Welcome to the Robin Miller Mailbag as presented by Honda Racing / HPD. You can follow the Santa Clarita, Calif.-based company at http://hpd.honda.com/ and on social media at @HondaRacing_HPD and https://www.facebook.com/HondaRacingHPD . Your questions for Robin should continue to be sent to email@example.com We cannot guarantee we’ll publish all your questions and answers, but Robin will reply to you.
And if you have a question about the technology side of racing, remember that Marshall Pruett tackles them in his Tech Mailbags. Please send tech questions to PruettsTechMailbag@Racer.com.
Q: Maybe it’s time to eliminate the name “Midget” from the name of this class of car. We even have a perfect replacement name: “Chili Bowl Series” car. Somebody already knows this is a problem. The promotional poster for the Chili Bowl does not contain the word “Midget” anywhere. But we have a younger generation of potential fans who will rule out attending USAC races. Just because the word “Midget” is in regular use at the track. They have been asked not to use the word “Midget” in their daily life. We won’t be getting a customer feedback card from them telling us why they didn’t buy an admission ticket. They will simply not show up. Of course there is an older generation who will steadfastly hold on to the name. For tradition sake. Perhaps we should ask Chili Bowl winner Rico Abreu about it? Or perhaps we should eliminate this problem ourselves right now before someone on the outside forces us to. USAC probably can’t endure the experience of the Washington NFL team.
Kevin G. in Springfield, MO.
RM: I know I’m old and somewhat out of touch but I really don’t believe it’s an issue and I certainly don’t think it’s keeping anyone away from midget racing. I also don’t think the Chili Bowl made any statement by not using midget in the promotion. I didn’t bother to mention Rico’s size in my story or video with him on RACER.com because it didn’t have anything to do with his awesome performance on Saturday night. Nobody knows how tall anyone is when they’re at speed, just like they don’t know a driver’s gender. I don’t know Rico [BELOW, Rupert Berrington photo] very well but I certainly don’t think it’s an issue with him (his team gave away life-size cardboard cutouts of him after the race) or any of his competitors. Hearing 10,000 people chanting “Rico” as he dove out of his car and into the arms of owner Keith Kunz was pretty cool and, if anything, his size may serve, that’s right, to grow his popularity. He’s a damn good racer who drives midgets and sprints. I don’t think he’s got any problem with being the 2014 USAC midget champion, but if you want proof, note that on his website, he divides up his photo galleries and sure enough, he has a “Midget Gallery.” He describes himself as a “little person” so he sees a clear distinction between the terms.
Q: Who is this guy who won the Chili Bowl? Where is he from? How long has he been racing? Has he always raced midgets? I read he is only 4 feet, 4 inches and 95 pounds. Is this true? Is he this good or just lucky? Great to see Sarah Fisher back in the seat and looks like she did pretty good despite being out for so long. Glad A.J. made it to 80 and is recovering, did you wish him Happy Birthday?
Don Betsworth, Torrance, CA
RM: Rico Abreu is 22 years old from northern California and is best friends with Kyle Larson. He was born with a genetic disorder of bone growth that is the most common cause of dwarfism but started racing motorcycles and go karts when he was six. He made his sprint car debut in 2011 before Larson hooked him up with Keith Kunz in 2012 and last year he won Indiana Midget Week, the Belleville Nationals and the USAC midget championship. Sarah did a nice job, winning the D main on Thursday night, especially considering it had been 16 years since she’d driven a midget (and never one on the dirt). I called Tex but didn’t sing to him; they did that Friday morning at the Midget Racing Hall of Fame.
Q: What an evening of fabulous racing on MAVTV from the Chili Bowl, particularly Rico’s dominant win and Dave Darland’s last-minute pass to make the main event. You are so right about this event being the start of the racing year. What am I going to do until March? I enjoyed your video interviews throughout the weekend. Do you think the Captain and his team will really get involved with USAC? I am keeping my fingers crossed. Mr. Penske is no fool and I cannot imagine he didn’t see the talent and how enthusiastic the fans were. Hope he heard what Dave Despain shared on the broadcast which was that fans came from almost every state. I would love to see many of these racers make it to IndyCar. They would bring their fan base with them too.
RM: All five nights had great racing and just when it looked like Bryan Clauson might make it two in a row, along comes Rico and blows him away – along with everyone else. As for Mr. Penske, he grew up watching dirt races and he’s known about USAC forever so I imagine if he were going to do anything, he’d have done it long ago. But it doesn’t mean he couldn’t run Will Power at the Chili Bowl next year. RP was against Gary B. running sprinters and dirt cars but this isn’t nearly as risky. I do think The Captain was impressed with the crowd and atmosphere.
