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: Due to bad weather and poor choices on TV, I was forced to watch a little of the NASCAR event, (can’t say race), from Atlanta. Horrible, unwatchable, beyond coma inducing, I flipped over from time to time to check the progress. Five-plus hours later they had a winner. My question is with today’s short attention generation, should IndyCar position itself as the racing series for the ADHD crowd? I mean think of the marketing, “IndyCar, we finish races in less time than it takes to wash a couple loads of clothes.” Seriously, this could be a marketing strategy geared towards a whole new fan base. A shorter race does nothing for a promoter hoping to fill his seats, but on TV, a two-hour event is welcome, especially during the warmer months when there is much more to do than watch a race on TV.
Mike, Avon, IN
RM: Hell yes it’s a good idea. That’s why twin 125s or 150s on ovals in the ‘70s was a great idea and needs to be brought back. And you could boast: “Not only are Indy cars 50mph faster than NASCAR on almost every oval in the country, they can run two races in the time it takes stock cars to finish one.” The promoter sells two races for the price of one and concessions at intermission so he’s happy. Fans get more bang for their buck and it’s a better TV show as well. Also promote the fact Indy cars are racing flat out the whole time, not “riding around” for a couple hours like NASCAR drivers are fond of saying.
Q: Guess what I am doing today? I am watching NASCAR. I don’t really like NASCAR compared to other forms of racing, so why am I watching? BECAUSE IT IS ON TV! I know everyone and his sister has already complained about the short IndyCar season, and you are probably tired of hearing about it, but I think we are close to a milestone. With me and just a few more complaining, the number of people who hate the short season strategy will officially be greater than the number of people who watch IndyCar races (not counting Indy). If a short season is the way of the future, let’s stop pussy-footing around and really shorten it to one: the Indy 500 only. Throw away the rulebook. All that is needed are a few safety guidelines, basic dimensions of the car so they fit on the track, and a general clause banning offensive weapons systems. Let ‘em race! That brings me to my last point: technology. A series can have it or not have it, but IndyCar manages to find a middle ground that doesn’t work. At one end of the spectrum, F1 embraces technology, and showcases it on the track. As a result, some cars are faster than others. On the other, NASCAR severely limits technology. The drivers and crews make the difference. IndyCar tries to appear to embrace technology, but everyone knows that innovation is strictly verboten. Anything that causes one car to outperform another will be legislated out of existence. Look at the aero kits. After the money is spent and the parts built, IndyCar will mandate equality. So what is the point? The money wasted on aero kits that won’t be allowed to make a difference would have been better spent on marketing or on filling out the grid with promising newcomers and popular veterans.
John Masden, Georgetown, IN
RM: Aero kits likely cost more than Honda or GM wanted to spend but they liked the idea of their car/team/engine package to be distinguishable so this is the first step into opening things up down the road. The hope is that it doesn’t separate the competition too much, but you are probably right – some kind of equivalency likely would be mandated if one has a big advantage. But neither has any interest in funding drivers or teams.
Q: I’m embarrassed to say I’ve been watching the pre-taxi race show this morning, there’s nothing on! Mark Miles said they are planning on starting the season the weekend after Super Bowl, can that happen next year? NASCAR’s getting all the publicity the last couple weeks and I know the Brazil race got canceled but this is killing me. It’s going to take the taxis probably five hours to go 500 miles today. I can’t bear to watch, we need Indy racing now! I’ll probably go watch Will Smith movie “Focus” to at least see some real racecars, that movie should be great publicity, any news on that?
CAM in LA
RM: I just know Carlos Munoz and Bryan Herta did the driving and there was a local premier here last week with Hinch but I don’t think the movie is going to move the needle for IndyCar.
Q: Does the RACER.com story about Simona to Andretti have any legs? That would be a perfect environment for her, a solid top-running teams, competitive teammates to share information and good equipment. The only disappointment would be that Justin Wilson won’t get that seat. I also just saw this: IndyCar and USA Today sports media group create official marketing relationship. USA today sports media group – as part of partnership with IndyCar, USA Today. Is this good news or a non-event?
RM: Regarding Simona, absolutely, at least through May it appears, and it would be her first chance to dance with an A Team. As you may or may not know, NASCAR made a deal with USA Today and it’s got the ENTIRE Page 3 of the sports section EVERY FRIDAY during the season. So IndyCar pretty much gets shutout of the most important day of the week. My understanding is that IndyCar made a deal with USA Today to get a fourth of a sports page on Thursdays and Mondays so at least it’s more than what they’ve been getting. It may also involve some online content but the release didn’t give many details. Hope Jeff Olson gets to do the writing.
Q: I cannot believe Justin does not have a ride in IndyCar yet. It looks like he will be sitting out this year along with Conor Daly and a number of other drivers. This just shows how bad IndyCar and its teams are on the ropes. I think the countdown has started.
Jeff Laughlin, Eagle, ID
RM: Well, we heard Andretti signed him but the sponsor fell through and I heard yesterday he might replace Simona after May but that’s just secondhand scuttlebutt. It’s tragic somebody as good and proven as JWil may be on the sidelines but IndyCar is often the place where money talks and talent walks.
