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: Just as a frame of reference, I started in 1982 with four tickets to the Indy 500, upped it to 14 and now I have 26 in my name. As you, and many others have said, it seems that nobody at 16th & Georgetown wants to listen to the paying customer. Do they read your Mailbag? Do they read the letters that are written to them? Do they ever get back to you when you send them emails from your Mailbag? What I would like to see is an open fan forum at IMS with a panel of a couple of retired drivers, promoters, past and present car owners and the leadership of IMS and IndyCar, so they can hear and see the PASSION that we have for our beloved sport. Charge $100 and that way you are going to get people who really care so that a person can ask questions and give their opinions. Like explaining to us why the drivers got their way with no more double-file restarts when the paying customer wants them. Maybe hear the reasons why we don’t attend ovals anymore and what needs to be done for us to attend ovals again. Maybe there would be an idea from somebody out there that nobody ever thought of. I think you know what I’m trying to say. Nothing is going to change until the leadership really starts to care and listens to us, the fans.
Terry Gobble, Urbana, IL.
RM: By numbers alone they should listen to you, Terry, and I like your idea of a Fan Forum except I’m not sure it would even be considered by the current management. Can’t say how many, if any, of the presidents and vice-presidents read this every week but I do send letters from fans to the brain trust at IndyCar and IMS and I get occasional responses. I know Mark Miles connected with a teenaged fan last year after they met through the Mailbag and they got together at Milwaukee. But Randy Bernard is the only leader I’ve ever seen that physically went into the grandstands and actually listened to the fans. CART had a Fan Forum at every race for many years and it seemed to generate a few ideas that were adopted. It’s something IndyCar should seriously consider doing on a regular basis, for PR if nothing else.
Q: Diego Rodriguez, Bobby Unser and the other people interviewed for IndyCar 2018 believe that what IRL needs is to bring INNOVATION back since the racing (although you disagree) sucks (68 passes by 14 drivers). Heck a kid with a hand-held computer can do that and since all cars are the same….who cares? BUT since the team owners really control the series nothing will happen in 2018, or any other year until the series folds for lack of interest. So isn’t it time to change the name from IndyCar to GAP – you know, Ganassi, Andretti, Penske! Roger has four cars, Chip has four, and Michael it appears may have five. And with the socialized racing series paying over $1,000,000 for each car up to what, 20? So $13,000,000 goes to them, and even though the other teams win an occasional race or lead a couple I have no doubt GAP will win the Championship! So until someone at 16th and Georgetown listens to fans and professionals like Mark Dill, Robert Clarke, and Diego Rodriguez (not Boston Consulting), and stop listening to the owners, and by extension the drivers who better back “Daddy Roger,” or they’ll be gone, it’ll be GAP to me!
RM: First off all, it’s not IRL, it’s IndyCar and I do think lots of overtaking and multiple winners is better racing than one guy lapping the field. Yet the one constant out of RACER’s 2018 series has been the fact almost everyone embraces bringing back innovation. But that’s not going to happen until something radical happens to the rulebook, as Bobby Unser suggested. I don’t think the car owners control the series because none of them would end the season on Labor Day if they had a strong voice. It is a blessing and a curse that three men own half the field in the Verizon IndyCar Series but they’re also the three owners who could likely survive without Leader’s Circle money (although Andretti would seem to be sketchy without it). And NASCAR (Hendrick, Stewart, Roush, Gibbs) is pretty much the same way so, yes, the title is a private war in IndyCar, just like it is in NASCAR and Formula 1 except there’s a lot more uncertainty about the outcome of an IndyCar race and I like that.
Q: Just wondering about why there is an essential need for a American driver that wins a lot in IndyCar? Personally, even if Graham and Marco [ABOVE, Pocono 2014] have outstanding seasons next year and win all the races and tie for the championship (though that’s not possible, I know), how will those Americans move the needle for IndyCar?
Secondly, why is there a big need for a USAC driver in the series? Granted I would assume it was easier to step up from dirt to Indy back in the old days, but it clearly isn’t anymore. Mark Dill’s idea of making the cars front engine again to stretch the angle of manufacturer relevance is not innovative, and the idea of compatibility doesn’t sit well with me either.