Q: A comment was made during the Chili Bowl broadcast on MAVTV saying some of these guys we are watching here are future NASCAR (long pause) and IndyCar drivers. Any names in particular from Chili Bowl weekend and/or other drivers racing on the dirt this upcoming season Indy fans need to have on their radar this summer?
Jake from Wisconsin
RM: I think I gave Roger Penske the names of Chris Bell, Rico Abreu [ABOVE, Rupert Berrington photo], Chad Boat, Kevin Swindell, Ryan Bernal, Darren Hagan, Chris Windom, Tanner Thorson, Justin Peck and Bryan Clauson but their only hope would be something in NASCAR since none of the IndyCar owners pay attention to them besides Ganassi. I think Toyota has its eye on Bell (along with Kyle Busch) for stock cars and it was announced Tuesday that Rico has a ride in NASCAR’s K & N series. Swindell has massive talent on pavement, as well as dirt, and would love to run the Indy 500 but he’s been running some Nationwide in mediocre equipment because that’s all he’s been offered. Ditto for young Boat. Clauson was in Ganassi’s driver development program before the Busch team folded and, thanks to Randy Bernard, ran Indy in 2012 and is set to return this May.
Q: I can’t wait for the season to start. Several questions: Is it mandatory for teams to run Honda or Chevy’s aero kits or can they stick with the Dallara kit? Do you have an update on the status of Justin Wilson? Hope Michael and Honda can find a way to have him race for Andretti Autosport. Any info on the status of Euro drivers, Daniel Abt etc. coming to IndyCar? Read an article where many in F1 don’t find it financially feasible. IndyCar, in my opinion, is the best racing in the world from the points of view of cars, drivers and fan accessibility.
John from Chardon, Ohio
RM: Dallara isn’t making an aero kit and if you are a Chevy team, you must use the Chevy kit. Still waiting to hear if JWil has a seat at Andretti’s and whether Zach Veach and Jean-Eric Vergne are sharing a fifth car.
Q: Looking at various things this week and noticing what looks to be 19 entries for Indy Lights so far this season. Maybe Andersen Promotions should just buy IndyCar next. That might actually help the series for once.
RM: That might be the best thing that could happen to IndyCar and its future because Dan is a racer with a good business mind and common sense who obviously has a lot of passion. I just listed four reasons it won’t happen.
Q: Thank God we have Racer.com and your and Marshall’s columns to look forward to, I’m having racing withdrawals. I was so desperate I even checked the Formula E schedule and I’m a big football fan. I’ve been curious, however, to find out how the teams that are testing are chosen? It seems like only the top couple teams are getting to test and this has to be a huge advantage. Is it because they have to cover their testing costs and other teams can’t afford it? Let me know: I’m a big Andretti Autosport guy but I don’t think it’s fair for a couple of the big teams to get all the testing.
CAM in LA
RM: It’s pretty simple. The engine manufacturers didn’t want to make a lot of development parts for every team so they picked their big dogs (Andretti, Ganassi and Penske) to do the grunt work. The final versions were submitted on Monday so now IndyCar approves or makes tweaks, and the kits will then go into production. All the teams that put down deposits will receive their aero kits at the same time and then they can test them after Brazil. But everything had to be shared in the testing and no driver could have more than two days so it’s not anything sinister.
And you can’t blame Chevy or Honda for wanting their best to test.
Q: Bobby Unser is 100% correct, and if you have kept what I’ve written time and time again, you’ll see I have stated every single thing he has passed on to you. I am not patting myself on the back, I am saying maybe it is time for someone at 16th and Georgetown to listen. Isn’t it fascinating that almost every person interviewed (present drivers excluded) think the cars, the engines and an open formula (cost controlled) which allows INNOVATION with the “500” being a stand alone race is wise. And add to that spin-off, sell, or give the IRL/Dba as IndyCar to any fool willing to take it. The “500” needs to lead and doing away with the $20,000,000 wasted on a series nobody (except for about 300,000 diehards like us), gives a tinkers damn about, and spend it on the “500”! I’d love to sit down with Mr. Miles. But if he just reads and listens to what Racer’s website has produced it should be enough for him to stop listening to Boston Consulting. They might be able to produce a profit in the short term by charging for everything, and increasing prices, and adding concerts but in the long term the present business plan will, if followed, end with fewer fans, fewer sponsors, and more and more drivers who must pay to drive. All will not end well.