Q: Given what happened at Daytona, are the infield barriers at IMS SAFER-style walls? If not is IMS planning to make them SAFER walls?
RM: The inside is protected in the south short chute and coming off Turn 2, as well as inside Turn 4 leading to the pits so I’d say all the trouble spots are covered. People might say what about the inside front straightaway wall but the track is already narrow enough, let alone taking away another foot or two.
Q: Okay, so the new Chevy aero kit is out and I’m not exactly blown away. So, it does check the box on making the car look different – I especially like the new sidepod – but all of that extra carbon fiber also means more $$ in crash damage over the season. Personally, I’d like to see them get rid of the airbox to further distance the car from the old IRL spec. Will Chevy teams be able to mix and match the elements in the kit or is it an all-or-nothing proposition regarding its use? Let’s say everything seems to work except for the new front-wing element. Can the team go back and use the original spec road course wing?
Scott Cooper, Bargersville, IN
RM: From our tech boss at RACER, Marshall Pruett: “Teams will have to use the 2015 bodywork, and keep in mind the wings and every other aspect has been tested extensively and they work. Every piece of the new aero kit is designed to work with each other in a complex manner; taking the new front wings off and using the 2014 Dallara version would cause a massive downforce and handling imbalance. Both Chevy and Honda will be just fine; question for Round 1 is which one is more ‘fine’ than the other.”
Q: I am 23 years old and a proud member of the “Millennials” described in the IUPUI’s IndyCar 2018 article. One thing that everyone can agree on is that there is a real problem with “pay drivers” getting seats before talent. I think a solution is to make the car much harder to drive. A large attributing factor to this is the complex and expensive data acquisition systems in the cars. With the masses of data gathered, engineers are able to help the drivers go faster too easily. If the teams relied more on driver feedback and less on data you would see increased demand for better drivers. Reducing the capability or elimination of these systems would make the cars harder to drive, would require intelligence, and require driving talent to make fast lap times. What are the chances IndyCar could go in this direction?
Matt, Auburn Hills, MI
RM: We’d like to think that would be the scenario – owners forced to hire drivers with talent instead of money – but how many of today’s players could afford it or would be willing to pay out of pocket? We know Paul Newman, Carl Haas and Gerry Forsythe use to do it and Roger Penske appears to be paying for two of his four cars this season but I’m not sure we’d have even 10 cars. And computers, like wings, are NEVER going away.
Q: In my humble opinion as a millennial, the biggest problems facing IndyCar is leadership and no innovation. NASCAR has risen to the top of US motorsports due to the France family being leaders. NASCAR can admit when it is wrong and make changes. Two examples are the group qualifying at Daytona and the SAFER barriers at Daytona after Kyle Busch broke his leg. They did not fine Clint Bowyer for his negative comments. They admitted there was a problem and made a change. After Kyle Busch broke his leg, both Daytona president Joie Chitwood and NASCAR came out and admitted to 100 percent fault and immediately made safety improvements (installing tire barriers at 8 p.m. that night and vowing to cover every inch of concrete walls with SAFER barriers). IndyCar’s current leadership is simply not capable of admitting mistakes.
The next topic is IndyCar innovation. It probably wouldn’t happen, but I’d open up the chassis rules. I would have a long term plan that allows for multiple chassis manufacturers, saying every five years to submit a design for approval. They could make design criteria: cost, weight, downforce, weight distribution, stiffness, wheelbase, track width etc. I’m sure Swift and Riley would submit designs. Another thing would be to not make the engine a stressed member of the chassis, which would allow engine manufacturers more options. Last, I do agree that they should have the chance of a broken track record at the Indy 500 each year. I know the current leadership simply wants to make it a gimmick by upping the boost for qualifying only. I truly believe this is the best way to get the headlines that IndyCar needs.
Lucas Wakefield, Indianapolis
RM: Not sure there’s a correlation between strong leadership and vision and admitting mistakes once a millennium, but I’ve heard IndyCar’s Derrick Walker fall on the sword after a race when an explanation/clarification/apology was necessary. We all want to think there’s a world of potential IndyCar builders out there but unless the prices came way down (and that would mean no carbon fiber but aluminum and fiberglass) and the purses went way up, I don’t think it’s such a big number. And breaking the IMS record would get IndyCar more headlines but not that many more paying customers. Maybe a couple thousand.
Q: Let’s combine the new Indy Lights formula with the Japanese Super Formula [ABOVE, Andre Lotterer at Suzuka last year] to make a new Tasman Series. The Dallara SF14 and IL15 cars are almost identical; the IL15 being an evolution of the SF14. Allow IndyCar drivers to run for purses, only, but not for points, not unlike Sprint Cup drivers when they run in the Xfinity series. We could see Power, Dixon, and Briscoe run against youngsters.