RM: If Andretti or Rahal start winning races and titles, the odds greatly increase on every newspaper and maybe even SportsCenter, running a story. Not sure how much it might move the TV needle but it couldn’t hurt. But just because it’s an American doesn’t guarantee anything since Ryan Hunter-Reay is going to go down as one of the most anonymous Indy 500 winners since IndyCar has done virtually zero with him on the national stage. As for a USAC driver, I just like to see talented youngsters like Clauson, Chris Bell, Rico Abreu, etc. get a shot at running Indianapolis each May so the field would have 33 of the best open wheel drivers.
Q: First off, I think Will Power’s analysis of IndyCar was spot on. And despite his caveat of being a self-centered driver, I thought he was pretty spot-on with how to improve the series. I would add that the one thing he missed (and most everyone who has talked about the next step of IndyCar) is how to bring it back into pop culture. TV, video games, movies, music…hell, a reality show if need be (sometimes you have to sell out, right?). How about a documentary on IndyCar? A big production like “Senna” to tell the world the rise, fall, and rebirth of IndyCar? Or even just the Indy 500. There hasn’t been a good IndyCar documentary in a number of years and it’s time that changed. Same with video games. Do you know the last IndyCar game came out in 2004? F1 and NASCAR have games every year and sports cars get tons of promotion in Forza and Gran Turismo. Where is the IndyCar video game that lets you drive everything from the Marmon Wasp, to the Penske-Mercedes monster, to the Granatelli turbine car? Most of these cars have never been driven in pixel form before…IndyCar is sitting on a goldmine and they’re just wasting it away. You want IndyCar on people’s minds? Shove it down their throats.
David Zipf, Lexington, Ky.
RM: Of all the interesting opinions on RACER.com about IndyCar in 2018, I thought Power’s was the most comprehensive, honest and sensible. I loved his lines about “current drivers shouldn’t be consulted about anything but safety” and that IndyCar needs to try and “get new fans without pissing off the ones we have.” He also favored high-horsepower beasts to drive and moving away from totally spec cars but correctly pointed out that currently Penske, Ganassi and Andretti all have bad weekends where they can’t hit their butt because there are only so many things a team can throw at these cars. And he correctly identified IndyCar’s main problem is off the track, not on it. As for your question about an IndyCar game, I forwarded your letter to Jay Frye, chief revenue officer of Hulman Motorsports, and chief marketing officer C.J. O’Donnell.
Q: Do you think Miles and Company would take your suggestion about paying the winner of the 100th Indy 500 $10 million dollars or how about $7.5 million? Would that not be something where others would take notice and bring more entries? It makes total sense so that makes it something that won’t happen!
RM: If they dropped the Leader’s Circle handout and found a big title sponsor, it could be feasible and then it would be more appealing for Tony Stewart, Wayne Taylor or Richard Childress.
Q: I’m having trouble getting excited about the new IndyCar season. Especially with all these supersize teams. At least F1 maintains the charade of saying all teams are two-car teams. I guess I’ll cheer for the underdogs. Wait a sec! Are there any?
Mike Montreuil, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
RM: Of course there are plenty of little guys to root for in IndyCar. Ed Carpenter (3), Sam Schmidt (2) and Dale Coyne won races in 2014 and Bryan Herta’s car ran up front. That’s not gonna happen in F1 or NASCAR.
Q: When the subject comes up about IndyCar entries, you usually note the limitation that Chevy and Honda have for engine supply. Why is there a limitation? Now that the initial development is over, wouldn’t it be in IndyCar’s and the engine manufacturer’s best interest to supply more and increase the series? Is it a supplier problem, or a rulebook problem?
Mark Suska, Lexington, OH
RM: I think it’s more of a supply and demand issue. I’m sure if four or five more full-time teams surfaced, Honda and GM would accommodate them and the same goes for Indianapolis. The days of teams showing up randomly are over, except for a couple in May, and there are special lease rates for one-offs if so desired. It’s going to be a struggle again to get to 33 this year and, as Uncle Bobby said, the only likely way there could ever be 50 cars again would take a new rulebook with old-school parameters.
Q: Regarding Schmidt Peterson, do you think Hinch feels some regret that the chips fell the way they did this off-season? SPM clicked with a winning combo, but losing Ben Bretzman and Rob Edwards, and now with Andretti talking about a five-car team, is Hinch wondering if he pulled the trigger too soon? Any thoughts on whom Schmidt is chasing for those vacancies? Do you think Craig Hampson could be coerced into a full season now that the season is ridiculously short, albeit condensed? He and Hinch gelled so well. Otherwise, Pappas? Cannon?
