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, Robin will pass these on to Marshall Pruett and he will also answer here.
Q: I shared Paul Tracy’s over-the-moon thoughts about Sebastien Bourdais’s drive on Sunday at Milwaukee. That. Was. Awesome. And it reminds us again of what a truly rare and special talent he is. My son and I stood at various fences around Sebring this past spring watching him turn it into a two-and-half hour driving clinic – some might say butt kicking – of historic dimensions. That drive gave everyone on the grounds goose bumps. (If you don’t believe me, ask Mr. Pruett.) To see him deliver a similarly dominating drive in the same racing season but in a completely different discipline proves – again – that he deserves special regard in this sport. Four stars to Seabass, my vote for racer of 2015 for his excellence and versatility.
Bert C. Reiser, Washington, D.C.
RM: Don’t forget he also won an IROC race and impressed Mark Martin. But what I liked most about his performance Sunday was afterwards when he said he finally felt like an “oval-track driver” and his genuine appreciation for conquering that discipline.
Q: I hope the race today was as enjoyable for you as it was for me. I think Fontana and Milwaukee are perfect bookends to the problem IndyCar is facing right now. For me personally today was one of the most enjoyable and entertaining races I’ve watched in a while. (At least since the 500!!) It had different strategies, a dominant car and driver that still had to fight and be smart for the win. Cars could go batshit fast after a pit stop- but they were drawing from a bank of rubber that went to zero very quickly. And the finish was a race to the end- different cars on different strategies with different strengths. It wasn’t a crapshoot that picked one of the 15 drivers still around at the end almost randomly. From a racer’s perspective this race was epic.
From a casual fan’s perspective it was a snoozefest. And therein lies our collective problem. Give fans a great race- with drivers, cars, equipment, and strategy – and a single car that lapped (!!) the field – that’s just not spectacular enough. It isn’t the visual equivalent to crack cocaine. Give the fans a gladiatorial spectacle- that has nothing to do with skill, but looks great on the TV, well there’s your audience! I told my wife today that I think racing might be dying. (Racing in all forms, not just IndyCar…) As sad as that makes me I don’t think the forces that once drove the passion and interest are still there. I hope I am wrong, but if today showed me anything it is that reality and the commercial success of IndyCar are not connected in any way. What say you?
RM: First off, I disagree that Fontana had “nothing to do with skill.” The first 135 laps were a pretty damn good example of car control in close quarters and there may have been some lucky crashes that didn’t happen but I thought it was a showcase for an IndyCar driver’s reflexes and balls. I know what you’re saying that a bunch of people that don’t usually watch or care found it fascinating because it was so wild and crazy but maybe some of them watched Milwaukee. Racing is dying, all of it, just some slower than others.
Q: From the TV broadcast, less than a half of the stand was filled. Is that about right? Do you think Milwaukee will be back next year?
Noz, SE Michigan
RM: The Milwaukee racing writer and I both estimated 12,000 (about a third full), which looked about like last year but Mr. Healy said it was much better so maybe it was good enough to keep things going. I imagine a lot depends on whether ABC Supply returns as the title sponsor. But Healy said they’re trying to make it work in a story on RACER.com.
Q: Milwaukee was a pretty good race, no Fontana for obvious reasons, but entertaining nonetheless. Disappointed for my mirror cousin James Jakes – btw thanks for giving him some face time – after a very good qualifying and then the bad luck of a blown engine. Good win for Sebastien Bourdais [ABOVE, LAT photo], proving once again that in IndyCar racing any team can win – which makes IndyCar such a great series for drivers. Disappointing crowd turnout. Which begs the question, what’s it going to take for the IndyCar leadership to get it? When will they understand that in order to get fans to races, the schedule needs to be stretched out and the start times, especially Sunday start times, needs to be earlier in the day and consistent across the board? And how long will it be before IndyCar learns that they need to be equal partners with race promoters when it comes to promoting their racing product? Are they that hell bent on becoming a road-racing-plus-Indy-500 series?
JJ, Studio City, CA
PS: If Milwaukee can’t get its post Indy 500 date back – and damn that Roger Penske – maybe the Milwaukee race should move to a last weekend in April or first weekend in May as a tune-up for the 500.
RM: Healy said the starting time was not IndyCar’s call but rather a result of having to cram things into Sunday because of the Saturday on-track activity. I don’t care who is to blame but races need to start at 1 or 2 p.m. if possible. Mark Miles didn’t see IndyCar as a co-promoter at ovals but indicated more of a friendly sanction fee might be the solution. No chance Detroit is moving but I think April is already booked for 2016 and May already has two races.
Q: I made the four-hour trek to Milwaukee yesterday with my wife and sister and brother-in-law. Enjoyed the whole experience. Drove up Sunday in time for qualifying and was on the road by 8pm EST. Sat in section EE in Turn 1 where the action was non-stop. Loved seeing the pit activity, something we miss at Indy and Mid-Ohio. Sat with a couple from Fort Wayne who were attending for the second time and talked with a Milwaukee man taking his son to his first-ever race and they enjoyed it. I am a veteran of IndyCar/ IRL/Champ Car/PPG Series/USAC since the attending the 500 in 1965. Been to Mid-Ohio, Cleveland, Road America and this is a must attend now and hopefully in the future. Hopefully they can find a place on the calendar and sponsorship/promoter to keep it going. Do you think it will become just a one-day show if it stays? What a unique place. BTW, the brat basket and a beer are a must at the track.