Run the races in conjunction with V8 Supercar and GT3 events run from October through March. Run at non-F1 circuits such as Mount Panorama, Phillip Island, or Symmons Plains. Most of us agree the IL15 is a proper looking racecar; combining the two series would give us full fields with an eclectic representation of drivers and circuits. With the time differential we would not have to worry about competing against the NFL because they would be running in the middle of the night! With a correct TV package we could keep our drivers visible during the Indy off-season and expose the rest of the world to the Land of Oz.
Jim Scott, Wisconsin Rapids, Wisconsin
RM: I applaud your outside-the-box thinking Jim and I like the thought of certain IndyCar drivers running Down Under during the winter but who is going to pay for this? We’re going to struggle to field 33 cars at Indy again and I don’t see a lot of extra money floating around.
Q: Derek Daly made some interesting points about incentives to bring American drivers to the fore in his IndyCar 2018 article. I also agree that the ladder system desperately needs to be renamed. What the heck do Pro Mazda and USF2000 stand for, where are they on the ladder and what do they have to do with IndyCar!? However, I think Daly misses the mark with dumping “Lights” in favor of “Junior.” I bring different casual race fans with me to Carb Day at Indy and the Saturday before the Grand Prix of Long Beach every year. When I tell them that the cars on the track are Indy Lights, I usually add that they’re a bunch of crazy 18 to 22 year olds trying to make it to IndyCar and they seem to instantly get the potential of what they are seeing. Lights have a long history in IndyCar and a much stronger connotation than Junior to me. Dan Andersen has done a fantastic job reviving Indy Lights with a relevant and beautiful new car. He and his staff should be commended. They should also take the next step and rename the lower formula series so that little explanation is required for casual fans. The Mazda Road to Indy should consist of the Indy Lights L1 Series presented by Mazda, the IndyCar L2 Mazda Championship presented by Cooper Tires and the IndyCar L3 Cooper Tires Championship powered by Mazda. Whether the “L” stands for Lights or ladder, everyone will recognize the path these young drivers are on and the order they take to get there.
Mark, Discovery Bay, CA
RM: I agree, I’d keep Lights because it is identifiable and has some equity but I thought Derek’s best suggestions were about incentives for running American drivers, making standing starts mandatory for all road races and properly identifying drivers’ names on the cars.
Q: Has anyone considered granting Andersen Promotions legal guardianship of IndyCar? Indiana family law has provisions granting a protective order to insure the health and safety of a victimized child. Other legal theories could include seizing abandoned property, mental incompetency, protecting an abused dog or exercising the state’s right of eminent domain to build a freeway. The final recourse could be having the local police to take IndyCar under the authority of criminal forfeiture. This last suggestion might be the best and quickest solution because any small Indiana village police department can take control with no reasonable justification. The officers don’t even have to leave the station to file the paperwork. Best of all, there is no judicial oversight since the cases are never heard before a judge, the state is represented by a local district attorney, the defense is never there and all hearings are in an undisclosed courtroom where a Department of Homeland Security rent-a-cop doesn’t allow anyone in the building. The case title would be The State Of Indiana vs. An Arbitrary Street Corner In Indianapolis.
RM: I don’t know but this is one of the funniest letters we’ve ever received. And IndyCar might be much better off with Andersen in charge.
Q: As the excitement of our open wheel national championship shrinks to the “thrill” of seeing new aero packages, I offer the following. I would like to see drivers driving the cars around the track sliding steering corrections and smoking tire oversteer out of the corner. The slot car designs of F1 and Indy are just boring and with all the silly winglets and other rules-defined appendages, make the cars impossible to explain to hopefully new fans that Indy survival requires.
Solution: no more aero, no wings front or rear, flat bottoms. Look at a photo of today’s Indy car compared to the STP Lotus from 1968. Do wings make racecars better looking? Slower lap times for sure but with current construction materials safe, and fewer parts flying around in a crash. The sport needs Ford, Chevy, Honda Toyota etc. They want to sell engine performance and reliability. Nobody walks into a showroom on Monday to buy an aero package. Lower cost, higher car counts and exciting racing? Oh one more thing if you want a bigger TV audience, hold your races when people are watching TV! Thanksgiving Day, New Year’s Eve/ Day, Derby Day etc.
C Deery, Lancaster, Pa.
RM: Respected designer Gordon Kimball (Charlie’s dad) made a lot of sense in his 2018 commentary for RACER and, in it, he said he’d like to see drivers sliding around at 180mph rather than being on rails at 230mph and I couldn’t agree more. The cars go so fast through the corners people can’t make out the numbers at some tracks. Part of the attraction of racing was watching the drivers fight for control or drift through the corner. Not sure what it’s going to take to bring back Ford or Toyota but I can tell you that Easter Sunday is NOT a good day for a race in downtown Las Vegas.
Q: Several years ago — in 2013 — there was some talk of F1 replacing IndyCar at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach. In April 2014, the Long Beach City Council approved an extension of their agreement with Grand Prix Association through 2018. Any update on F1’s interest in Long Beach and how many years are remaining in the current IndyCar contract with the Grand Prix Association?
