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.
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Q: I’m sorry, but outside of James Jakes’ family, who is excited to see him get the ride at Schmidt Peterson Motorsports? I can’t necessarily fault Sam Schmidt for giving the ride to Jakes since this car needed funding, but when will IndyCar realize that they’re part of the reason they don’t have young, strong American drivers in the series? It’s a fact that the limited schedule hurts sponsorships, and for someone like Conor Daly, it at least could have given him more of a shot. It’s a sad, sad day when Jakes earns a ride when Justin Wilson, Ryan Briscoe, Conor Daly, Alexander Rossi, and Simona de Silvestro are all on the open market. Yes I know we may still see a couple of the aforementioned in the series next year, but I feel like even Hildebrand would give SPM a better shot then Jakes. At least you have a storyline at the beginning of the season if Daly or Rossi are in the car. I bet ABC won’t even bother mentioning Jakes returning to the series as a storyline during the season opener because no one will care.
John, Clawson, MI.
RM: I think Schmidt Peterson Motorsports testing Conor got everyone’s hopes up and there was talk that Sam wanted to build for the future. CD also had a good test and support from James Hinchcliffe so that boosted everyone’s optimism even more. But, of course, money usually rules and it’s the necessary reality of IndyCar racing for most owners. Jakes is a decent driver but he won’t sell one ticket at Indy or connect with the younger Americans. I’ve given Chip a lot grief about not hiring American kids but he snapped up Kyle Larson for NASCAR and now is giving Sage Karam a shot in IndyCar so props to him. We’re always saying we don’t blame the owners for taking money but at some point the owners have to think about what’s good for the series and its future. IndyCar gives Leader’s Circle money (at the expense of the purses) to the teams so it’s been suggested that every multi-car team in the series MUST have at least one American driver or it forfeits that payout. That seems a little Communistic but it may be the only way to get a seat for Daly, Rossi or Hildebrand, and also, looking ahead, Spencer Pigot, Matthew Brabham and Zach Veach.
Q: Like many others, I’m a big Conor Daly fan and really hope he gets a ride this year. So I was wondering, “How much money does a driver need to bring for the season?” And how do you do it? Are there people who help find sponsors and put the deals together? There have been several articles on Racer.com recently about driver support programs funded by Nissan (GT Academy) and Honda (Oliver Turvey at McLaren). I know that Mercedes supports young drivers and Mazda does a lot. Very disappointing that Ford, Chevrolet, and Chrysler can’t see a return on using some marketing dollars to help some of these kids up the ladder.
Lee Robie, Cincinnati, OH
RM: Gabby Chaves’ prize for winning the 2014 Indy Lights’ title was thought to be a little less than $1 million so that, plus what Bryan Herta already had, was enough to get him the ride. That’s the low end. Dale Coyne might put you in full-time for $2-3 million but to get Michael Andretti’s fourth car I heard $5-6 million. Mazda has been a godsend for kids advancing up the open wheel ladder but it can only take them so far and, obviously, isn’t limited to American drivers. Player’s had a fantastic system for advancing Canadian racers and I think Ford, Toyota and GM have a way of taking care of young Yankee talents in NASCAR.
Q: Like a lot of fans, I have been quite the interested observer in this off-season, with all of the movement and changes. I think I’m in violent agreement with you when you said IndyCar fans like to complain about…everything. I’m going to take a glass half-full viewpoint. Yes, the season is too short and ovals are not well attended at this point. But why is no one else noticing that this could be the best off-season for up and coming American drivers since….ever! Yes, I know I am getting ahead of myself, and if I believed in jinxing things then I wouldn’t write this, but we could have four (4), yes four NEW, YOUNG, RED BLOODED AMERICAN drivers in IndyCar. If things come together as expected, we could have Karam at Ganassi, Daly at SPM, Rossi and DCR and Veach at AA. Let’s all burn some incense and think positive thoughts that these all come to fruition! What this tells me is that our IndyCar owners are listening to the fans endless clamoring for more Stars and Stripes in the driver ranks. I’ve never been a blatant flag waver type of fan mind you. I love TK and Helio for instance as much as anybody and would be pissed if they weren’t around. I was a big Dario fan when he was still driving. I love the international flavor, but there’s got to be an American presence. So let’s give a big round of applause to the owners for digging deep and figuring out a way to make this happen. Let’s give them all a collective push to get these deals done and make those announcements happen. BTW, none of these guys are ride buyers to my knowledge. It also shows that there are some young guys who want to be in IndyCar instead of NASCAR. Kudos to them for taking the necessary steps to make it this far. Apart from DCR who will announce the day before St. Pete, when might we be hearing from these respective owners?