RM: The majority of people who still care about IndyCar want innovation returned but, as I’ve continued to say, you must have a set of rules that entices manufacturers and teams and the assurance they are coming before you blow up what you’ve got. But the people currently making the decisions don’t seem to care what the fans want, at least not enough to do anything radical.
Q: The notion that design constraints (sans safety) should be removed is romantic and emotionally desirable but it ignores the world around us. Opening the rulebook would impact safety in every way. Running nitromethane or turbines simply might create an unsafe product, even if the driver is in his carbon fiber “cage.” The second problem is money – pallets would be needed today to explore diverse designs. The days of having your buddies over to drop a helicopter motor into something you welded up yesterday are over. Now you need teams of neck-bearded Linux programmers with Ph.D.s from Ivy League schools. Keyboards and Cheetos have replaced Budweiser and we can’t change that, no matter how good it sounds. It also ignores the elephant in the room: NASCAR. NASCAR went from an era of exploration to a spec series because things were getting out of control. Instead of dying out, the modern (spec) era of NASCAR has seen a huge surge of popularity. Wily and strong-willed dictators making wise, steady decisions grew that series over the course of decades without Boston Consulting.
A different case study is F1. Here, “design” is left open, to the extent it can be while retaining a safe structure. And that has led to boring racing and $400 million dollar budgets to be competitive and that’s left them with fans but maybe no teams. I’d say that the cars are sexier but that’s largely because they are faster, not because a Red Bull looks different than a Mercedes. As a case in point, the cars are now 82 percent less sexy because of the sound, diversity notwithstanding.
Our product isn’t broken and spec racing isn’t the problem. Having multiple manufacturers is fine as long as it approximates a spec series – that is, all are competitive. But our rules need to make something considerably sexier. Today’s car is better than the Civil War-era IRL cars but it’s still a far cry from the 18,000 RPM shriek of the previous generation of F1 car or even the pre-split CART car of the 90s. Having a sexier-than-F1 spec car that comes in a box would be amazing if the price could be kept semi-reasonable. Another problem we face is that the realities of racing have shaped our product to be less appealing to the American race fan. Yesteryear’s glass-chewing tough guys appeal but yacht-dwelling country clubbers running around with dainty, fragile racecars don’t. When conflict results in (at worst) a driver throwing his hands in the air, it just isn’t enough for the current demographic. We are selling fine china at a rodeo.
Mark Tomishima, New Jersey
RM: You make some very salient points but NASCAR never hung its hat on innovation, technology, speed records or pushing the envelope. Nobody cared about stock cars until ESPN put them on the map and open-wheel racing killed itself. And the drivers were always the story, not the cars (except maybe the Dodge Charger Daytona / Plymouth Superbird). But the cars and, even the engines in certain years, were big players in Indy’s popularity – even 20 years ago – as was the element of being on the ragged edge. Could going back to an open rulebook make a difference today? It’s likely the only thing that will ever get the car count back to 40 or more, pique interest around the world and it could help attendance in May. But I think $10 million to win Indy and $1 million to start would interest McLaren or Wayne Taylor or Joe Gibbs more than building their own cars. As you suggest, a sexy spec car with a badass-sounding engine might serve the same purpose.
Q: The talk has been coming back around again about including dirt tracks on the IndyCar schedule. As you well know, it’s been coming back around for years and I have an idea. What about using the existing (DW12) Dallara chassis to run on dirt tracks? We’ve seen ample evidence that the chassis is incredibly strong by way of crashes and rough street courses. The cars could be raised a couple of inches. Add to this a “kit” with more robust suspension pieces and halfshafts that would also compensate for the camber changes inherent in raising the chassis. The diffusers would need to be removed or plugged to protect the drivers following behind and to prevent the tracks from becoming small Oklahoma dust bowls. There would be other necessary details, such as air cleaners, softer springs and so on, but it would be a fairly inexpensive transformation. Just don’t give ‘em bigger wings. Mid-engine Indy Cars (as well as the old pavement variety roadsters) have done laps around dirt tracks in the past with no ill effect. Existing dirt tracks are a given, but there’s also the opportunity to return to the urban street course equivalent. Any city with a horse-racing track is pretty much ready to go. The infrastructure is already in place; just add temporary pits. The Sacramento Mile at the old State Fairgrounds is but one example. I think it would make for fantastic racing as well as lending yet another dimension to a great series. It would also re-open an avenue of opportunity for up and coming American drivers in addition to bringing fans (both old and new) with it.