Mark, Naperville, IL
RM: I wrote a series of stories back then (quoting Chris Pook who was stirring the pot I suspect) and I don’t know how interested F1 really was in returning. But LBGPA boss Jim Michaelian says when the time comes (after 2018) they’ll look to extend with IndyCar.
[ABOVE, Final F1 race at Long Beach, in 1983. Ferraris of Patrick Tambay and Rene Arnoux sandwich the Williams pair of Keke Rosberg and Jacques Laffite, with the Tyrrells of Michele Alboreto and Danny Sullivan in fifth and sixth.]
Q: As much as I love IndyCar, a doubleheader idea at CoTA with the TUDOR Championship would boot my beloved World Endurance Championship out of the weekend. How about a tripleheader at CoTA? WEC only has one race in the USA at this time!
RM: Hell, yes, we love WEC. The more the merrier.
Q: Firstly, I make sure I view every Fireside Chat video – love ‘em. If you have not watched the NHRA television packages, you need to as it is a lesson on how to get it right. It helps that the product is so good. To my eyes, (lifelong IndyCar fan and motorsports enthusiast), NHRA’s temperature is white hot with great sponsorship, colorful, warm and likeable racers, (the influx of female drivers adds greatly I think) and what looks like good depth in each featured class. The production quality is wonderful and it’s well presented. As a resident of Indy, I feel like drag racing is also our home team and I am happy for them but it also makes all the other televised motorsports even more frustrating. Especially sports car racing with endless cut-ins, on-camera interviews and reports that COVER what I really want to see and hear: cars, engines, competition and the circuits themselves. They don’t understand the cars are the stars in multi-level class racing. Anyway, keep on doing what you do. Economaki is gone, you are it.
Joe Wicker, Greenwood, Indiana
RM: Thanks Joe, I agree the NHRA shows on ESPN are good television and drag racing is made for TV because it’s a four-second blast followed by instantaneous interviews. But they’ve also got a break because it’s tape delayed. So they can edit out the blown engines and oil downs and it’s a crisp, action-packed show – made even better by Mike Dunn and Dave Rieff.
Q: As a huge fan of the Indy 500 and Indy Car I’m very concerned and frustrated by its lack of leadership and creativity to grow the 500 and the series. Like many, I started going to the Speedway in the early 1980s for the party and remember the massive infield crowd that could care less if a race was going on. Eventually I got sick of the hangovers and gravitated to the grandstands! I believe Indy could recapture that magic and return to the greatest spectacle in events! First thing is bulldoze that golf course, sign a major band for a post race concert and have that band involved with all the pre-race activities. Imagine if they could get AC/DC to be that band and broadcast the concert after the race? Between the race crowd and party concert crowd the attendance numbers would be unparalleled 600K plus? Massive television audience and sponsors galore! The speedway could easily get $75 to $100 a head for the infield. It would be Woodstock on steroids!! And make Indy the biggest event the world has ever seen!! Make it the new tradition and watch out! Am I crazy??
Joe from Indy
RM: Tony Hulman knew everyone couldn’t afford race tickets but he (and Joe Cloutier) were smart enough to understand kids could muster up $10 for a party in the infield. Like you they evolved into Indy 500 paying customers for life. It was an ongoing cycle that was like clockwork until Tony George took over and decided no more Snake Pit. Obviously, that was one of his many flawed and failed ideas and now a General Admission ticket is $40 so IMS still doesn’t grasp the concept. Bringing in a big band isn’t going fill the 20,000 empty seats on Race Day and I don’t want to see the Speedway become Fillmore Midwest. It’s the most famous race track on the planet that remains the largest one-day sporting event so figure out how to fill it with race fans again.
Q: I had two brilliant ideas today. I’m watching the 1991 Meadowlands GP on YouTube (thank you old fans for putting these up!!!) and two ideas struck me. First is IndyCar should be streaming these on their own website. It’ll give us something to watch in the off-season and help sate the fans’ lust for the old cars. IndyCar loves to talk about their history…So show it to us! I’d love to see old ’60s and ’70s broadcasts if they’re still available. The second idea was from the Meadowlands track. I know the track as it was laid out was not conducive to passing. But in ’91 it was a ‘modified oval’ set on the parking lot of the Meadowlands parking lot. Why doesn’t IndyCar do temporary ovals? IndyCar fans want ovals, but they’re always a long drive away and oval tracks are having trouble making it financially viable. So why not set up an oval in a downtown? I’m sure you can find some nice flowing roads or a few huge parking lots to turn into an oval. It’ll be flat banked so the drivers will be challenged and could lead to a completely new style of racing. You could be really twisted and add some elevation changes to the mix and really separate the men from the boys. I’m not suggesting where you could do this…but IndyCar should see if they can try this somewhere. They need to be unique somehow and this could be one way of pulling that off.
Dave Z, Lexington, KY
RM: A Look Back in Time tab on the IndyCar site could have videos, photos and stats so I like that idea but only places like Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, Cleveland [ABOVE] and Edmonton would seem suited for the temporary oval you desire. CART ran Caesar’s Palace as a modified oval in 1984 and it was a good race (Tom Sneva’s last win) but not the financial hit the casino was expecting.