Paul Zajdel, Park Ridge, IL.
RM: Obviously, Paul wrote this latter before SPM announced James Jakes, not Daly, in the second car and the word is that Veach only has enough sponsorship for Indianapolis. Rossi has gone quiet (Marshall Pruett will likely have more about this soon) and Karam was finally confirmed Tuesday in Ganassi’s fourth car, although there’s still some work to be done to make it a full-time deal. Here’s my take on Daly. He won at every level of open wheel here and in Europe and that should be enough for a guy like Roger Penske to pull the trigger. It looks like The Captain is funding two of his four cars this season and he’s the only IndyCar owner with the funds and passion to do this. But if R.P. gives a young American like Daly or Josef Newgarden a shot (like he did Gary Bettenhausen, Tom Sneva, Rick Mears and Sam Hornish), it sends a message. Daly had a good test at Sebring with SPM and I want to see him road race an Indy car – that’s his strength. The economics of IndyCar are skewed to make ride buying almost a necessity but until The Big 3 buy into the American youth movement nothing is going to change. Based on his progress, Newgarden should already be with a top team and Daly, every bit Josef’s equal coming up, is only deserving of a chance to prove himself. But they should be IndyCar’s future.
Q: I’m with you Robin, I think it’s way too far gone. Just look at this past weekend for example. Look at the stark difference between how BK Racing (likely the smallest multi car team in Cup) is going about their business and a team like KV in the ICS is. Read the comments from BK’s team owner Marlowe, about wanting to bring on a young, promising driver like Jeb Burton and develop him. A driver that they feel can be sold to the American masses and help their team improve. Then read Jimmy Vasser’s comments today on their second car. Can’t hire Justin Wilson because he doesn’t bring a big enough check. Can’t hire Conor Daly or JR Hildebrand or a talented young American that they could possibly develop and sell to the masses (like BK is doing with Burton). Instead they are testing some GP2 guy nobody has ever heard of, and they are seeing how much money they can get from Saavedra. That’s their options. And it happens every year and it’s going to continue to happen. I understand teams have very little sponsorship. BK Racing doesn’t either but they have a plan for the future and it can help both them and NASCAR continue to roll along. Some teams in IndyCar obviously don’t have much of a plan and certainly don’t know what to do to help the sport gain popularity. (With all that being said, I’ll be rooting for Clauson at Indy this May with KV doing a lot of the work for him. Good thing there’s a David Byrd still around for a guy like BC).
RM: It’s pretty depressing. Let’s take Chase Elliott. He wins NASCAR’s second-tier title in one of the best cars and, just a year later, will be anointed with Jeff Gordon’s seat. He’s a talented, handsome, well-spoken kid and his future is set because Rick Hendrick and NASCAR understand how to play the game. Now let’s look at Newgarden and Karam. Josef was a Lights champ, got an IndyCar ride with Sarah Fisher thanks to his champion’s winnings and is still employed because he’s damn good. But with his personality, charisma, age and improving craft, he should already be with Team Penske. What better spokesman for Verizon and today’s social media generation? Karam was the 2013 Lights king and has made just one IndyCar start, albeit impressive as hell in last year’s Indy 500, but is now confirmed as Chip’s fourth driver. NASCAR was going to do everything possible to make sure young Elliott succeeded because it understands he’s the future. Yet IndyCar did nothing to try and keep Danica Patrick and, to my knowledge, wouldn’t lift a finger if Karam or Newgarden said they were heading south. Just like last summer, IndyCar should have paid to make sure Karam was in a car at Pocono and he’d have brought 5,000 more fans but they didn’t. Stefano Coletti [ABOVE, Chris Jones/IndyCar photo] is a fine driver, with several GP2 wins to his name but, like I said about Jakes in an earlier answer, he won’t bring any fans in the gate at any venue. The series and its owners don’t listen to the fans and don’t understand the old-school dynamic of cheering for your favorite American driver. Yet they wonder why nobody watches and nobody cares.