John Nevins, Sacramento, CA
RM: The talk has always come from old-school fans like yourself and, as much as many of us would love to see it, there’s no chance because today’s leaders, owners and drivers would never consider it. That ship has sailed, as they say, so just buy some Dick Wallen videos and enjoy those good old days. I remember watching Lloyd Ruby try to qualify his rear-engine Indy car at the State Fairgrounds for the Hoosier Hundred. Not a good look or result – and Rube was a badass.
Q: Great interview with Uncle Bobby. He and Will Power hit home runs on the IndyCar 2018 series. I love the idea of separating the Indy 500 from IndyCar, yet Indy supporting the series (with the series having an open rulebook too). I love the idea of carbon fiber tubs or chassis for safety, but then using fiberglass or aluminum to make whatever you please into a winning car. Replacing parts would be so much cheaper and would enable the drivers to really push the car to its limits because cost would no longer be a factor if the car is pushed to far. I love the idea of teams building their own cars too. I also love the idea of being able to take an engine off the shelf and do with it what you please. After all, BMW took a stock 1.5 liter engine block and was able to turbocharge it to 1,300 horsepower. Roger Rager [ABOVE, IMS photo] was able to turn a school bus engine block into an Indy 500 race engine in 1980. Bobby might be exaggerating the extent an open rulebook would have in returning IndyCar to its former glory, but it would pique my interest. Yes, Honda, GM, and Dallara might not like it, and their money matters. But having an open rulebook would surely set IndyCar apart from F1 and NASCAR. Let’s face it, all the major series today are really spec series.
S.P. Brown, Grand Junction, Colo.
RM: It seems like all the old guard likes Unser’s thinking but, unfortunately, I haven’t heard any of today’s owners or drivers embracing that kind of change. I think the mechanics and engineers would welcome building their own cars and being able to use their imagination but I don’t see that same spirit in the people who spend the money and make the decisions.
Q: Usually I charge clients a lot for business advice but as a race fan I offer IndyCar the following for free: You have one valuable product, the Indianapolis 500, and a bunch of distracting, bleeding, fringe stuff. Focus on the Month of May, with the Road Race, Time Trials and the 500 by establishing an Indianapolis Open Championship. The championship points would be 20% Road Race, 20% Time Trials, and 60% the 500. The 500 would still be the granddaddy but international and North American based teams could put together a 30-day race program (plus testing and development) and have a chance of winning a meaningful, internationally recognized championship. The increased significance of the Time Trials and the Road Race would create media value. In some ways this does hark back to the ’50s and ’60s when Indy-only programs (and budgets) were the norm. The closest sports analogy is the NCAA basketball tournament: despite playing months of games, their national champion is crowned in a focused month-long, single elimination tournament. If all the other IndyCar races died and went away (which they won’t), so what? The IOC would still be a very viable, sustainable, media product. Instead of trying to be a NFL- or NASCAR-style weekly (approaching daily) traveling road show, focus and exploit the core, May at Indy.
Jim Morris (a friend of Tom Bagley)
RM: Interesting take Jim and not all that far-fetched the way things are going. Nobody thinks IndyCar exists beyond May anyway and it’s not like the rest of the schedule is a home run except maybe Long Beach, Barber and Mid-Ohio. But I still think the key would be in the purses, offering $5 million to win the road race, $1 million to win the Indy pole and $10 million for pulling into Victory Lane at the “500”.
Q: Need to increase the purse for the Indy 500 you say? Does that mean it is time for Hulman & Co. to consider allowing the 500 to be sponsored in order to raise that kind of cash? The Indianapolis 500 presented by Google or Apple. Maybe companies would enter a bidding war to sponsor the 500 given its relatively large number of eyeballs both in the stands and on TV.
David, Greensboro, NC
RM: Hell yes, it’s long overdue and every other IMS tradition has been trampled so why not sell a title sponsor? The 100th Budweiser Indianapolis 500 presented by Menard’s should pay a purse like never before. Sell presenting and title sponsors to both races and the Pole – $1 million to start the Indy 500 and $10 million to win it.