Q: I have been complaining about the promotional deficiencies of IndyCar for years. My wife is tired of me ranting to her, so I decided to direct them to you. IndyCar brags about having the fastest drivers in the world but most people don’t have a clue who they are. They need to promote the drivers first and foremost. In my opinion IndyCar needs: 1) A reality show that gives away an Indy 500 seat to young drivers (people love reality shows). 2) A video game!! (the fact there hasn’t been one in over 10 years is just ridiculous). 3) Have drivers go to every major college to put on exhibitions, sign autographs and meet people. 4) Major promotion via social network sites (most young people won’t even look up unless their phone tells them to). 5) Park an IndyCar in major malls across the country with monitors playing highlights of the racing and information about the drivers. That’s my short list. IndyCar marketing needs to be driver-focused because promoting the speed and the technical aspects of the ugly DW12 isn’t going to get one new fan.
Darwin C., Medford, Oregon
RM: The reality show with young drivers is a good idea and, you are right, that’s what people are watching. They’d likely follow the winner through May and beyond. As for identity, it’s really sad. Went to dinner with Ryan Hunter-Reay the other night in downtown Indianapolis and not a single person approached or recognized him. Your 2014 Indy 500 winner.
Q: I went to the Chicago Auto Show this year and saw that IndyCar was represented by both the new Lights car and a Ryan Hunter-Reay DW12 on display. They were both the most static displays you could imagine for fast racecars. The Honda display had Ryan’s car with the winner’s wreath and traditional bottle of milk sitting on it. The Lights car was just sitting there behind roped security. Oh, and Chevrolet had no IndyCar on display that I could see. I cannot believe that IndyCar (as well as Honda and Chevrolet) wouldn’t want to make a bigger splash with a display to maybe influence some of the thousands of attendees to check out an IndyCar race. It would have been great if current, as well as former drivers, were present at the Honda and Chevy areas to engage with fans as well as potential fans. Also some interactive items and displays showing Honda’s and Chevy’s past and future plans at IMS as the 100th approaches would be informative. I thought they should both have a show car that individuals could get into to experience the driver perspective and also have their picture taken. I just think they missed out as an over the top display would have garnered a lot of free exposure from Chicago’s television stations as well as generated some much-needed buzz on the internet. Sometimes I think the people in charge of IndyCar publicity are around the product so much that they do not realize the impact that a well-planned and spectacular display could have on individuals that do not have the access that they have everyday at work. Hopefully next year the displays will be better.
Brad, La Porte, Indiana
RM: Agreed. Those big car shows would seem to be ideal for promoting drivers, cars and your product. I was kinda surprised GM didn’t roll out its aero kit at the Detroit show, for example. But cars just sitting around without drivers doesn’t get it. You’ve got to have your stars engaging the people. With seven months between races, it’s not like they’re pressed for time.
Q: Just read your piece on Mario (I’m a Foyt fan but enjoyed it anyway) and what struck me was that picture of the gorgeous red Lola from I believe 1985 [ABOVE, image by Dan Boyd]. Smooth, clean, graceful and looks like it’s going 300mph when it’s sitting still. Compared to the new aero kit from Chevrolet, well, there is no comparison: it’s a cheetah compared to a platypus. So I will grant you the Dallara is many times safer than the Lola and we would not want to go back to the days of drivers having the IndyCar shuffle when they walk but please pass on that adding as many appendages as possible to an open wheel car isn’t going to attract new fans. The Chevy aero kit makes me think someone dumped a box of winglets on the table and told the engineers to find a place for them on the car. We need beautiful, sleek, and fast looking cars to get new people to look, not a platypus of a racecar.
Mike, Coppell, Texas
RM: I think I’ve said in a couple answers last week that we were all expecting something zoomy or radical but given the parameters that was probably un-realistic. But hopefully this is the first step into opening things up. Having said that, with only two makes and the economics of IndyCar, can we really expect a game changer? Also, to be fair, the comparison you’re making is between an oval car and the road/street/short-oval new car with all its appendages in place. We haven’t seen Chevy’s oval aero kit yet.
Q: In your Feb 25 mailbag, you expressed enthusiasm for a proposed TV ad featuring an Indy Lights car and a Cup car. Two days later a Cup car is stolen. Robin?
Tom Hinshaw, Santa Barbara, CA
RM: That was my fault. It was pretty dark that night and I didn’t realize I was stealing No. 44, I thought it was No. 24. So I left it by the side of the road.