Q: What was the thought process on shortening the schedule the way that IndyCar did, with racing over in August? It doesn’t make any sense to me. Call me bullheaded and stubborn, but why in the hell did IndyCar bring back Brian B. And how is Road America not on the schedule again? I race go karts at Road America and have talked to Mike K., the operations director, at great length about it, and why they can’t get together and get a deal done. IndyCar’s product and brand is not where it needs to be, and for them to grow this and get more people in the seats, ticket prices have to come down, venues need to change, there needs to be a buzz generated, and right now none of that is happening, especially after the Brazil debacle. What a mess.
George Houle, Milwaukee
RM: The Boston Consulting Group suggested IndyCar stop before pro football starts and Miles embraced that concept. Because the TV ratings were up last year that justified it in his mind but the TV ratings were so bad in 2013 they almost had to improve in 2014. TGBB says he was brought back as Race Director because “if I didn’t do a good job, they wouldn’t ask me to do it again.” Hard to argue with that logic. Road America is the girl we all lust after but can’t get a date.
Q: If people really want to grow the series and the fan base, we all need to be ambassadors of the sport. For those so-called “die-hard” fans making claims of running for the exit because of TGBB? Good riddance.
RM: I believe I said a couple weeks ago that IndyCar has a lot more to worry about than Race Control and the less spoken or written about it the more we can talk about the drivers and races. I hope.
Q: A couple of things dawned on me about IndyCar with NASCAR qualifying for the upcoming Daytona 500. This past weekend would have been a perfect time for IndyCar to have a season opening race on a southern US oval. With football, the Chili Bowl and the 24 Hours being over and NASCAR and F1 only practicing, the weekend of February 14-15 would have been perfect for a warm-weather opening race in the US. It may have generated some crossover fans both in the stands and on TV. Race fans are hurting for something to see. Unfortunately, the Walt Disney World oval may have been perfect for it, but it just closed this past week. I really think starting the season on an oval would be interesting in that there are no ovals until Indianapolis. I like the even split of ovals, road and street that IndyCar offers but maybe a starting oval somewhere warm would please a bunch of IndyCar oval fans. If IndyCar wants to stop racing in early fall (as they have made it abundantly clear) maybe a February start in the warm climates isn’t that far-fetched. What do you think and what oval might work for that? Fontana? Texas? Phoenix?
Gary Nelson, Flagstaff, AZ
RM: In the five years IRL raced in Orlando they were all in late January so the climate would be fine but, as I recall, it took papering the house to get a crowd. It was sunny and in the 70s at Fontana and Phoenix last weekend but cold and wet in Fort Worth. Not sure Fontana would want to go in February since its NASCAR race is in March but it still might be better than a Saturday afternoon in late June. Check out the crowd that gathered there on October 31, 1999 [ABOVE, LAT photo]. And correct me if I’m wrong but I think the NFL season had started by then.
Q: First off, love the old school videos and hope you keep them coming. They’ve made this long off-season much more tolerable. Now I have two rants/questions: Due to the lack of other options, I watched ARCA, the Sprint Unlimited and Daytona 500 qualifying this weekend. While it was fun to watch Brian France make a fool of himself and Clint Bowyer’s rant, the weekend left me feeling empty inside. Sebring and St. Pete can’t come soon enough! I noticed that ARCA and their sponsors actually know how to market. I saw numerous commercials featuring drivers during the race broadcast. Frank Kimmel alone starred in at least two. The last commercial I can remember with an IndyCar driver was that mediocre Rahal/Battery Tender spot. Why won’t the series/sponsors use some the best personalities in racing (Hinch, Newgarden) to their advantage?