Lastly, it looks like the FIA and F1’s Technical Working Groups read Mailbag. There are 1,000hp engines targeted for F1 in 2017. Now if only IndyCar would pay attention. Wait a minute! This suggestion didn’t come from the Boston Consulting Group, it came from Andretti, Mears, Foyt…but what do those guys know?
Trevor Bohay, Kamloops, BC, Canada
RM: Sure I think Hinch wanted to stay at Andretti but he went with the best option he had and waiting around to see if Andretti could find a sponsor was not one of them. He’ll have well-respected Allen McDonald as his engineer. Not sure yet about Edwards’ replacement. I’m pretty sure Bernie reads the Mailbag religiously, he’s always stealing ideas.
Q: Jacques Villeneuve has been vocal in criticizing F1 for the ease of drivability of the cars. Teenagers get up to speed in a few laps. The issue is the same with IndyCar. I see F1 is contemplating going back to big horsepower; IndyCar has to do the same. I would love to see a return to 2.65-liter turbo-charged engines: I’ve seen and heard that engine in person. It sounds great when it’s wound up and it can reliably be counted upon to produce 1,000 or more horsepower. Take away some downforce and allow traction control (the popping and backfiring of the engine sounds great on a road course) and you’ve got the makings of a world-class series.
Steve, Aurora, Colo.
RM: As Rick Mears said on RACER.com it’s more about taking away downforce to make the cars harder to drive than adding power. And NOT allowing traction control, in my opinion. One engineer said making the cars lighter will increase speeds as well. But, whatever the method, its obvious Indy car fans want to be thrilled again.
Q: Over the holidays I enjoyed watching two old CART races online – the 1990 Michigan 500 and 1994 Surfers Paradise. Both were great to watch but, by halfway at Michigan, Rahal, Unser Jr. and Michael had lapped the field and the speeds were comparable to today’s DW12. Australia had confusing delays due to weather followed by pile-ups when teams selected the wrong tires for conditions, long yellows, a pickup truck out on course under a waving local yellow, a bone-headed call to run the race into the dark, only two leaders and a win by a fairly large margin. So, in retrospect, the racing was not all that different or better than today…so why were these races the golden era with full stands & ABC broadcasts?
I think the attractiveness focused on drivers who were bigger than life because they mastered ever- increasing cutting edge technology, speed and power. I don’t believe that as of the 1990s there had been a significant attempt to limit any of these factors – those cars were about as advanced and fast as could possibly be made at the time (given the finances in CART). Today we have equally great races and quality of drivers but the performance envelope is intentionally limited by IndyCar. We all KNOW the driver performance + bravery = heroics formula is far less under these spec-car conditions than what it would be given an uninterrupted trajectory of racing technology. F1 and IndyCar have shown that withholding performance can result in great racing that people don’t like all that much. If stagnation of performance since the inception of spec cars is the reason for failure to regain popularity since the split then the logical approach to increasing popularity is to restart the momentum by opening the rules for innovation and performance improvement (see F1 getting 1,000hp by 2017). I don’t think this approach MUST equate to more expense if the rules restrict some exotic approaches – engineers need to figure this out. The imperative is that performance must increase noticeably over time making each year’s crop the fastest, badass machines in series history. Cars that can only be driven by the skilled and fearless will generate fan respect and elevate new driving heroes. Widely accepted heroes may be the only thing that will bring butts to the seats and eyeballs to TV.
Rich G., Columbia, SC
RM: A combination of Foyt, Andretti, Rutherford, Johncock [ABOVE, Mosport 1977] and the Unsers being up front for four decades plus the lure of danger and speed along with continuing innovation kept Indy car racing on top. ESPN pulled NASCAR up by the bootstraps in the ’90s but, prior to The Split, CART was neck-and-neck in sponsorship, attendance and TV ratings thanks to Fittipaldi, Mansell and the new wave of Andretti and Unser. Because of spec cars and two very even engine manufacturers, IndyCar today has never been more competitive or even but that’s not holding the public’s attention. A lot of us would welcome back more of an open-source policy to try and encourage more teams and manufacturers along with breathtaking horsepower in cars that require greater skills to handle. But, as I’ve written countless times, besides Indianapolis, would it be a game changer? Would it make people start going to or watching races again? Probably can’t hurt to try because nobody is paying attention right now.