Q: Longtime IndyCar fan disgusted with the slow destruction of the sport I love. My suggestion is why not have as possible, double points available for all races. Why not have double points available and awarded in the following manner. Why not have all drivers, teams qualify for fast time and instead of awarding starting positions according to fast times, why not have teams choose their starting positions in order of their qualifying finish. If 25 cars are entered and qualify, let teams choose where they want to start. If you qualify first and choose to start in the 10th position, you could gain an additional 10 points if you were to win the race. If you were to qualify first by time and choose to start in 25th position and you come from 25th to first you would get the 25 points for the win, and 25 points for the positions gained. This would give a team that’s had a poor start to the year an opportunity to fight its way back into the championship rather than the current situation where some teams by the middle of the season have all but been eliminated. This would also prevent teams from going into the turtle shell where they tell the driver stay out of trouble, you just need to finish 15th or better in order to win the title. That has been for me at least, a big reason why some of the seasons have ended the way they have, and some of the later races that have received very little attendance. When you get to the last race and you only have two drivers eligible to win the season title and the only way that one of them can win is if he wins and the other one finishes in last place it creates very little excitement. Instead of having one or two drivers by the last race being the only drivers eligible to win the driving title why not have five or six drivers fighting right up to, and through the last race. Who would not want to see Paul Tracy, Sebastian Bourdais or several other hard-charging drivers being down 30 or 40 points go all out in qualifying in order to pick the last starting spot in order to get maximum points. This would create a big interest in qualifying in pretty much every race instead of the ho-hum, the two or three decent teams always get the qualifying top positions. It would also add some interest to the teams as far as strategy is concerned, and it would also give some of the backmarkers who very rarely get an opportunity to start near the front, an opportunity to be in a position at the start of the race where they would be in a high points-paying position that they would have to try to protect, instead of starting last and languishing at the back of the pack for the entire race.
The current series is pretty much dedicated to five or six drivers and teams and the rest of the teams are non-existent to both the booth and the media. I would love to see this format. It could sure generate some much-needed excitement. I’ll be interested to hear your take on it.
RM: I hate double points anywhere because it’s a gimmick and, up until last season, IndyCar didn’t need a gimmick to have a down-to-the-wire race for the championship. I remember the old days when Indy counted so much more than anything else and the winner could have literally not run the rest of the season and still finish in the Top 5 in points. Why should Pocono count more than Long Beach? It’s the most diverse series in the world so treat all the races evenly. Street and road course qualifying are some of the best drama in motorsports and Takuma Sato, Jack Hawksworth, Simon Pagenaud and Josef Newgarden upstaged The Big 3 several times in 2014. I don’t think anything needs tweaking, except eliminate double points altogether.
Q: You made a comment about Bill Tempero in the previous mailbag which got me googling. This lead me to a race series called American IndyCar Series which I had never heard of before. It ran from the late 1980s to early 2000’s and had some name drivers like Buddy and Jacques Lazier and a couple of Unsers. Do you have any memories of it?
Mark Scriven, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia
RM: Sure, it was a cost-efficient way to learn and go Indy car racing with older CART and then IRL cars. Tempero allowed stock-block Chevys or Buick V-6 engines and raced everywhere from Willow Springs to Hallet to Milwaukee. It never resonated with the public but it served its purpose and gave Buddy Lazier some miles before he started his CART/IRL career.
Q: February is the only time of year Florida is visited by the major open wheel short track series, I look forward to this all year. This gives me the chance to compare USAC to the World of Outlaws in consecutive weeks. Year after year, WoO outclasses USAC in terms of the overall product. One major issue is that while WoO is a destination, USAC is largely a stepping stone, So while I knew every driver save one at the WoO show, the majority of the USAC drivers were strangers. Another difference is WoO works like a well oiled machine, one thing right after the other, while the USAC show always has several points where there is nothing going on. Overall the WoO comes off feeling like a big-time event and USAC feels small-time. I enjoy them both in terms of the actual racing but my question is this: are the USAC people doing anything to make their series more of a destination? And do they realize how dysfunctional their show is in comparison to the WoO?
Zach in FL.
RM: Unfortunately, USAC has never grasped the concept of time or entertainment so running a feature at midnight became accepted. WoO understands the indoor SuperX mentality, as do the boys at the Chili Bowl. It’s a show, make it hum and get it done in three hours. I still think USAC sprint car racing is the best excitement on four wheels but it’s stuck in that rut you witnessed. And, no, USAC doesn’t see any problem.
Q: I just read the Mailbag and got an itch to attend a race this year. I am going to fly from Seattle to attend the Sonoma race. I’ll be at the track both Saturday and Sunday. Where do you recommend I watch the race? Was thinking GA/Pit pass Saturday. The backside thru the esses looks like it could be pretty cool.
BRING BACK PORTLAND!
RM: Sonoma may offer the best viewing in all of North American road racing because there are so many places you can walk and sit (on those cool grandstands built into the hills) and see so much of the track. I love to go up to the outside of Turn 2 for the start and then just start walking (if you had a golf cart it would be primo).