Q: I have been listening to all the ideas about IndyCar’s future, growing the fan base and I am concerned about how young people don’t seem interested in cars, period. Got me thinking about how I came to be a diehard IndyCar fan. I got a free pass in a case of beer and went to Friday practice and qualifying. It was the speed and sound of the cars that hooked me. I remember thinking, “I can wheel a car, I could do that,” then when I saw them in person they set me back. I literally thought, “OK, that’s friggin’ scary-fast.” This would have been 1991 or 1992. To my point, I was going to suggest Vegas, Baltimore and the long list of “one and done” events are actually not bad because it exposes fans to the sounds and speed which TV just cannot do: hell, I never miss a race broadcast. Maybe Indy should be bucking up for one-off races wherever to put the product in front of new TV audiences; it’s not ticket sales but TV ratings that will save our series through big sponsors. Then I got to thinking, those cars that hooked me were likely 900+ horsepower, if my first race was an event this year would the current car “wow” me? Maybe not and therefore I want to throw my hat in the “gotta to have more power” camp. Reduce downforce, only to keep speeds safe, the car needs to be fast on road and street tracks, the car needs to look like its defying the laws of physics, no driver aids, of course, but Robin can you tell me, does this car going around say Toronto look and sound fast? Does it have that “wow” factor? I assume not because as you’ve said and I can attest, the racing has been as good the last two years as any I can remember. Why do so many talk about innovation when that’s one of the faults of F1 and none of us regular folks care or understand the tech: we just know what we see and hear. The cars need to “look” fast, sound great and then maybe that will bring back the interest. It’s not power alone, we all know there are production cars out there that have 700-plus horsepower but the combination of speed and the sound, the thrill to your senses that make it exciting.
Sean Ogilvie, Vancouver, BC
RM: “It has got to be exciting, with a wow factor about the cars so the first time you turn up you never forget. The first time I saw one was at Silverstone in 1991 [ABOVE, Nigel Mansell’s Williams-Renault FW14]. It went past at Woodcote and the energy it exuded, with this little blob sitting in the car, made you wonder how in the hell he was controlling it.”
That was Red Bull Racing’s Christian Horner, talking to journalist Mark Hughes, about what F1 cars should be and that’s exactly what you and most IndyCar fans have been saying for the past decade. An Indy car should take your breath away with its acceleration, blinding power and sound. It’s what hooks people on both sides of The Pond.
Q: It seems as if I’m the only person that supports Mark Miles and his idea to shift the schedule. I believe the NFL is a juggernaut that IndyCar really can’t compete with right now. The problem is there’s not any real shift. In 2013 the season started on March 24th and ended on October 19th. In 2015 the season starts on March 8th and ends on August 30th. The season starts only two weeks sooner but ends a month and a half earlier. If the schedule shift is to work they must start the season earlier. If IndyCar ran their first race the week after the Super Bowl it would make the off-season one month shorter. Being the first of the major racing series to kick off will create more interest in IndyCar. I don’t like NASCAR but I find myself watching the first few races every year because there is no other racing. Do you think his idea would be working better if the season actually started earlier? In the 1950s, Formula 1 gave points for top five finishes and fastest lap at the Indy 500. Why could IndyCar not do the same with the 24 hours of Daytona? I believe that would also spark interest early in the season for lots of people.
RM: The problem is that sponsors HATE a six-month season – read Sam Schmidt’s take – and I know of at least two that either declined to keep participating in 2015 or will cease after this season. You cannot disappear from September to March and, sure, opening the season earlier helps but you have to run until at least October – football be damned. You can’t give IndyCar points at Daytona because half of the field doesn’t have a ride.
Q: While driving on the Nashville freeway earlier today, I passed four IndyCar semi trucks that appeared to be from Chip Ganassi’s stable (2 semis had the Target livery, and 1 had Charlie Kimball’s car/sponsorship). Probably heading to Sebring or Homestead? When teams such as Ganassi, Andretti, or Penske travel to tests, they usually send their fleet en masse. How often do these teams stop for a few hours in a given metropolis to do a “show and tell” at local schools, or a “Red Bull-style” street demonstration in the downtown area? Obviously this would require sending a few extra mechanics (and possibly a driver) which increases the cost of transportation (extra vehicle/per diem/etc), but this also: 1) increases the sponsor’s exposure (“Come see the Target cars at the Target parking lot”), 2) increases awareness of IndyCar, AND c) “show and tell” at local schools ENGAGES future generations!!!
For perspective, the Speedsource/Mazda P2 group does a “show and tell” at local schools throughout the year which provides an excellent opportunity for students to get a first hand look at why motorsports and science are important. Your thoughts?