Q: I know the networks have the contracts in place, but a while back there were some rumblings that Miles was going to try and talk with the networks. Any idea if anything came of this or are we stuck for four more years?
Steven Musselman, Lake City, MI
RM: I believe Mark’s goal was to get ABC to let NBC carry a couple IndyCar races but, so far, he hasn’t had any success. But with NASCAR coming to NBC, it should drive a lot of traffic to NBCSN and that should help the IndyCar ratings. And getting the Month of May on ABC remains Miles’ best move.
Q: When I was young, the F1 guys would go south in cars that were almost F1 and race in the southern hemisphere in the Tasman series. People are starved at this time of year for motor racing. I’m even watching British sidecar racing! What if IndyCar went south for four or five races and finished in Phoenix with a with a winter championship? They would monopolize people’s racing interest. Let them open up the rules for Indy cars more. Give them certain chassis specs, and as you’ve said in the past, give them 200 or 150 gallons of fuel and let them do what they want with the engine. Who would you get? Toyota, Audi, Porsche, with their endurance technology? Mercedes, Chevy, and Honda? Tesla with no fuel?
RM: Mark Miles spoke of a winter series and Down Under would be perfect because of the climate, the enthusiasm and the fact you’ve got Will Power and Scott Dixon [ABOVE, at Surfers in 2001] to promote. But, unless it had some kind of gargantuan purse, nobody like you mentioned is going to build a special car or engine for a short series.
Q: A few months ago I was reading an article about Ford’s racing program and I can’t remember who it was that said it, who said something along the lines of, “I will be six feet under before Ford returns to IndyCar.” So my question is, what happened between Ford and IndyCar that produced this attitude? I assume it could have something to do with Ford making the wrong choice and going to CART and not the IRL. I am a huge Ford fan and would love nothing more than to see them come race in IndyCar, however I know that will not be happening anytime soon. I’m only 22 so maybe I will see a Ford at Indy again one day. I am just very curious as to why the top guys at Ford are so anti-Indy. Having a good ole Ford vs. Chevy battle would be a lot of fun in IndyCar.
RM: It was Edsel Ford II and he was speaking to the now defunct website More Front Wing and here’s his quote when asked why Ford isn’t interested: “No one in the stands,” he said. “The General Motors guys would like us there, and Honda would like us there, but there’s just no value in it. I’ve talked to Jamie [Allison, director of Ford Racing] a lot about it. He, Raj [Nair, group vice president of global product development] and I don’t think any of us really want to go to IndyCar racing.” Don’t think it had anything to do with IRL vs. CART (Cosworth/Ford supplied the first IRL 500 while also running in CART) in terms of Ford picking sides, it’s just a direct byproduct of what happened to open-wheel racing after The Split.
Q: Just wanted to thank you for an excellent video story on Lee (Stub) Kunzman. We are loyal fans of racing from his hometown (Guttenberg, Iowa) and started watching Lee race with stock cars on dirt tracks with car #89 and Ralph Hinzman’s car #57. Sure glad to hear that he is still going strong and has made such an impression on the racing world.
Richard and Mary (Kickbush) Brockmeyer
RM: My pleasure. “Stub” or “Zoom” as he’s called is one of the most inspiring people I’ve ever met, not to mention he was a badass racer destined for greatness before his second accident.
Q: Robin, you are always telling us stories from your Friday lunch sessions and I was wondering if you are recording any of these stories to put in a future book. As a longtime fan of open wheel racing I would love to be able to sit off to the side and listen to all these stories from the greats. Now I am sure not all the stories are PG-rated but as adults, we know the R-rated and worse ones are the funniest. Long time fans would even pay for recordings or, better yet, maybe RACER could give you a small film crew to record some of these gatherings. You could call them Lunch with Robin, edit them down to 10-15 minute videos to put up on Racer.com. Plus we need to get these stories saved somehow so the men who lived them are not forgotten. These men are the reason we became fans in the first place.
I was thinking a great place for a public show would be some time during the SVRA vintage event at Indy in June you could get some of the guys (please make Uncle Bobby one of them) together and have a sort of story-telling session in the Plaza behind the Pagoda. I am sure it would be entertaining for us all, then if they have time, a little Q&A with the fans and an autograph session. A great time would be had by all. You could record it and sell the videos. I know you’re always looking for that idea to make you a millionaire, and this could be your shot. If you make it happen, I just want VIP access (maybe a small cut on the video sales) so I don’t miss a word of any of the stories. Keep up the good work and telling us like it is, or at least how you think it is (which is the way most of us regular fans think also).