Richard from Michigantown, IN
RM: It’s interesting because when I started going to Milwaukee in the 1960s it was always a one-day show. But Kevin Healy of Andretti Sports Marketing said they prefer two days and it’s probably more realistic since teams can’t prepare backup cars anymore because they don’t get spare engines ahead of time. I do know a lot of people said they hated the 4:40 local starting time and that was more a product of squeezing everything into one day supposedly because of the vintage car activity on Saturday.
Q: If Andretti returns to promote Milwaukee, here’s some things Kevin Healy and team might want to look at: Pick a decent date. This is the third different date in four years. Put the race back after Indy so the TV carryover audience gets some good racing and not the endless parade laps at Belle Isle. Roger likes his Belle Isle date? Tough, the race sucks. Move it to the 4th of July weekend then it can be a part of the International Celebration. Market the damn race in Chicago. I live in the Southwest Suburbs and can be at Fair Park in 90 minutes. Even with the stupidly late start, I was home by 9pm. They need to partner with Verizon too. I have Verizon service and they should have been blowing up my phone the last three weeks advertising the race. The Harry Miller Club is interesting and they go some nice charity things… but I want to see IndyCar’s future, not it’s long historic past. The Mazda Pro Series is always good at Milwaukee, for them not to be there was crap and I’m guessing they weren’t there because there wasn’t space in the infield. I get that the Miller’s are always at the Mile that weekend in July, fine. Move the race then.
Chris, Oak Forest, IL
RM: Healy indicated the date was contingent on the State Fair and it shifts in August depending on Labor Day but staying in mid-June or July seems OK with him. As long as General Motors stays in IndyCar, Detroit will stay the week after Indy. But I’m glad you were able to get home at a reasonable hour.
Q: A perfect day, a great race, with a full day of racing, and we see somewhere between 10,000 and 12,000 people on a venue that has seats for 37,000!
I can’t wait to see the TV numbers? On a perfect day for spending the day at the track, or if you can’t make it, a good day to watch it on TV where the other TV events made the competition weak. (I’d be thrilled if they got 500,000, but I’ll bet they didn’t)! Since we have had a lot of different winners, the drivers are doing there part, the teams are doing what they can, NBCSN is advertising every series they have F1, NASCAR and IndyCar…and during the NASCAR races in Kentucky they actually promoted the race in Milwaukee. Jeff Burton actually talked about the track, and how he was looking forward to watching the race! So what is wrong? NBCSN has over 80,000,000 subscribers! Could it be the visual and audio similarity of the cars?
RM: ShowBuzzDaily reported on RACER.com the overnight rating was a .42, which is the highest of the season so obviously Fontana drew some extra eyes and, yes, Jeff Burton also gave IndyCar a little plug from the Kentucky Cup show. I think NASCAR going to NBCSN will drive some viewers to IndyCar but it’s not going to happen in only a couple weeks.
Q: It’s hard to believe that the only track that hosted both the Champ Cars and the IRL in the same years and seemed to have pretty good crowds could possibly fall off the schedule of the unified series because those people stopped coming. Did they promote it differently?
Greg from Evansville, IN
RM: For years and years, the Indy car races at Milwaukee in June and again in August during the State Fair were packed and didn’t require much in the way of promotion. When it became just June (or late May) it was always the race after the Indy 500 and the crowds stayed good through the late ‘90s, even though CART wasn’t running Indianapolis. But, finally, The Split began to take its toll and nobody showed up to watch Champ Car or the Indy Racing League. There wasn’t even a race in 2010 but it’s both sad and puzzling that a bastion for Indy cars for 90 years has lost its following.
[ABOVE, Milwaukee in 2004, the year Ryan Hunter-Reay led the Champ Car race from start to finish. LAT photo]
Q: I wrote a few weeks back stating that this year would be the end of the wonderful Mile, and I fear I was correct: fantastic weather, fantastic racing, wonderful event and yet not many people. I have no idea what IndyCar can do. I fear that the old fan base is all that is carrying this series. I am 37, and I took my dad who is 67 and based on the tailgating crowd, we are the norm. I fear IndyCar’s downfall will be the fact it struggles to gain “new” and youthful fans. I do all I can- I spend money I don’t have, I buy merchandise for my son and his cousins, we go to races and buy tickets. In fact, I bought tickets for the race even though I received comp tickets… just to feel like I gave 100% to Andretti’s efforts.
Not to make another drab mailbag entry, I have to add some positivity. Andretti’s Promotion group needs to be commended. Every year they have run this IndyFest, they have improved it. The difference between year 1 until now year 4 is tremendous. Every year they improved fan access, more bathrooms, better ticketing areas, entertainment, etc. For that they deserve a huge congrats. It’s so unfortunate that they have had bad weather in the past, a different date every year and having to deal with State Fair Park and all its rules and regulations. I only hope that they can somehow make 2016 happen along with a Road America appearance.