SPM announced this morning (2/16) that Jakes will be driving their second car this season. The only reason I can see Jakes getting a full time ride is bringing Acorn’s $$$ along with him. Call me cynical, but Jakes isn’t exactly the best driver (three full seasons and finished no higher than 19th in points). This screams ride-buyer to me. Are we ever going to see Daly get a full time ride or is he SOL not being able to bring a pile of cash with him?
George, Gainesville, FL
RM: Charlie Kimball’s Novo Nordisk commercial was pretty good and I understand Scott Dixon will be doing a Target spot this season. Helio was in a Shell commercial but no speaking or identification. Verizon also gave IndyCar some visibility with a couple different promotional ads that ran during primetime. But, you are correct, IndyCar needs to take NASCAR’s lead and do a 60-second spot to show off the driver’s personalities – put a face with a name – during a major national television event.
Q: Someone finally gets it at IndyCar; at least for this week. IndyCar drivers participating in the Mardi Gras celebrations to help publicize the upcoming April NOLA race is brilliant! And inviting Mr. Personality himself – James Hinchcliffe – to take the lead was an excellent choice. The car livery for the float is just gorgeous. Can’t wait to see the video of the parade itself. Now, this is what needs to be done for all venues and way in advance of the race, not just the same weekend as the race. It’s nice to start off the week on a positive note for a change.
RM: It seems like a no-brainer since few folks in New Orleans know much, if anything, about IndyCar and making Hinch the lead spokesperson was also a good call. I think I’d be tempted either to give away free tickets or maybe 2-for-1s to get people just to check it out. Hinch said they received a nice reception and the track is only 20-25 minutes from downtown. Probably gonna be a tough sell so I’m glad IndyCar had some visibility a couple months out.
Q: So many great ideas in the IndyCar 2018 series. And I really like the “23rd car” fan interaction. That would start building up a new audience. Maybe if they just started by “tweaking” the Indy 500, and draw more fans and competitors and sponsors to that event, and maybe it could transfer to the series as a whole. With the 100th running coming next year, it would be a good time to really boost the purse. While I love your idea of $10m to the winner and $1m to make the race (which would never happen), could they do $5m and $500K? Would that draw some new blood? Boosting the purse is long, long overdue anyway. You would think they would do SOMETHING and not let the 100th running pass without capitalizing on it. And I’m not talking about a “memories” board at a website. So weak. Everybody likes money. I agree with opening up the rules, but what does that entail as far as costs? Can they add some aspects of innovation without pricing out some current teams or potential new teams? I don’t think you can go back to the old rules book (for example, allowing a school bus engine), but what can be done to interest fans and potentially entice new teams and sponsors? And suppliers? Suggestions? And one of the no-brainer things they can do right now, why don’t they add some horsepower and cut back some on the wings? The best drivers in the fastest cars on earth on the most diverse tracks (for five or six months anyway) seems like something even the Boston Consulting Group could get their heads around. Well, maybe not. To quote an old cliché, it’s like watching a train wreck about to happen but you can’t look away and no one seems to want or is smart enough to do anything about it.
RM: If they quit giving away $30 million in the Leader’s Circle they could put that in the Indy 500 purse and make it very appealing. But nobody is going to start up a team to race for only a $500,000 guaranteed. Of course if you eliminate the Leader’s Circle then IndyCar is down to a 10-car field. Besides crazy money, innovation would seem to be the only other thing to entice teams or manufacturers from different series around the globe. But read Stefan Johansson’s 2018 interview about controlling costs, the insanity of F1, spec cars, season length and horsepower – he addresses all those points with a practical voice.