Q: I think my ideas to “save” IndyCar are getting weirder, but here’s another one: Miles doesn’t want to compete with the NFL. Fine. The only country that cares about the NFL is the US, so let’s go international. There should be 3-4 IndyCar geographical series – North America, South America, Europe and Asia/Australia. Each one has its own 10-15 race schedule appropriate to the climate. The rules would be the same for all series. Each series would have its own teams and drivers, and they would accumulate points for their own geographic series. The Top 10 in points from each series would qualify for the Indy 500. No points for the 500: The winner is the World IndyCar Champion. Teams/drivers could race in the other geographical series if they like (or maybe form partnerships), but the points would only apply for that geographical series, i.e. Marco Andretti couldn’t increase his standings in the North American series by racing in South America, but if he failed to qualify for the 500 in the U.S., he could make a go at a full season in South America if the calendar permits. The advantages of this is that fans could catch IndyCar racing year-round, while not burning out the teams and making their costs skyrocket because they have to race internationally (with the exception of the month of May for qualifying teams). I think something like this was done with Super Formula/Formula Nippon at one point having similar rules with some of the European racing, but I don’t think there was any kind of schedule/championship tie. Anyway, that’s just another crazy idea. If I win the Brazilian lottery, I’ll learn Portuguese and Spanish and get this going in South America.
Travis R. Noblesville, IN
RM: The only way this could happen is if you hit the lottery because there’s already an over-saturation of racing in the world and what you propose would cost MILLIONS and MILLIONS. But there is nothing wrong with dreaming. And yeah, Super Formula / Formula Nippon ran Formula 3000 cars between ’87 and ’96.
Q: Hey Miller, some reader called you out last week at the bottom of the Mailbag and said you got it all wrong about Travis Pastrana, IndyCar and NASCAR. Care to defend yourself?
E.P. Franklin, Santa Monica
RM: I saw that and I guess my answer is that I didn’t explain the situation in enough detail. Randy Bernard asked Travis about running the Las Vegas race and he was game but would have to take an extensive driver’s test administered by Dario and T.K. to see if he could handle it. But he broke his leg before that could happen and stayed with his NASCAR racing.
Q: I was watching some old CART races on YouTube and at the 1997 Michigan 500 it appeared on the backstretch the fencing was not right up against or connected to the concrete part of the wall. It looked like the fencing they had was a few feet back. Is that correct, and when did they change that?
RM: I watched a couple different clips and couldn’t see what you are talking about. But I never heard any complaints so not sure it was an issue.
Q: You’re wrong. OK to be more specific about just one thing. You’re wrong that IndyCar can’t get back to the level it used to be. No it can’t happen if the next CEO wants to do nothing more than make a cosmetic shift from what the last three did before him. It sure isn’t going to come from Mark Miles identifying something new to fear every quarter when dealing with the schedule which actually isn’t as bad as the doubletalk. No it’s not a question of using a time machine to go back to 1993, 1979, 1970 or 1958. No roadsters and dirt tracks aren’t the answer. What its going to take is someone with their eyes pointed forward from 2016. Some of the IndyCar 2018 articles offer some excellent ideas and some are rehashes of how the series has fallen this far. One previous writer to you said it well, the series needs to stop reacting to the past and be proactive towards the future. ESPN blowhard Colin Cowherd was talking about the NY Knicks and hit the nail: Fans only really have their voice in their wallets. The Knicks haven’t won a championship in 42 years but the Garden has been filled. So there’s no genuine pressure because he’s making money win or lose. Cowherd’s contention was that fans need to stop buying tickets and the owners will get the message when they don’t get the money. IndyCar still fails to see the fact that people HAVE stopped buying tickets, the flowery inflated attendance estimates of road and street course notwithstanding. But the IndyCar owners aren’t able to get it through their heads and what nobody running IndyCar will tell them is that people have long since stopped buying tickets (sponsors as well turn a blind eye) and the pressure should be on them. IMS refuses to get the message because the Indy 500 is in good shape but they don’t actually lose money now on the rest of the races. They do what they can to get a few tracks that get by and a revolving roster of street race promoters who chump some local government for a few years. As soon as someone, either IMS or new series owners, sees that just following the same tired old path from the 1950s won’t work and comes up with some different approach there would be some hope of getting started moving upward. Nobody, not Pete Rozelle, David Stern or any business wizard who turned around a sport, franchise or industry could make the business model that IndyCar clings to work. What it needs to be might not look like it does today but there aren’t very many fans interested in what it looks like today.
Kurt Payne, Illinois
RM: Well, a lot to digest in your letter. Compared to the CART days, fans have quit buying tickets so that didn’t have much effect on the owners or the sanctioning body. IMS is raising its prices for everything so it’s sticking to the Boston Consulting Group philosophy of gouging the fans you’ve already got, forget making new ones. My strategy would be reducing ticket prices in the hard-to-sell sections until you again have a full house. But it’s the rest of the circuit that needs rejuvenated and I think standing starts, doubleheaders and two-abreast restarts were steps in the right direction for the fans and promoters. Of course they’ve all been cast aside except for one twin bill at Detroit and, you are correct, status quo isn’t working and won’t succeed.
Q: Enough grousing (albeit justified) about an off season that’s too long, aero kits that are fugly, season-opener cancellation and qualified drivers sitting out in favor of pay drivers. What we need to start the juices flowing is some inside scoop … some dirt from the recent past! Just to get things started, here are two questions for your expertise: 1) What really happened with Andretti Autosport’s closed-door, wall-banging and screaming meeting a few years ago? Remember; the one (I think) involving Danica and Tony K. when they were teammates? 2) Is Emerson Fittipaldi now an IndyCar pariah after Helio-gate? He never seems to be seen with Team Penske, which is a bit odd since he is part of RP’s legend. Come to think of it, are any of Penske’s slightly tarnished heroes (Emerson, Al Jr., Paul Tracy) still welcome there?