Perhaps Miles and his team will pull their head out of the sand and realize that the schedule they make is killing the promoters? A 4:30 start – no matter TV time or not – killed this crowd. I strolled the parking lots and it was an 80 percent Wisconsin-based crowd. The time no doubt killed Indy and Chicago fans and rightfully so – a near 7 p.m. end would make for a long drive home after cooking in the metal seats for the long day. I guess all we can hope is that the Big Three and their 13 cars will straighten this out as no way sponsors are going to like one-third filled stands. One question- with all the guys polishing Penskes trucks, railings, hot pots, rims, tool boxes and the such- doesn’t one of them have a watch? How in the holy starch shirt did Helio show up late to tech? I assume that guy is now cleaning the Penske port-o-lets?
Andy in Milwaukee
RM: I think you’re right about IndyCar’s demographic and I appreciate your passion and patronage. Thanks for the info about the Wisconsin crowd, we all figured not many from Indiana would make the trip with that start time. As I stated earlier, the green flag was a product of jamming everything into one day, it had nothing to do with NBCSN. Not sure how Team Penske screwed up something so routine but I did see one Penske employee hitchhiking on I-94 about 9 o’clock.
Q: Watching the Milwaukee Mile coverage on TV (awesome as usual!) I noticed all the pit reporters wearing fire suits, except one Mr. Miller. What gives with that? Love the team on NBCSN this year!
Mark Bolster, Pittsburgh
RM: NBC can only afford three fire suits and I’m the oldest and most expendable so… OK, just kidding. I’m not technically a pit reporter so I just get to hang out and wander the pits during the race while Kevin, Katie and Jon have to call the pit stops and are in the line of fire, so to speak. But thanks for watching NBCSN.
Q: After the Indy 500 and the Fontana races, I can’t figure out why race fans wouldn’t want to attend an IndyCar race. Would an across the board (aside from the 500) $5 infield, $10 grandstand and $30 family pass ticket price help bring people in? I have no idea how the gate revenues are split up but I’m thinking the tracks would make more profit on hot dogs and beer than they would gate money. As for the racing I wish they would have continued (oh how I wish we could get MIS back on the table) with another oval following the 500. They seemed to have a lot of traction and momentum at that point and to follow it up with a street race seems to just let the air out of the balloon.
Tim in T.O.
RM: While IMS keeps raising prices, all the rest of the ovals are pretty fan-friendly in terms of tickets and deals. Fontana had a $99 package for four tickets and pit passes while you could sit in the grandstand for as little as $25 at Milwaukee. Pocono also has very reasonable pit and ticket prices as does Iowa Speedway. And it does make sense to follow up the exciting Indy 500 with an oval race instead of a street course but The Captain ain’t giving up Motown [ABOVE, LAT photo].
Q: This was a pretty damn good race today and it looks like the crowd wasn’t as bad as it was feared to be (at least from the angles they showed on TV). Makes you think that if they ran the race a bit earlier in the day it could’ve been an even bigger live audience. Great video on A.J. to go along with your article the other day. Seabass was so hooked up it was unbelievable to watch and Honda may wanna force Graham n RLL to spill their secrets to the rest of the Honda camp. There is so much talent in this series it’s crazy with how they can run a balls out pack-ish race in Fontana to the close almost street fight like racing in Milwaukee and of course the phenomenal 500 and making Alabama a pass friendly track. I hope someone can figure a way to market this, as it’s a shame that it’s not the most watched racing in the world. Any chance Milwaukee returns in 2016?
RM: Like I’ve said repeatedly, I know a lot of people from Indy that always went to Milwaukee and they never considered it with a 5:40 EST green flag. I left State Fair Park at 9:08 p.m. Indy time and pulled into my condo in downtown Indianapolis at 12:52 a.m. so Bourdais wasn’t the only one with a good run on Sunday. And think about the mechanics. They all left an hour after I did and had to be at work Monday morning to get ready for Iowa. I’d say Milwaukee is 50-50.
Q: Over the last couple of weeks several writers to the mailbag have been calling for the team owners to go rogue. Since you seem to be the only voice that many IndyCar fans seem to listen to please do this: Reverend Robin, open to the book of Miller, read to these people from chapter 1996 and remind them what happened the last time this was tried. IndyCar won’t survive it again. Keep the faith.
John in Arkansas
RM: It’s probably my fault John because in my post-Fontana rant on RACER.com I suggested the owners band together and force Mark Miles to extend the season. But I didn’t suggest starting another series with them calling the shots. I mean, I’m not very smart but I’m not stupid. Except when I bet on the NFL.
Q: I read all of excoriating letters about Mark Miles. I have a couple of questions I think may have already been answered…but many of us think the same thing about Miles and his incompetency. Do you know anyone who knows and understands Miles and his mindset about why he seems on having IndyCar implode? Apparently Ganassi and Andretti are not happy with the IndyCar management. So why don’t they and the other team principals DO something? They have the teams, the money and the personnel and appear to be in a good position to boycott unless something is done. If IndyCar ceases to exist, so do those teams and their income. And if Miles succeeds in destroying IndyCar, I’m sure new sponsors will be extremely hard to find for any new “IndyCar” series that may sprout from the ashes.