(ABOVE: Emerson Fittipaldi became the first Indy 500 winner to collect $1m in 1989. IMS photo)
Q: I was wondering with all the negative backlash from fans and even driver’s about all the so-called recommendations from the Boston Consulting Group, do the team owners have any leverage to make demands on the rules, schedule, etc.? I don’t believe in walk- outs or strikes but I would think the owners would have some say in policies and procedures because of their investments in the sport. I know the owners of the teams in the dreaded and evil NFL do! I nearly fell off my couch when I heard Scott Dixon at this past year’s award show make a comment about the shortened schedule and how we need to be racing past Labor Day. When one of your top drivers, and former champion, is basically slamming you, I would think you might take notice. And, Mark Miles was next to him on stage when he said it. Hysterical!
Doug Wright, Murrieta, Ca.
RM: I’ve heard nothing but complaints from owners and sponsors on the ridiculous length of the season but Miles doesn’t seem the least bit concerned. He keeps saying the season will start after the Super Bowl and could include foreign venues, but it has to run until at least October. And I doubt he even heard Dixon’s comment but, to be honest, I have no idea if he listens to anybody.
Q: Who has done more damage to IndyCar: Mark Miles or Tony George?
Dave from Lowell, IN
RM: Don’t think Miles will be around long enough to catch T.G. but the good work he did in getting May on ABC has been neutralized by the shortened schedule.
Q: OK here’s my crazy two cents. I’m ignorant of business, I’m ignorant in taxes but as I peripherally understand, sometimes (always?) a business buys a failing one under its umbrella of ownership, or allow a portion of its business or a department – to fail – in order to write off some of it in taxes. Could the brain trust of the almighty bottom dollar that includes IMS/IndyCar etc. be in a position just to see IndyCar struggle? Considering some of what goes on, this is the only explanation that makes sense.
RM: You were smart enough to spell ‘peripherally’ correct so that puts you way ahead of me Bruce, but IndyCar turned a profit last year, according to Mr. Miles.
Q: I haven’t written in a while, turns out the seven-month, off-season makes it hard to stay engaged. I have to say, I’m so excited about the aero kits that I was actually surprised to see the massive response in the Mailbag to TGBB. I opened the Mailbag hoping for news on the kits. It’s weird, but after they fired Randy it has been hard to care. In any case, I think the aero kits are the best thing that’s happened in IndyCar since before the split, and I’m actually super excited. I guess we better hope they are a big hit with everyone else because it looks like the fans and sponsors have about had it.
John in Dayton
RM: Long off-season? I hadn’t noticed. Anyway, the aero kits could either be the best or worst thing to happen to IndyCar – depending on performance. If they’re cool to look at would that be enough to offset the fact one of them is clearly superior on an oval and the close competition vanishes? Just have to wait and see.
Q: I grew up in Indianapolis and have been a “500” and Indy car fan from my earliest memories. I remember when 60 or more cars would enter the “500.” I used to enjoy telling friends from out of town that the biggest sporting event in the world was the “500,” the second biggest was Pole Day and the third biggest was Bump Day. I don’t think any of that is true anymore. The most thrilling start to any sporting event was always the start of the “500.” Thirty-three cars, three abreast getting the green flag in a perfect formation and barreling into turn one had everyone’s hearts in their throats. Now with Brian Barnhart back, I suspect we will be back to straggled, virtually single file starts, which are neither aesthetically pleasing nor exciting. I always thought it was the driver’s job to prevent accidents on the track and the chief steward’s job to enforce the rules. I can imagine what the response of A.J., Parnelli, Herk, Lloyd or any of the others who were hell-bent on grabbing the lead as soon as the flag waved, to a statement from the chief steward that the pole sitter earned the right to lead the first lap. The innovation is gone, and along with it, the excitement. Sure, the racing is close. But what could be more exciting than Parnelli Jones blasting from the outside of the second row in the turbine to grab the lead as they came off Turn 2 on the opening lap? It used to be, even those who did not follow auto racing knew who the “500” winner was. Has IMS or IndyCar done anything to promote the recent winners? No commercials, no personal appearances that I’m aware of. When Castroneves, at the time a double winner of the race, went on Dancing With the Stars, no one had heard of him. Doesn’t anyone care anymore except the fans? Maybe its best if the 100th “500” in 2016 is the last. I’d rather see it go away than to be further reduced in prestige. After all, a 100-year run isn’t bad, and we’ll still have memories of the glory days. But despite all this, I will still be there every May.