RM: The test teams never make stops because any kind of school or shopping center presentations would be done with a show car. And most teams schedule these things around the races in the host cities. It’s absolutely a good promotional tool – especially if the kids can see, touch or sit in the car and talk to the driver.
Q: I just watched the last 10 laps of the 2014 Indy 500 again. Holy crap. In all this doom and gloom and uncertainty, IndyCar on ovals is just awesome. Yes the draft is the reason at Indy/Pocono/California but you can clearly see a driver’s personality in the moves he/she makes. Beating a dead horse here but IndyCar needs to get back in the mainstream and start getting people to support American open-wheel oval racing. It’s amazing right now. I was also at the Iowa race last year and that was probably the best race I’ve ever been to.
JD Einerson, Des Moines, Iowa
RM: Ovals are obviously IndyCar’s heritage and nobody has ever disputed the fact they can be the most exciting form of motorsports on this planet. But, besides Indy and Iowa, the rest weren’t as entertaining as most of the street races last year and the real problem is getting people to go to Fontana, Pocono, Texas and Milwaukee. Making them all one-day shows (practice-qualify-race) except for Indy is one way to ramp up the bang for your buck because people aren’t going to drive four or five hours just to watch ONE race. IndyCar and the promoters need to understand this and do something about it before there’s only one oval left.
Q: First off, I found an Italian IndyCar blogger (!) threw it into the old Google Translate and couple of items of interest: a. Notes Vitor Meira talking to Herta and Foyt for Brazil and the 500. Where do you think he lands and will it be three races with the GP of Indy? b. Also notes Daly is talking to Herta and KVSH. Will Daly FINALLY get a seat this year? c. What blew me away was saying KV might field Nelson Piquet Jr. for Brazil. Wild guess or nugget of truth?
RM: I know Vitor has talked to John Menard and a couple of teams about returning to Indy but not sure about Brazil race. Conor still needs a sponsor to get a ride and I haven’t heard from him lately so it doesn’t sound promising for 2015. No clue about Piquet but he could probably land a nice sponsor so why not?
Q: When Verizon took over sponsorship of IndyCar, I expected them to promote it much more than I’ve seen them do. Don’t they have the money to create something with networks so everyone with a TV would be able to watch every weekend? The schedule is so stop and go! So many weekends where nothing is happening and the season ends so early! I don’t really “get” why some don’t like ovals either, of course I grew up here in Indianapolis so ovals are “IT” for me. I’ve always loved racing and I am so sad it seems to have lost so many fans.
RM: First off, Verizon’s No. 1 client is the NFL so its attention is obviously focused on football right now and the past few months. Verizon did some cool national TV promotions in 2014 and has more planned for 2015 but has no rights (or interest) in televising the races. Nor does it have any say in the ridiculously short schedule. Ovals are an endangered species in IndyCar – sad but true.
Q: Wondering where that cool vintage T-shirt pictured in the IndyCar 2018 by Troy Lee article came from. Looks like a red Maserati and says “100 Years of Speed, 1940”. I never did like the series of IZOD vintage shirts that only featured the sponsor logos from classic cars, rather than the cars and drivers themselves.
Steve, Eden Prairie, MN
RM: It came from the artistic talents of my buddy Bob Grim Jr., a second-generation racer who has been drawing T-shirts for Indy Screen Print on Georgetown Road for 25 years. Some of his other cool ones are the Blue Crown Special in 1948, Jimmy Clark in 1965, Parnelli in 1967 and Dan Gurney at Spa in 1967. Go to www.indyscreenprint.com and you can order any of Bob’s work. He’s drawing Parnelli and the “Big Oly” Ford Bronco right now.
Q: You mentioned IndyCar visiting Gateway in last week’s Mailbag. Have you heard anything on that meeting? My reading wish list contains the Jim McGee bio (man is that expensive), and Wicked Fast. But, also the George Follmer bio Follmer. Have you had a chance to read this? Any good Follmer stories? I have read that he was not exactly the friendliest person. Thanks, as always, for the Mailbag, and video series.
Mike Walsh, St Louis
RM: No news on Gateway or any other ovals. Haven’t started the McGee book but Wicked Fast is very good because it’s about crazy man Bentley Warren. As for Follmer, he was intense at the track but a vastly underrated driver [ABOVE, in a Can-Am Porsche 917/10 at Watkins Glen in ’72] and a nice guy. Him winning the 1969 USAC IndyCar opener at Phoenix in a stock-block Chevy still ranks as one of the great upsets.