David Lind (Alexandria, Louisiana)
RM: I don’t recall that “meeting” but Danica and T.K. had a falling out and don’t exchange Christmas cards. Emmo’s relationship with Helio went south when he signed with Penske (Fittipaldi managed Castroneves) without consulting the two-time Indy winner. But I think all of Roger’s former drivers are welcome at Team Penske, even Tom Sneva and P.T. ;-) because The Captain is a class act.
[ABOVE: Tom Sneva on his way to third for Penske at Mosport in 1977, the first of his championship years.]
Q: It’s 2016 and Verizon exits Indy Car as primary series sponsor at end of the season. In 2017 somebody’s energy drink is announced as primary series sponsor but in reality is only paying about 50 percent of the needed fund. Hulman Co. subsidizes the rest for what its Board of Directors state is a one-time only need. Indy Lights series ceases at end of season. In 2018 Roger Penske announces his retirement at end of season and Team Penske, Ganassi & Andretti barely have enough $s to run two fully funded cars in each team. KV and Schmidt will cease operations at end of season due to loss of nearly all sponsorship $s. In 2019 IndyCar announces the end of the series due to insufficient sponsorships and race attendance; loss of teams and no series sponsor. Many of the “name” drivers retired at end of ‘2018; TV ratings barely register across all age demographics; interest in racing as a whole is significantly decreased in the USA. IndyCar’s short season has led to exodus of mechanic and engineering pros to non-motorsports industries. So here’s the 2020 QUESTION: can the IMS survive as THE single open wheel race? Are development costs too great for only one race a year? Or, in 2021, is the IMS is bulldozed into eternity for the ubiquitous “business park and residential living space development”? Leasing to be managed by the Brian Barnhardt Mgmt Company. Can the Indy 500 survive as the sole open-wheel race? Or has that time come and gone?
Patty, Omaha, NE
RM: Depending on how the rules were written and how much the purse was increased it could survive and possibly thrive. Some people think the best thing would be for IndyCar to cease and start up again from scratch. But it could also fold and become part of history like Can-Am and Formula 5000. I think a lot depends on how engaged Honda and GM stay.
Q: I usually try and make my Mailbag letters brief, but I hope to stretch my legs a bit this time; I guess this is my own “IndyCar 2015” rather than 2018. I would wish people who care about the series could just enjoy what we do have and not focus quite so much on the problems that have been well documented. I’ve been following racing since the days you had to pay for a ticket to a closed-circuit telecast if you didn’t want to wait for the tape delayed broadcast of the 500; that or stay glued to the live radio coverage. So I’ve seen a lot of the good and a lot of the bad. One thing we can all try and do to help IndyCar, and that doesn’t require winning the lottery, is to just go to a race in person. It’s like voting: you have no right to complain about the yahoos who govern us if you don’t go to the voting booth. Not everyone lives close enough to an event, or has the resources, which is fine, but if you do, make the effort to get off the couch and go participate. Even better, take someone who has never seen a race live, and there is a good chance the experience will completely change their opinion of IndyCar racing. Three such people are joining me this year at St. Pete. Speaking of which, it is an event that I highly recommend. St. Pete has the glamour of being the first race of the season, it’s in a gorgeous setting, and the city does a terrific job of accommodating the fans. (Free air-conditioned buses leave from Tropicana Field every few minutes all weekend to shuttle fans to and from the circuit…it’s a piece of cake.) The tickets are very reasonable for a major sporting event, and one that lasts three days, too, if you want to take it all in. Just go! You might even meet Robin in the paddock like I did. My other wish is for Honda to bounce back with a manufacturer’s championship this year. I’m very grateful to Chevrolet for their involvement in the series and I hope they also have more success, but I remember how faithful Honda has been to IndyCar for a lot of years when they supplied every team in the paddock. Without them, there would be no IndyCar at all. Here’s to a safe and entertaining 2015.
Steve C., Ithaca, NY
RM: Compared with other sporting events I’ve paid to attend in the past few years, IndyCar can be an entertaining bargain at certain tracks or cities. Appreciate your support and passion.
Q: Being of a certain age, I know all these tough guys, saw them race, hell, I even own a Grant King dirt champ car last driven by Rich Vogler, but your videos on these guys are just wonderful. You have told me things I never knew about them, with passion and love for all that they were on and off the track. I just had to write and thank you for preserving these legacies on the worldwide web. New viewers may not know them, but after they see what you have produced, I bet they go and look for more. Next time I’m in Indy, the steaks are on me at St. Elmo.
RM: Glad you’re enjoying them, they’re fun to do and it’s cool RACER.com made a steady home for them. Pancho Carter is next week, followed by Jan Opperman.