Peter Francescon, Dumfries, Va.
RM: Not sure about Bump Day being #3 but Pole Day beat any football or baseball crowd in the ‘60s and ‘70s. Ryan Hunter-Reay didn’t get much notoriety for winning Indy or the championship and it’s on IndyCar and IMS. They should have made a 60-second commercial where it’s RHR, introducing himself, where he grew up, falling in love with an Indy car and dreaming of competing at Indy (showing him coming up the ranks). Then cut to his badass pass in Turn 3 last year and standing with his family and the Borg-Warner trophy. He closes by inviting the viewers to come watch him in 2015 and then the Verizon schedule fills the screen. You run it in a continuous loop for the six months you’re off the track. It’s called promotion and marketing.
(ABOVE: Start of the 1964 Indy 500. IMS photo)
Q: Is there any chance that management will remove their craniums from their collective rectums to see that the BCG’s plan is just disheartening fans (the customers) and chasing away sponsors (the bank) for short term financial profit. The long-term plan is not viable and seems to have major resistance to growth. If you don’t grow the series, eventually the Crown Jewel (the 500) will fade with the rest of it and I don’t think that is what the Hulman-George clan wants. Mark Miles is a tunnel-visioned yes-man who has no love of the sport and no ability to expand the series into the monster it was becoming before the TG ego went gonzo. Would Dan Andersen consider taking over? He seems to be able to get the feeder series on track rather rapidly. I am looking forward to the aero kits and the start of the new, abbreviated season.
Dino from New Hanover, Pa.
RM: Not sure anybody can ever return IndyCar to the heydays of CART or USAC but one of Dan Gurney’s biggest concerns in 1978 when he penned the White Paper was that the Championship Trail was simply Indianapolis and a bunch of little satellite races nobody cared about. It’s dangerously close to that today with an ever-changing, shrinking schedule that favors neither fans nor promoters nor sponsors. Dan Andersen is pretty busy but he’s the kind of savvy racing businessman that just might be able to get IndyCar on a sensible path.
Q: After a thoroughly weird couple of “everything old is new again” weeks in IndyCar, it almost seems cruel to bring up yet another zombie idea. Then again, what the heck? It’s not like we have any races to talk about for a while. While flipping through the August 17, 1992 issue of “AutoWeek,” I noticed a news brief regarding a “prototype” 1994 Indycar schedule, which was supposed to start in (Wait for it!) Brazil. Blah-blah, whatever…except for the last line of the brief: “The prototype also has the season ending in early September — avoiding conflicts with the National Football League’s TV schedule.” Ummm, okay, so, it seems the exact same (dumb) idea that’s currently draining value from the sport was floated in almost the exact same terms over two decades ago. This was apparently something that was actually discussed by serious people back then, so if you remember hearing anything about it from anyone interesting, I’m sure we’d all like to hear your insights/theories/suspicions. A car owner with an ulterior motive, perhaps? Yeah, right, like that’s ever been a thing. I’m not sure if it’s funny or sad to think that the BCG’s “research” might have involved little more than having an intern go through a pile of old magazines to find unused concepts. Maybe we all should start saving up for the Hawaiian Super Prix/KISS concert that’s undoubtedly being planned as we speak. On a cheerier note, smarter minds prevailed, and the 1994 season ended at Laguna Seca in October. So there’s hope for us yet. Keep the faith, people.
Jon Paulette, Charlottesville, Va.
RM: Well, CART never tried that prototype schedule but the Indy Racing League ended its season on Labor Day a couple years before realizing it made no difference and was not welcomed by sponsors.
Q: IndyCar has been testing at Sebring, Fla. [ABOVE, LAT photo] for several years, why don’t they race there?
Kent, Columbus, Ind.
RM: They test on the small track, not the big one because it’s simply too rough.