Q: I don’t know if this would make it as a top story in the U.S., but Target is pulling out of Canada. They only moved in here about three years ago but they’ve recorded a $5.4 billion dollar loss and are pulling out. Could this have any long-term effect on the Chipster? The reasons for the pullout aren’t clear to me at this point, but it appears that there were problems with under-stocked shelves and pricing.
RM: When the new Target CEO was announced last summer, I asked Chip if he thought things would remain the same and he said he hoped so but it appears his IndyCar budget got reduced for 2015 since there’s only going to be one Target car (Scott Dixon). The fact he’s been with Target for 25 years is amazing but racing sponsorships are tenuous and always under review with a new boss man. I’ve always heard that Target was more of a partner than a sponsor with Chip so that could bode well for the future.
Q: Nothing new here but when I read this quote from your Jan. 14 mailbag: “These men are the reason we became fans in the first place.” David Lake, Ft. Wayne, IN. it jumped out so here’s my thoughts. It seems like all the talk is about cars (spec), engines (lack of horsepower and variety) and tracks (Indy, ovals etc). What about DRIVERS? Back in the day…. age showing… it was Foyt-Andretti-Unser-Gurney and a HOST of other familiar faces that led the racing news. The Indy practice speeds leading to the 500, the winners and how much character they had! Who are today’s characters? They pretty much all seem vanilla/politically correct. Which driver gets out of his own car and beats on it with a hammer? Which driver is most vocal about the current state of racing? Rick Mears has some good views. AJ just turned 80, where are the IndyCar racer quotes? Make some noise drivers! Get your faces/views out there, and stop worrying about your ‘seat’ ~ maybe that’s a reason for lack of fan following?
Bruce Boembeke, Mishawaka, IN
RM: One of the problems today is that we see and hear from the IMS president a lot more than we do most of the drivers. Nobody knows any of them but it’s not their fault and nobody is more of a character than James Hinchcliffe or better with the fans than Josef Newgarden or embraced by the media more than Tony Kanaan. The drivers should be the show but IndyCar/IMS either don’t know how to or won’t spend the money marketing them. Ryan Hunter-Reay is a handsome, well-spoken, American who captured one of the most exciting Indy 500s ever yet may go down as one of the least recognized winners of all time. Why? Because, other than Letterman and the efforts of BorgWarner, he’s been anonymous since last May. And not racing for six months doesn’t help either. The series needs PSIs from drivers on prime time TV like NASCAR does and some kind of a weekly television show during the season. It’s not going to create heroes like A.J., Parnelli, Mario and Gurney but it might make somebody recognize a three-time champion like Scott Dixon walking down the street.
Q: In last week’s Mailbag David Zipf offhandedly mentioned an IndyCar reality-TV show, and as I read it, it struck me as a brilliant idea. The UFC did exactly this with “The Ultimate Fighter” back in 2005 and it launched the sport into the mainstream. Do the usual reality TV thing of throwing everybody in a big house together, and include drivers from Indy Lights, dirt and pavement sprints, karts, Euro ladder, hell even throw in some SCCA Runoffs folks or whoever. Let the egos run wild, we all know race drivers have them. “The Ultimate Fighter” had two teams with current or retired fighters as coaches, maybe Dario and PT? Go through the season eliminating drivers via challenges/races. Make the finale the top two drivers running the 100th Indy 500, with the driver who finishes higher getting a ride for the rest of the year. This may sound kind of trashy but I think IndyCar could benefit from billing its drivers as the “badasses” of the racing world, letting the egos play out a bit, be edgy, and this would be a step in that direction.
Chris Beasley, Kirkland, WA
RM: Even though racing is the ultimate reality show, you offer a damn good idea because that’s what people are watching these days. Probably couldn’t get the married guys to participate but there are enough single drivers around to make a go of this. Would you like a job in promotion or marketing for IndyCar?
Q: This is for the Mailbag writer who talked about drivers and their piloting experiences. Back in the 1960s a new track opened here in the St. Louis area (actually 30 miles west in Wentzville) known as Mid-America raceway. The track included a very long main straightaway which also served as a drag strip. The USAC Stock Cars were the main event one Sunday and besides Parnelli Jones, Al Unser and other top names A.J. Foyt was in the lineup. Not too long before the race was scheduled to start, an announcement came for everyone to clear the main straightaway. In comes A. J. landing his plane on the front stretch. He pulled it over to the side out of the way and then shortly after the race, again the announcement came to clear the main straight and there was Foyt taxiing down the straightaway taking off back to (probably) Houston. Of course remember that was long before the days when NASCAR drivers all come in to the tracks in private jets. That was quite the experience back then.