David Lake, Ft. Wayne, IN.
RM: It probably would make a good video series and while a camera many times mutes people from saying what they really think, it likely wouldn’t affect the hooligans I dine with at Team Lunch. Uncle Bobby [ABOVE, at SVRA’s festival in Indy] would be a five-part series, minimum, and the stories from Steve Stapp, Lee Kunzman, Bubby Jones, Merle Bettenhausen and Pancho Carter are pretty damn entertaining to us fossils. I’ll run it by RACER, thanks for the idea. BTW, do you have the video I did with Parnelli, Mario and Dan Gurney? It’s available for sale online at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
[David, I like the idea, although I’m also aware that Marshall Pruett’s video-editing skills would be on the redline, given the nature of some of the stories… – David Malsher, RACER editor].
Q: Alex Tagliani told the “Journal de Montreal” that he was in talks with two teams about a paying ride, have you heard much about which teams they may be? I had figured Tags was down to being an Indy-only guy like Townsend Bell but it would be cool to see him run full time. Also, whatever happened to Fan Force United? They had been talking up running Stefan Wilson full time and now they aren’t even being mentioned in conversations about Indy Lights, let alone IndyCar.
Tom Rowell, Ottawa Canada
RM: Hadn’t heard that one about Tag but I guess KVSH could be a possibility since they needing funding for a second car. Dale Coyne is always an option and maybe Bryan Herta. I’ve sent Alex an email inquiring. Haven’t heard anything from Tyce Carlson about Fan Force or Stefan since last fall.
Q: After 25 years of amateur racing, I determined that motor racing is a stupid, time-consuming expensive hobby. So I bought an airplane. The plane is no less expensive than racing but at least I don’t crack it up every other weekend. A good number of pro racers are also pilots. Do you have any “flying racer” stories you can share?
GW in ON
RM: Flew with Jim Hurtubise a couple times in his SeaBee and we used the Interstate signs because his radio and navigation system didn’t work. Not that it would have mattered since he wouldn’t have used them. He took some people fishing once and when they tried to leave, the plane couldn’t climb out of the lake so Herk unloaded all the people and equipment. He tried again, no luck. Then somebody saw the pontoons had filled up with water so that made the plane way too heavy to take off. Legend goes that he landed on the backstretch at Trenton once and he and Parnelli lived to tell about landing in a tiny pond by Eldora.
Q: So what’s this about Sarah Fisher driving in the Chili Bowl this week? And I’m going to miss it! I am so looking forward to your coverage on Racer.com. I hope she kicks some butt! I do have a Hawaii related race question for you. Danny Ongais is Hawaiian right? Do the islands have an active midget/sprint presence or does one have to come to the mainland for grassroots racing? BTW, your video on Gary B was excellent and made me very wistful that I never saw him race. Nobody today comes close to the Bettenhausens.
RM: Miss Sarah runs Thursday night and also making their Chili Bowl debuts are Chris Dyson from sports cars and NASCAR’s Kenny Wallace. I’ll be there starting Thursday to file reports and videos.
I’ve never heard of any Hawaiian series and Danny O [ABOVE, Brands Hatch in ’78] came to the States where he started in drag racing [ABOVE, in 1965] before making it to USAC. And yeah, the Schmuck was a classic and what racing is all about.
Q: I would like to start out by saying that I just got my Champions edition of Racer Magazine, it’s my first, and I am certainly getting a subscription. I also have appreciated the IndyCar 2018 posts on the website, especially the ones coming from Mario Andretti, Rick Mears, Will Power, and Bobby Unser. I’ve been a racing fan since around 2008, and since then, I had been perplexed by the idea of IMS controlling the whole series. It never really made any sense to me, and I’m glad that I’m not alone. NASCAR controls their whole sport, but they have actually made good decisions in promoting their drivers, unlike IndyCar. Also, there is no excuse for there not being more short tracks on the schedule. If there was a crowd shortage issue at New Hampshire, get the modifieds to race the same day. And if not New Hampshire, try Thompson, “The Indianapolis of the East.” Or why not a return to Sanair? Andy Hillenburg seems to have lost NASCAR’s support- so why not have an IndyCar race at Rockingham? There are enough ticked off fans at NASCAR over their handling of the track that it could possibly be a sold out race.