Q: Has Indycar ever explored the idea of running a race at Sebring the same weekend as the 12 Hours? Seems like a good chance to run in front of a large crowd and most of the teams regularly test there anyhow.
Kyle McGlumphy, Columbus, OH
RM: When Tony Cotman ran Champ Car’s racing side he seriously looked at opening the season at Sebring on that Saturday but, as stated above, the track is too rough for Indy cars.
Q: When did death become passe? It seems like in the history of auto racing a death was something that happened. It was accepted and the race moved on. Did society get softer over the years and now one fatality is too many? When the element of danger is eliminated are we just watching a fast parade? The big bravado factor is lost when a driver pulls a daring move. Now not knowing if they can’t pull off the move, there is no more putting your hands over your eyes peeking between your fingers. Has the concern for safety reached a point that it’s tipped the scales of the awe for a driver getting behind the wheel and giving risk the finger? Has that caused a loss of attendance and viewership? I had an elementary kid recently ask me what I wanted to be when I was growing up. I said a racecar driver. (It didn’t happen. I’m a newspaper reporter and photographer.) The boy’s eyes got wide and he said, “Why? You could die.” That was the only thing he asked. I thought yeah. But if I could get out on the track and experience an IndyCar at the maximum performance level on the edge, it would be worth it.
Jeffrey Smith, Cabot, Arkansas
RM: It’s an interesting theory and has some merit. I don’t think people watched Indy cars and F1 in the 1950s and 1960s and 1970s to see drivers get killed or maimed, but that danger element certainly heightened their interest. Drivers were held in awe because they were the modern day gladiators and I still think that’s why A.J., Mario, Parnelli, Dan Gurney, Rutherford and the Unsers remain so revered today. Not just because of their ability, but because they thrived and survived in the most lethal era. Now, make no mistake, there is nothing safe about running side-by-side in a corner at 200 mph at Indy or Texas but obviously the cars and tracks are much safer today. Drivers usually walk away from wicked accidents and it can lull people into a false sense of security. When Dan Wheldon lost his life at Las Vegas in 2011, the paddock was almost in a state of disbelief, like nobody thought it was possible anymore. But open wheel racing, be it midgets, sprints or Indy cars, is always going to be edgy – it’s just safer today and, therefore, not as compelling.
Q: So what’s the story with KV Racing running the Panoz DP01s last week in New Orleans? Just some fun thinking about the old days?
David, Nashville TN
RM: A friend of Kevin Kalkhoven’s bought two DP01s so Seabass and Jimmy Vasser shook them down at NOLA before the owner took over. But Bourdais on old, hard tires got within a couple of seconds of the current IndyCar’s best time. I asked him if it was fun and he smiled: “Oh yeah, and it sounded fantastic.”
Q: How can IndyCar not have a big launch around the Super Bowl for the new look cars? Had to be a way they could have got the new- look body kits out there. Poor, poor marketing as usual. The other issue that is so obvious and yet so closed by IndyCar “braintrust” is in the next five years NASCAR will run a dirt Cup race: look at the popularity of the Eldora truck race, it’s inevitable. IndyCar could add 3-4 premium dirt track races that pay full points on mile tracks and maybe Eldora or Knoxville. The big argument of cost is a joke as small teams could lease some of the 100+ good dirt cars that sit parked, for less than they pay in tires/fuel at any other races. IndyCar could then market the hell out of being the most diverse series in any form of racing worldwide and at the same time market that they are returning to our roots of dirt racing without abandoning what we have been doing, this would also extend the season without adding major costs to teams. I guess it just makes too much sense. Indy 500, street courses, road courses, pavement intermediate and short tracks and dirt tracks! This formula would bring back the old fans and bring in new ones!
Tony L., Indianapolis
RM: GM and Honda were still finalizing everything on the aero kits at Super Bowl time and that’s not a good time to try and unveil anything since the media only covers one thing that week. As for diversity, no series in the world is more diverse or challenging than IndyCar with short ovals, superspeedways, road courses and street circuits and they’re not bringing dirt races back. Maybe an exhibition at a dirt track with former Indy 500 winners and champions would be a good, off-season project since there’s six months between races but I think I’d rather see Dixon, RHR, Marco and Newgarden at the Chili Bowl.