Jerry Wilt, Houston
RM: I was told over the weekend that Miles has a plan for IndyCar and we need to be patient. My response was that sponsors and promoters and owners would love to know the plan before they’re all gone. That was my suggestion – at least try and force his hand about the schedule but he says now he always planned for at least a seven-month season so we’ll see what develops.
Q: Hello Robin from beautiful Langhorne! After reading this week’s mailbag, I have to write before this weekend’s festivities/wake in Milwaukee. I am all for putting a plan together, and sticking to it. With that being said, I think Mr. Miles and everyone else at IndyCar should take a history lesson from one Mickey Thompson. He took a fledgling sport that no one knew about (stadium trucks) and turned it into a major event before his assassination. How did he do this? HE PROMOTED THE EVENTS! He rented out major stadiums, paid for the work, and handled every aspect of the race from start to finish. If someone got in his way, by hook or by crook, he got what he wanted. Why? He had a real passion for what he believed in. He knew the product was great, people just needed to see it. The morons running IndyCar could stand to learn a few lessons there. Let’s go back to when this was a sport and not only another line item on the Hulman family books.
I know they do well with their other businesses, so Mrs. Hulman-George, her son and daughters must really love the racing. Otherwise, they could have sold long ago and made a hefty profit. Please, please, please, give us our sport back. If I had the money, I’d rent 5-6 tracks, put up a million to win each one, and watch these gladiators do battle. I’d make my money back 20 times over! Nobody on the planet does racing better than IndyCar right now. And those with the financial skin in the game need to show just how bad they want to make money. You have to spend it to make it. 16th and Georgetown needs to put their money where their mouth is, and put up or shut up.
Chris Graham, Langhorne, PA
RM: I got to know Mickey Thompson when he brought his show to the RCA Dome in 1984 and you are correct – nobody worked harder and knew how to sell better than he did. [ABOVE, Thompson is the central guy in white, pictured in 1962 with the Thompson-Buick as driven by Dan Gurney. IMS photo] After IndyCar’s breathtaking show at Fontana, there should have been a 30-second commercial showing the highlights and/or a full-page ad in USA TODAY to promote the upcoming oval races. “You think NASCAR at Daytona has action? Check out IndyCar at Fontana for THREE HOURS!” Instead, they did nothing nationally that I saw. Or even regionally in Milwaukee. Another wasted opportunity. But IndyCar will thump its chest and say Jay Leno was at Fontana running the two-seater with Mario. Great, how many tickets did it sell? Zilch.
Q: I drove past the Milwaukee Mile today. The electronic billboard outside was advertising a concert. No signs for the IndyCar race. The only billboard around town I’ve seen for a race is for a vintage race up at Road America next weekend. Watching the NASCAR race, the only ad I’ve seen for race tickets has been for next year’s Daytona 500. NBCSN has shown a couple ads for the IndyCar telecast, and the NASCAR commentators gave the race a shout out, but there’s been nothing for race tickets. How do IndyCar and Andretti expect to sell tickets if they don’t tell anybody there’s a race going on? It’s like they’re trying to keep the race a secret or something, with the date changes and complete lack of promotion.
RM: I know Guy and David Hobbs help promote the race at their Honda dealership but my friends from Milwaukee were under-whelmed with the pre-race promotion. I had one fan tell me he was downtown on Saturday night with 50,000 people for Bastille Day and there wasn’t a car, a poster or anything about the race. Between IndyCar, Verizon and Andretti they need to do a lot better at several tracks.
Q: It must not be a completely novel idea (because it was the first thing that flashed into my mind when I first read the title of Malsher/Wilson’s article) but I love the idea of moving the fans to the inside of the oval! The series and track owners should be highly motivated: It will only take one car launching into the stands some day in the not too distant future, and oval racing in the U.S. is gone, immediately, forever. Dozens will die, lawyers will get rich and tracks will be uninsurable. The real question is how to make it happen? If IndyCar or NASCAR had any forethought, they’d work with a single track (Charlotte for NASCAR, Indy makes the most sense for IndyCar but purists will likely balk, so maybe Fontana or Pocono) and invest in these changes.
Like Justin said, move the fans low and close, put ads on the high outside wall with huge LCD viewing screens above, lots of tunnels for easy fan entry/egress, turn up the boost, strip the downforce. Wow! I’d fly across the country for that! Not to mention, networks and title sponsors would be crawling over each other for the rights to something that novel. Cars may get airborne, but the laws of physics tell us they’ll slide and bounce like ping pong balls until they dissipate all their energy, rather than being torn apart by immovable catch fence posts. Competing tracks would then have to adapt to survive, and the situation evolves on its own like Darwin taught us. Just too bad Miles and company haven’t gone extinct.