Jonathan Green, Baldwin, New York
RM: Glad to hear you’re a subscriber and are also enjoying the IndyCar 2018 series on Racer.com. As for Uncle Bobby’s suggestion to separate IMS from IndyCar, I like it but you’ve got to have a series and without Hulman & Company supporting IndyCar, I doubt it could exist right now. Andy is working at USAC nowadays and Rockingham would need re-paving before Indy cars could run there but I always wished Loudon would have been given three years.
Q: I recently pondered on this question: Why doesn’t IndyCar have a feeder system for the kids? The kids start with karts and then? NASCAR has Legend & Bolero cars, K&N Pro-Series, trucks, etc. NHRA has junior dragsters. F1 has karts, all type of lower formulas, Formula 2, etc. Want to get the next generation interested, start something up, REALLY support it with maybe a driver or two showing up at local tracks. Let the kids see what is out there, what to aim for.
RM: Kids can, and do, get their early education through quarter-midgets, go-karts, Legends or mini-sprints and then the feeder system kicks in with Mazda’s Road to Indy which includes USF2000, Star Mazda and Indy Lights. Actually, IndyCar’s feeder system is more layered and defined than most.
Q: Now I have not seen the IndyCars with the full aero kits yet, but I hate to say it… the Indy Lights car looks cooler than IndyCar proper and that ain’t right!
RM: Only a few people have seen the aero kits but there is no denying the new Lights car looks zoomy – like an Indy car should.
Q: I thought I’d chime in with my two cents on how IndyCar can increase attendance. I know it has been a joke on here but I think ICS is on the right track with concerts at the races, especially the ovals that don’t have a lot going on. I just don’t think they are thinking big enough. Nothing against Jason Aldean, but he might bring a couple thousand people in. Same with Poison who haven’t been popular for 25-plus years. They need to go after big acts. George Straight, Garth Brooks, Metallica, Aerosmith (just keep Steven Tyler away from the National Anthem), Katy Perry or Justin Timberlake (whose company William Rast has sponsored cars before). Acts that sell out huge arenas to begin with. Have them play for an hour before the race and finish the show after. With no re-entry, the sellout crowd would have to watch the race. And surely out of 60-70,000 people, a few of them would become fans. Plus even if they didn’t want to watch the race, they could walk around the fan village and look at different setups about how IndyCar works, video games and other activities, as well as buying concessions. It would be a great captive audience. When they buy tickets, ask if they are buying for the race or concert and follow up afterward asking if they would attend a race again to gauge the impact. Sell additional VIP tickets that would allow people on the track/infield/pits and in front of the stage during the show. The ticket sales should pay to get the performers there and the track still makes their money with concessions. Pay someone like Perry or Timberlake to “discover” IndyCar racing and talk about it on Twitter. Timberlake has about 40 million Twitter followers and Perry has 65 million. I’m willing to bet if these big celebrities talked about the series a few of their followers would tune in too. This is the kind of advertising they need to start embracing; just using a few TV and radio spots doesn’t cut it anymore.
RM: I was told Jason Aldean drew 25,000 last May but don’t know if that’s accurate or not. And who knows how many of them came back for the race? I was at Atlanta once for a CART race that drew 4,000 people and then 6,000 showed up afterwards to watch Charlie Daniels so the key seems to be having a concert BEFORE your race. If you can keep the kids inside the track so they could watch the first 50 laps it might make them fans. But getting some of the big names like you suggested would likely cost a lot more than you could ever recoup at the box office.
Q: It seems to me with the loyal following both NASCAR and NHRA have it would make sense to survey those fans and ask them what they don’t find appealing about IndyCar and use this info as a place to start. If the 20-something crowd is what IndyCar is after then survey those people and ask what would make Indy car racing more interesting. Times have changed. Perhaps the way IndyCar has been trying to figure out the problem is the problem. Racing is entertainment. What people were entertained by 20 years ago may not be appealing to the masses now. Maybe it would. To the best of my knowledge, no marketing group has ever approached it this way. Also, what is being done with the last two generations of Dallara chassis? Any rumors of a series being developed for them? If USAC had someone figure out how to put a midget motor in these cars that could prove to be a cost-effective way for current midget and sprint car drivers to get more relevant experience and develop the skill set it takes to run in IndyCar. The Mark Aldersons and Eldon Rasmussens are still out there and could develop cost-effective parts and pieces for these chassis if there were a reason to do so.