Q: Hey Miller, I was at the Indiana State Fair a few years ago and I saw you with Kanaan, Pagenaud, Hinchcliffe, Power and Rahal and you were giving some old guy a Jim Hurtubise sweatshirt. Was that the Don Shepherd, who passed away last week? Got any stories?
C.J. Miller, Indianapolis
RM: Yep, that was Shep. His brother, A.J., was a good driver who was badly injured at the Fairgrounds while qualifying for the Hoosier Hundred in 1961 and Don was an established sprint car mechanic who came to Indy with Hurtubise in 1960. [ABOVE, Herk with Shepherd in 1967. Wayne Bryant photo]. He also got Bobby Unser and Johnny Rutherford started in IMCA sprint cars. “Shep understood the dynamics of racecars, he knew tires and used a baseline setup,” recalled Rutherford. “I learned a lot about sprint cars from him and we ran 73 races together in 1962. We were going to win the IMCA championship that season but I had to quit because I got a chance in USAC. He wasn’t thrilled, but he understood. He helped me a lot.”
Shep is a member of the Sprint Car Hall of Fame.
Q: Lloyd Ruby was my mom’s favorite driver so I took your suggestion and purchased “Hard Luck Lloyd” by John Lingle. His story like many others of that era is truly amazing. I had no idea he was such an accomplished dirt, pavement, and road racer. His road racing career in the ’60s and ’70s that included time with Ford and Carroll Shelby blew me away along with the wins at Daytona and Sebring against Andretti, Foyt, and Jones to name a few. I have enjoyed quotes and insight from Donald Davidson throughout the book. The best chapter is on the 1969 Indy race, with Ruby charging from 20th at the start of the race to the lead by passing Foyt on Lap 79, and then the “infamous” pit stop that ended his day. If a sign of a great man is how he handles failure, then Ruby is in a league all by himself. Was also impressed with his loyalty to car owners Bob Nowicke, Gene White and chief mechanic Dave Laycock in the good and bad times. Finally who says you cannot run an IndyCar on the dirt … go to page 122 and 123 … Ruby slinging mud at DuQuoin and Nazareth in 1968. Thanks for the great book suggestion.
James A. DaPuzzo III
RM: Glad you liked it, John Lingle did a great job of tracking Lloyd’s career and showing his versatility. A vastly underrated road racer. I love Bobby Unser’s story of being a kid and going to a midget race and watching Rube clean house. Unser said it was the night that made him want to be a race driver. And Lloyd was good on motorcycles too.
Q: Have you ever heard of Gary Ponzini? I know he raced as I saw him on ABC Wide World of Sports as a kid. Terre Haute if I remember correctly.
RM: Oh yeah, Gary came back to USAC from CRA in the mid 1970s and had some success before being injured at Winchester in 1975. He flipped all the way down the backstretch and broke his back, bruised his kidney, fractured six ribs and suffered a broken wrist and shoulder blade. Not sure if he raced anymore after that but he was a helluva good guy.
Q: Seeing the photos you post from the 60’s-80’s Indy car era makes me wonder what ever happened to all those interesting cars. I know there are race winners in the Speedway’s museum and Dan Gurney has a pile of Eagles in California, but where are all those wonderful McLarens, Wildcats, Shrikes, Thompsons and one-off chassis now? Vintage racing is all the rage with sports cars and F1, why can’t we see the cars of some of the best years of racing and innovation still on track reminding us of what made us fans in the first place?
Jim Panther, Bunker Hill, IN
RM: Roger Penske has a couple McLarens in his museum in Phoenix and I see the odd Wildcat, Lola, Kingfisher, Eagle when vintage cars come to Pocono and Indy every year. Some of them are raced and others are just parade cars but you should come to IMS on June 11-14 for the second annual Vintage racing weekend. Former Indy drivers race old Indy cars and sports cars. Click here for Sportscar Vintage Racing Association’s full schedule.