Scott B., Gainesville, FL
RM: I told JWil at Milwaukee it was a good idea but it would need the kind of all-in support the SAFER walls got from IndyCar, NASCAR and the tracks. This would be a massively expensive project and a lot more extensive than SAFER walls but, to your point, maybe a collaborative effort at one oval to test things out. The situation is a ticking time bomb and has been for a long time.
Q: I was wondering if anyone ever considered a small series of races (3-5) down under during the early part of the year. There was a time when I was in my teens that a series of races for the F1 crowd took place during the off-season. It was called the Tasman series and was pretty popular. They could pump up the publicity back here about the series and the drivers and perhaps get people excited for the Indy cars again during the dead months here in the States. I would love to see Phoenix on the schedule in February – could have an excuse to go someplace warm for a few days and maybe take in one or more of the big car auctions that take place in February in the Phoenix area. Lastly, is there any place in Mexico that could host an early-season Indy Car race? The Mexican crowd was pretty big into Indy cars at one time.
RM: With Dixon, Power and Briscoe and the following CART had in Australia that would be the first place I’d look for “off-season” racing or to add to the regular schedule. And I’d also throw in New Zealand. Phoenix would have to go very early since it’s got NASCAR in early March and doesn’t want any interference in promoting it. Mexico City [ABOVE, in 2002. LAT photo] has an awesome road course – now heavily modified – that CART/Champ Car ran on and drew massive crowds but you need a popular Mexican driver to stage a race and we don’t have any. And with Formula 1 going back to Mexico this year, we need the dates to be a long way apart.
Q: Apparently Ryan Briscoe wants to get rid of the grass in the inside of oval tracks. This is an idea that, at first take, seemed like a great idea. My concern would be a car sliding out of control sliding back up into the racing line as there’s now nothing to arrest the speed of the car. Would a gravel trap be a solution to the problem caused by grass?
Ryan in West Michigan
RM: Briscoe was responding to Kyle Busch’s comment about Daytona and it’s got merit since it was Greg Moore’s accident at Fontana that prompted all the grass to be removed from the backstretch. I wouldn’t want to see an Indy car going 220 mph spin into a gravel trap because it seems like it would trip it up more violently than grass (remember Michael Andretti at Mid-Ohio?) so I imagine pavement is the best solution.
Q: I know that Simon Pagenaud is younger, but with Bourdais’ performance this year, I feel like perhaps The Captain chose the wrong Frenchman. Age shouldn’t be a factor since JPM is leading the championship in one of Penske’s cars.
RM: No doubt Seabass is having a much better season but Pagenaud has been quick just not when it counted at the end and his average finish is 10.8. But I think he’ll win Mid-Ohio or Sonoma and be a title contender by next year.
Q: So the Championship dinner is in San Francisco and it’s open to the public at $100 per head? That’s not too bad for dinner in the city by the Bay. So if I go do I get to mingle with the group or stand at the beer counter with you? Also, my wife has taken me to Battle Creek MI for her High School reunion (won’t say what year). We took a short detour from DTW and drove by Michigan Speedway as I’ve never seen it in person. They wouldn’t let me in to have a peek. When was the last time Indy cars ran there, and isn’t that where AJ had that real bad wreck into the Armco?
RM: Have fun Chuck but I’m flying home on the red eye after the race. The last IndyCar race was 2007 (won by Tony Kanaan) and A.J. damn near lost his right arm there in 1981 and that may have been the end of Armco on ovals.
Q: I’m 28 and can remember my dad taking me out of school in May and going to the racetrack to see the speed, and being absolutely enthralled with it. I don’t really think I need to go into detail about the appeal of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway with you or anyone reading this. I have a program from every Indy 500 I have been to, and every time I get that program, I go to the back and I look at all the winners with their cars. I don’t know why I do it but I have looked at that list 100s of times. I find myself every time being amazed at the evolution of the car. From 1911 until the mid ’80s, the cars changed drastically. Over the last 30 years car design obviously has run into a wall.
I understand the car wasn’t supposed to evolve over the last 20 some years. But my question is this. Do you believe that motorsports in general has reached the pinnacle of aerodynamics? And with that why does IndyCar mandate how much an aerodynamic force the field can run, isn’t this counterproductive to racing? I’m not complaining about anything, because there is a lot of negativity on the mailbag. I just want to understand the thinking.
RM: Those iconic cars still mean a lot to some of us because the Novi [ABOVE, In 1956 with Paul Russo. IMS photo], the Watson roadster, the Lotus, the Eagle and the Turbines were a big part of why we fell for Indy car racing. The drivers were the main focus but the cars were certainly a big part of the attraction too. I’m not smart enough to answer your aerodynamic question so here’s what Marshall Pruett had to say on the subjects:
“I wouldn’t say the pinnacle has been reached, but like the internal combustion engine, there aren’t many big discoveries waiting to be found. IndyCar sets ranges of downforce for teams to use on the ovals, and bases that minimum and maximum on whatever they feel will be safe and competitive. Draw your own conclusions if both targets have been hit from Indy to Texas to Fontana to Milwaukee.”