RM: It would be helpful to know what NASCAR and NHRA fans think about IndyCar, or even if they have an opinion. But I can’t help thinking a day at Long Beach is a hell of a lot more entertaining for a younger person than sitting in the grandstand at Talladega since there’s non-stop action at one and a day of sitting around waiting for one race at the other. But I think we both know it’s about driver identity and cheering for favorites and NASCAR has everyone covered in that department. Not sure what IndyCar’s survey strategy is but I’ll send an email and ask. As for the old Indy cars with a sprint car’s horsepower, that might be a great learning tool but, of course, the obvious question is, “Who pays for it?” We’ve already got enough open wheel series nobody watches or supports or cares about.
Q: I’ve always been a fan of Teo Fabi and still recall in 1983, despite a F1 background, he won the pole at Indy in his rookie season. The transition for a pure road racer making the move to high speed ovals is amazing when you consider the equipment is different from F1, the tracks and field of drivers are all new elements to contend with. During your time in our sport did you ever have a discussion with Teo about switching series and winning the pole?
Mark McKinley, Floyds Knobs, IN
RM: I was at IMS for his initial oval-track laps and he wanted to quit after only a few trips. Obviously, he got some confidence and miles by May and captured the pole. He said he could never imagine feeling comfortable on an oval but he did a pretty good job of hiding that. And who knows? Maybe that experience helped him become comfortable at ultra-high speed. Two of Teo’s poles in F1 came in 1986 at Monza and Osterreichring – both tracks for real men, especially considering he was pedaling a 1,300hp Benetton-BMW [ABOVE, at Monaco that year].
Q: Steve Ruedy’s Mailbag letter last week about the rear-engine sprint car got me thinking about USAC. Despite being a lifelong race fan, I have very little knowledge of USAC, I’m sorry to admit. I guess I could stand to have a quick education on its history from someone who knows. The Wikipedia page isn’t real helpful but does state that it was formed by Tony Hulman, so who owns it now? If it’s still owned by the Speedway or by the Hulmans, why hasn’t it been included in some way into the Mazda Road To Indy? And why are they apparently content on being a feeder series to NASCAR? I would think introducing a class of rear-engined sprinters would be a no-brainer for grooming aspiring IndyCar drivers. There is a road-racing path and could be an oval racing path. Also, I’m sure there are plenty of other attractive tie-ins that could be formed between USAC and IndyCar – for instance, Honda being so heavily invested in USAC already.
RM: USAC was born out necessity after all the fatalities in 1955 – including the great Bill Vukovich and rival Jack McGrath. Triple A was the sanctioning body for Indy cars, midgets and sprinters and it pulled the plug after ’55, so Mr. Hulman started USAC.
It was the major sanctioning body in all of American motorsports throughout the 1960s and 1970s and dwarfed NASCAR before it took the dirt cars out of the Championship, lost Marlboro as the title sponsor and pissed off most of the free world by 1979. CART was formed but USAC still ran the Indy 500, which was a joke with the rules, laughable management and special pop-off valves. After The Split, USAC still sanctioned Indy and several USAC regulars wound up with rides at Indianapolis in 1996-’97-’98. But, after the 1997 fiascos at Indy and Texas, Tony George finally threw them out. After the IRL was formed, all the USAC competitors carried decals on their cars proclaiming USAC as the “Road to Indy” and it was if you were talking about the Brickyard 400.
USAC banned rear-engine sprinters in 1974. But there is no relevancy between front-engine cars and today’s Indy cars so the about only chance for a USAC driver to ever get a shot at Indy would be hitting the lottery or bring back Randy Bernard, who awarded the overall USAC champion with enough money to run IMS (that was Bryan Clauson in 2012 [BELOW]). Clauson will be back this year because the Byrd family, longtime USAC supporters, scored sponsorship to get him a ride with KVSH Racing for May. Running the Indy 500 helped keep USAC alive all those years and now it’s trying to hold on to its midget, sprint and dirt car heritage while branching out into trucks and quarter midgets. It’s still billed as a non-profit organization and has a board but no owner to my knowledge.