your Christmas book ideas for the racing fan. I purchased a copy of Fearless – great stuff. I also picked up a copy of “Pole Position” – a book about Rex Mays. It was written by Bob Shillings for his masters thesis. It has 482 pages and lots of pictures and is a great read. If you haven’t seen it you might beg, borrow, or steal a copy. It costs $100. I’ve been a big fan of Indy since 1946 and my library is getting huge as I have 99 books just on Indy. I look forward to your racing stuff on your Fireside chat. Have a great holiday.
Don Betsworth, Torrance, CA
RM: My pleasure Don, I heard from A.J. and he is enjoying reading the copy of Fearless I sent him for Christmas. I need to find the Rex Mays book.
Q: Any good open wheel books worth reading that you can recommend?
Matt, Dallas, Tx
RM: See link above, but Fearless, Beast, Wicked Fast, Hard Luck Lloyd, The People’s Champ, As A Matter of Fact I Am Parnelli Jones, Black Noon and California Gold are all good and available at Coastal181.com.
Q: In your opinion why did so many race fans stop being fans of motorsports general and start following only one series or is that the way it’s always been? The division amongst the fan bases seem to be more evident the past few years. This rivalry among fan bases baffles me because I like to keep a diverse lineup of racing and races I attend every year. When I got into racing in 2001, I was 9 and I fell in love with every series especially NASCAR, Indy, F1 and ALMS. I follow every series as close as I can. This year I was fortunate enough to attend four NASCAR races, Indy weekend at Barber (1st IndyCar race in person, and I now plan on going back every year), and Petit Le Mans which I go to every year. I’m also currently saving money up for a trip to the Indy 500 in 2016! Also, one last thing – do I have any hope of ever seeing IndyCar racing at Road Atlanta? I think it would be a great race. I understand the reasons for not returning to Atlanta Motor Speedway.
Evan from Georgia
P.S. Bought Black Noon after your suggestion. Amazing book so far!
RM: Good question Evan. When I was young I idolized Jim Hurtubise, Parnelli and A.J. but I liked Freddie Lorenzen and Fireball Roberts and Tiny Lund in NASCAR and Jackie Stewart and Graham Hill in F1 because I ran slot cars painted like BRMs. People have always had their favorites but it was more fractured in the old days and I think Indy car drivers were far and away the most famous (besides King Richard). I think there may be more crossover than we think but it’s expensive to go to all the races you do and people tend to pick and choose nowadays. NASCAR has done the best job of identifying heroes so that’s why it’s winning in fandom. Unlikely for IndyCar at Road Atlanta unless some work can be done to a few runoff areas but it’s a fabulous circuit. And yes, Black Noon is riveting.