Q: I’m sorry but reading the letters from other race fans about poor attendance and of course Mark Miles and the Boston Consulting Group issues, etc. Well, week after week it’s wearing me down. And the sad fact is that the fan letters are for the most part right on. Robin, please for the love of God give me some good news about our sport. I need a fix of anything positive. Thanks and I will always be a fan of your straight talk.
Mark McKinley, Floyds Knobs, IN
RM: NBCSN had its largest audience of the season (500,000-plus) for the Milwaukee race, Justin Wilson is back in a car for the rest of 2015, Josef Newgarden and Graham Rahal are making Americans proud and Race Control didn’t make any bad calls last weekend.
Q: Last week the Arizona Republic had a weekly column by Jeff Gluck of USA Today. It stated it was a series of weekly NASCAR driver interviews. It ran four columns and about half a page with two large pictures of Daniel Suarez of Joe Gibbs Racing. My point is I thought Indy Car and USA Today had a contract/agreement to give coverage to IndyCar. Was I incorrect? If correct why the hell doesn’t IndyCar get a USA writer to do weekly interviews with Indy drivers? What better way to let old fans (me) and new ones learn about drivers, and not just an Andretti or Power? This would certainly make all the drivers more familiar to the fans which is certainly not the case now.
Peter in Phoenix
RM: Gannett, which owns Arizona Republic, USA TODAY and The Indianapolis Star among others, has sold Page 3 of its Friday editions to NASCAR the past few years and IndyCar finally bought into this piracy this year. There was an interview with Sage Karam last week by Chris Jenkins while Brant James and Jeff Olson have written several profiles, features and race stories about the Verizon IndyCar Series this year. It’s not the volume of NASCAR but it’s better than being shut out. Of course paying to be covered by “the nations’ newspaper” is a farce but that’s how Gannett plays the game.
Q: For all the talk we have about getting NASCAR drivers to race in the Indianapolis 500, how come we don’t hear about the possibility, or see, Indy car drivers race in the Daytona 500? Let’s face it, doing two races totalling 1,100 miles at tracks 575 miles apart the same Sunday in May is always going to be an obstacle in getting drivers. But the Daytona 500 is a month earlier than IndyCar. It’s a restrictor plate race that occasionally gets mediocrities such as Michael Waltrip, Ward Burton and Derrike Cope winning so an IndyCar driver inexperienced at stock cars probably has a chance. Most important, twice as many people watch the Daytona 500 as the Indy 500 (painful to admit but facts are facts). So why doesn’t the Boston Consulting Group recommend trying some drivers at a race people will watch and get good publicity?
Put IndyCar logos on the taxicabs and if NASCAR objects, launch a “what are you afraid of if your drivers are as great as you claim?” Or does IndyCar still think the Indy 500 makes the stars and they can run golf carts at the track and still sell 250,000 seats? Ralph Waldo Emerson* was wrong. The world doesn’t beat a path to your door if you build a better mousetrap. You have to sell your product.
Jim Overmeyer, Islip, NY
*Actually Emerson didn’t quite say that but you get the idea.
RM: It would be good, smart exposure if IndyCar simply paid for a two-man team and advertised the Verizon IndyCar Series and NBCSN on the car but it needs to be Newgarden, Andretti, Rahal [ABOVE, LAT photo] Karam or RHR. The key would be a test program to make sure the “outsiders” had a good shot at qualifying. I can tell you that Al Unser Jr. made NASCAR very nervous when he ran Daytona (he charged up to third or fourth before Earnhardt spun him out) but IndyCar could at least generate some news for a couple weeks. Providing, of course, the IndyCar team passed tech. Wink-wink.
Q: How sad is it that the NASCAR race at Daytona drew a 2.6 while not even starting until 11pm, on a Sunday night, at the end of a holiday weekend. IndyCar wants to talk about how things are “improving.” We aren’t even in the game when you compare it with Fontana’s rating for IndyCar. The hardest part is we all complain that we want better ratings so we need to be on network TV like NBC or ABC yet we also complain about the broadcasts on ABC. We can’t have it both ways.
RM: Obviously Andy you know it’s apples and oranges – network compared to cable – and the last two IndyCar races have been decent numbers for cable (with 500,000 watching Milwaukee and 900,000 watching the last hour of Fontana). Mark Miles did a good thing getting the Month of May on ABC and he’s trying to get ABC to let NBC air a couple network races in 2016. That would be HUGE. But, to your point, NASCAR still averages 4-6 million viewers most races and that’s pretty impressive. Just like a 2.6 after a four-hour rain delay in Daytona.
Q: Humberto here writing again and I promise I’ll keep it short, but first a question for you. I’m looking to rebuild my personal library of IndyCar history books and I’m curious about what you would suggest to start with? I’ve still got a full set of the old Autocourse CART yearbooks, but what are the books that every IndyCar fan has to own?
With that out of the way, I’ve grown increasingly frustrated with IndyCar brass, but I can’t stop evangelizing the damn series to anyone who will listen and in the vein of crazy ideas, why not take the ovals to the crowds? Since there’s an honest lack of truly flat ovals outside of the Milwaukee Mile and Gateway, why not have a couple of street races that use a 1-mile oval layout and the Indy aero package? I know it’ll remind older fans of the old Meadowlands race that started as a street circuit before it ended in failure as a street oval, but after reading Malsher’s story with Justin Wilson’s input on how to improve oval safety, I started thinking about the viability of such a layout as an interim alternative to the cookie cutter 1.5 mile ovals with too steep banking for Indy cars.