George “Butch” Welsch
RM: A.J. [ABOVE, at Indy in ’65] told me that story once when we were talking about Jim Hurtubise and his flying escapades. The rumor always was that Super Tex never took the written test but flew for several years and that sounds about right for those days.
Q: Your photo of Sneva’s rear-engine sprint car and comments about USAC reminded me that USAC finally tried to come up with a car that would bridge the gap in the late ’80s. I think it was called the Sabre. Built out in California and designed for a normally aspirated V6, they never got the car owners to bite and I don’t think they ever ran a race. When the IRL was created, former USAC racer Mark Alderson came up with a similar car that was supposed to be for ovals from 5/8 to a mile, this time with a V8 engine. Again, no one came across with the money and I don’t think it ever got beyond the stage of one or two cars being built. (The attached photo of the American Spirit Racer is from an old issue of OPEN WHEEL). Several places DID allow rear-engine super-modifieds and I seem to recall this is where Tom Sneva (and his brothers) got their first experience.
RM: It was the Sabre and it did run an exhibition race in Japan, where the cars were sold and remain today as I recall. Can’t remember why it didn’t work but USAC had lost most of its clout by then. The Sneva family raced in CAMRA and they were all successful – and hated as Jerry Sneva recalls.
Q: I can’t stress enough that I love IndyCar, but at age 29, I do not see it succeeding much longer if it continues to be run like it is. I have a degree from the University of Northwestern Ohio in High Performance Motorsports. I have worked in racing for a few years and been to many IndyCar races. Let me tell you, this six-month lay-off is making me lose interest. For example, not to be mean, but to be honest, instead of going to Mid-Ohio this year, my wife and I are going to Talladega in October instead. Just can’t get into IndyCar when they have six-month break like they do. I am a big Ed Carpenter fan and always will be, so yes I will watch all the oval races at least. I am a prime example of a longtime fan that’s losing interest. Maybe Mark Miles will read my suggestions: 1) Verizon IndyCar Series is 22 events, Starts second weekend in February and lasts to October. 2) Verizon Indy Car Series Championship: $2,000,000 to win, $500,000 for second. 3) No less than $100,000 to win a race (except Indy). 4) Indianapolis 500 winner: $4,500,000 and pole winner $500,000. 5) A $1 million bonus to win the Triple Crown. Triple Crown for street races of Long Beach, Detroit and Toronto – pays $1,000,000 to sweep and $500,000 for two of three. 6) Partner with USAC and combine that with Mazda Road To Indy programs. Support USAC Silver Crown races as a stepper series for the Indy Lights series. Lets make the USAC guys want to come to IndyCar rather than NASCAR. USAC Silver Crown champion gets ride offer for Indy Lights program. 7) Open up the garage without making fans buy an extra ticket. NHRA does this and so can IndyCar. Yes, pit passes will need to be a separate ticket. 8) Television. I do not understand why it is so important to be on NBCSports. Doesn’t IndyCar realize that not everyone has that channel or can afford that channel? Why not tie into with NBC? I would love to see Paul Tracy on NBC commentating on the Indy 500. 8) IndyCar needs its own print magazine – not a fancy RACER-type magazine, A bi-weekly magazine like NHRA’s National Dragster. Keep fans informed on its season. Plus bring out a season preview every year (Take a look at NHRA’s Season Preview from National Dragster, just got mine yesterday. Has a ton of great info in it for the 2015 NHRA season.
RM: Most everyone agrees with your complaint about the schedule and better purses are a must but television is non-negotiable at the moment. ABC’s contract says it’s the only network outlet for IndyCar so NBC isn’t allowed to show any races but NASCAR moving to NBCSN should raise awareness IndyCar’s awareness.
Q: Michael Andretti is smarter than I thought. He’s bringing Kurt Busch “The Outlaw” back to the Indy 500 so that Patricia Driscoll can “eliminate” the competition.
RM: Kurt was at the Chili Bowl with no bodyguards or bullet-proof vest and seemed to be enjoying himself.
Q: When does it start again? Formula 1 is already ramping up by talking about launch dates for new cars and it seems like F1 just ended. Is IndyCar coming back any time soon?
Ryan in West Michigan
RM: Only 46 days until Brazil, 122 days until the Indy 500 and 214 until the season finale in Sonoma.