RM: You need Autocourse’s Official History of the Indianapolis 500 by Donald Davidson and Rick Shaffer, Black Noon by Art Gardner, Fearless by Gene Crucean, Vukovich and Hurtubise by Bob Gates, As A Matter of Fact I Am Parnelli Jones by Bones Bourcier and Second To One by Gordon Kirby.
There was an idea once to run Cleveland as an oval one day and road course the next day and I always liked that because Burke Lakefront Airport was perfect. They also ran a roval in Las Vegas at Caesars Palace in the parking lot that was damn good racing so your idea certainly has merit.
Q: Watched the old 1978 Milwaukee race on YouTube getting ready for last weekend. I ended up getting my son to cable upgrade so I could access online :) While perusing the old races I ran across the 1968 Riverside race. Man, you talk about crazy! Andretti and Bobby Unser fighting for the national championship. A near-fatal crash and the race just kept on going with a local yellow. Andretti jumping into two different cars, and the final race of the turbines ends in them crashing out each other. Man, I can’t remember if I watched that race or not, I would have been 13; but it sure was a doozy. Can you imagine any scenario in which the third place driver today would make the same kind of sacrifice that Ruby or Leonard did? I know the rules have changed, but that made for some intense TV in its day.
RM: It was a wild west show and that’s the year there were 28 races and it came down to Riverside. But all the car swapping was because it was Firestone and Mario vs. Goodyear and Uncle Bobby. Drivers were paid by tire companies so getting out of their cars was just business.
[ABOVE & LEFT, Dan Gurney, the 1968 Riverside winner. Photos courtesy of Steve Shunck.]
Q: Being the demand demographic that IndyCar desperately needs (24) I have to say I think the end is near for IndyCar. Honda (IndyCar’s most loyal ally) is questioning its involvement and demanding answers re. what Mark Miles and crew are doing. It’s clear the reason for BCG was to get a value of current assets and ride the 100th running of Indy 500. Then shut down the operation. At the moment the series prances around like its CART/NASCAR level and it’s not even close – it’s as big as SCCA World Challenge.
So here is what I would propose for post-IMS/Hulman series. The Indy 500 should use the same rulebook and classes like Pikes Peak International Hill climb. Why? Because it returns Indy back to original roots – build the best mousetrap. This way it will make Pole Day relevant and then top 33 of each class will then race in its own class at Indy 500 over a three-day weekend. The rest of the series should be given to Andretti and remaining owners and have SCCA sanction and have a rule package that has a cost cap and uses GT3/production-based motors. And become a base sprint series. And then work on TV deal and marketing department. That’s my fantasy though. Most likely scenario is IndyCar will fold after 2016 and remaining teams will defect to GRC, TUDOR, PWC or even NASCAR. And the only open -wheel series will be F1 that will race once a year in America.
Kevin from NJ
RM: I think everyone who cares about IndyCar is concerned about post-2016 and for good reason. Honda obviously is the most valuable domino and the future could hinge on its decision. Not sure Pole Day will ever be relevant again but big money and a more open rules package could change that some day.
Q: It’s time for Hulman and Company to sell it all to the France family – for everyone’s sake. I can hardly believe those words are coming from my fingertips. But clearly, no one at 16th and Georgetown has 1/100th the business acuity or selfless passion for the sport like the great Tony Hulman. Mr. Hulman built an empire but his children and grandchildren have squandered it. So please, for Tony’s sake, sell it all to the France family and allow them to return this great form of motorsport to its rightful place in the American racing landscape.
Now before everyone starts screaming blasphemy, here’s my brief story: 50 years old, lifelong IndyCar fan. Like so many in my generation, that day when talk of Tony George forming a new series came, I thought it was the worst idea I’d ever heard. Twenty years later, and no one can deny his actions set in motion a chain of events that has decimated the sport his grandfather resurrected. At the time, I sided with the teams and drivers I had spent a 30-year lifetime cheering for. But I also retained tickets to the 500 – if for no other reason than to the guard the great race against the stupidity of its caretakers. So I literally watched the decline of the Month of May with my own eyes. Right down to the gimmicks the current bean-counters have formulated to try to keep its pulse going.
But 2014 was the end for me. My six tickets were not renewed for this year’s race. I cannot justify my money going towards such incompetence. Come Time Trials, I knew I had made the right decision. That was the worst debacle I’d ever seen at Indy (and you and I both know brother, there’s been more debacles in IndyCar than we can recall). Come race day, I sat in front of my TV and watched the Indianapolis 500 for the first time in many decades. And I was OK with that decision. I enjoyed the race. Plus my bank account was thousands of dollars richer.
I’ve given the Hulman-George family 20 years to carry out whatever they had in mind back in 1996. TWENTY YEARS. Back then, they had nothing but spite for CART’s rapidly growing success. And today, 20 years later, they still have nothing positive capable of driving the sport forward (except the legacy of the 2.5-mile oval Tony Hulman crafted into a cash cow). I’m done with them.
E. Alexander, North Carolina
RM: No doubt Hulman and Co. and the Hulman-George family were joined at the hip for decades and Mari, her four kids and Jack Snyder controlled everything. Not anymore. The Hulman-George family isn’t responsible for ticket increases, concession gouging, parking fees and all the piracy that goes on in the suites. That’s Hulman and Co. and IMS. I’ve heard from a lot of loyal fans like yourself that next May is it for them – when the checkered flag falls they’re done buying tickets or suites – or both. And I don’t think selling to ISC or the Frances is a good idea. Ask sprint cars and motorcycles how it worked out or sports cars. ISC’s element is stock cars. IndyCar needs help, just not from the France family.
Q: I read on another site that back in 1986 in CART’s heyday that Ferrari had a car all put together and ready to race and then changed their mind. Is this true and if so what happened? That would have been interesting.
RM: Yes sir, there was a Ferrari Indy car designed, built and tested – but never raced and many figured it was just a ploy by Enzo Ferrari to get his way with Formula 1. Ferrari was mad at F1’s engine regulations so he commissioned an Indy car. Ferrari talked to Goodyear about a CART program and it suggested Truesports. Bobby Rahal gave a demonstration run in his ’85 March at Fiorano along with Michele Alboreto (who would ironically end up in the IRL one day) and Gustav Brunner – who would designed the ’87-’88 Ferrari F1 cars – first penned the Ferrari Indy car, which was unveiled to the media in ’86. Alboreto tested it but never raced it and it was handed down to the Alfa-Romeo boys who came to Indy in 1990 (with disastrous results).
[ABOVE, photo from MotorsportRetro.com]
Q: From my viewpoint, IndyCar has a couple of major problems. First, promotion is little to none. For instance, Honda advertises their involvement with the series by way of commercials, namely the one where it shows a driver coming up through the ranks, all the way to IndyCar. Good stuff!! I haven’t yet seen anything from GM advertising their involvement on TV. Any other commercials are close to non-existent. How can someone know about a series that doesn’t advertise and promote itself? If you look at Formula E, you’d think that series has been around a while…and that was before they had their first event!
Second, the open-wheel development system in this country is broken. I know that the Indy Lights management is doing everything they can to make the series relevant, but at the same time, we have a series with only a handful of cars, driven by people that nobody knows about! I hate to invoke the N word, but NASCAR and NHRA promotes the hell out of their teams and drivers at all levels! You can go to the local sprint car race, and you have a bunch of cars, awesome racing and decent crowds. Why in God’s name won’t any of these Indy Lights teams give these drivers the time of day? I’m sure there are a good number of those guys (and gals) who would love to have a shot in the series, and many would probably want to learn road racing, and excel at it. It’s great we have guys like Clauson giving Indy a shot, but I think we need to have more of that at places other than the Indy 500.
It’s stunningly obvious that there is a major management failure on the part of IndyCar on several fronts. Some ideas on how to fix? Here are a few that I can think of. 1) Get more American talent into these cars (ie IndyCar and Indy Lights), time now. We need more like Andretti, Rahal, Daly, Hunter-Reay and Clauson in these cars. 2) Promote the hell out of the series and its drivers at all levels, even down to the SCCA types and Sprint/Midget guys. 3) Event Continuity and Identity are a must. Develop a consistent and sustainable schedule with venues. Long Beach and Toronto should not be the only recognizable events outside Indy. 4) Open the rules up a bit to get more constructors and manufacturers involved; the series has got to have some smart technical people on its staff to develop a formula that can keep a tech/spending war at bay, but keep creativity going. If they don’t, maybe they need to ask how IMSA does it. 5) Find someone who knows the sport and has a passion for it to run the thing. I get that Mark Miles inherited the series and its problems, but guess what, he owns them now. 6) Let’s let the idea of a breakaway series be the absolute last resort; I still think there is hope for the series.
In addition, perhaps the series would be smart and do a broad fan survey, like what F1 has done in the past. And one last thing. Some mailbag contributors have called for LMP-1 cars to replace IndyCars in the 500. That is by far the dumbest thing I have ever heard of. The Indy 500 is an open-wheel race, period. And oh yeah, $30,000 to win a race? Seriously?? Just saying!
Brian, Clarksville, TN
(A frustrated SCCA designer, constructor and driver who can lay down more than four good ones any time.)
RM: It is disappointing that GM doesn’t do any national commercials to promote IndyCar drivers but that’s even more reason for IndyCar to do it themselves. Like I said in response to an earlier letter, the Fontana race highlights should have been a 30-60-second spot on prime time shouting out not to miss Milwaukee, Iowa and Pocono. Indy Lights owners mostly need funded drivers and good sprint car drivers get paid so unless another Randy Bernard comes along to get the USAC champ into the Indy 500, it’s not going to happen. There’s no place for continuity in the schedule (just seeing if you’re paying attention this late into the Mailbag). No new series, please. And the purses are as pathetic as some of the crowds.
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