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, Robin will pass these on to Marshall Pruett and he will also answer here.
Q: So let me get this straight. After a fantastic run of three races, including Fontanagate, a solid crowd at the doomed Milwaukee Mile (I was there last year and this year) and an All-American Saturday night shootout in Iowa, we now have… martial law. It appears IndyCar is erecting the labor camps for dissidents with this one, Robin. This just furthers the undeniable fact that Mark Miles and IndyCar management haven’t even the slightest clue about what drives ratings. There have been more articles about IndyCar the past month than there were about the 500. Controversy drives ratings and IndyCar doesn’t even have to manufacture it (like some American motorsports). Yet now silence is golden. “Nothing to see here folks” is the new norm with rule 9.3.8. a rule that in itself is unconstitutional.
If I had the dough I’d take Miles to court myself. Sad to see them trying to kill the brief glimmer of hope that has been these ratings the past three races.
My question Robin is this; is Mark Miles feeling the heat behind the scenes? Are the rebels at the palace gates? Because with this rule 9.3.8 it sure seems like it.
RM: There is no heat to speak of since Miles is insulated with friends on the board and in the office (and Hulman & Company is bringing in more money with all the events). This was more of a rebuttal to Team Penske’s complaints about Fontana, although those seemed more like a team having a bad day than anything truly detrimental to the series. And, judging by the fans’ reactions, Tim Cindric and Will Power were in the minority of the people that watched.
Q: Is IndyCar trying to fail? The race at Iowa this weekend had many examples of what IndyCar is doing right. They held a relatively exciting race on an oval, in the heartland, in front of a decent crowd, with improving TV ratings, where Americans swept the top four positions, and they even had some drama from some competitors after the race. However, IndyCar didn’t like the drama, and changed the rules to discourage such behavior in the future. Are they crazy? In order to get and keep an audience they need to showcase the personalities of the competitors, allow them to develop into characters that people can relate to, and further develop those characters into storylines.
I’m thinking back to the opening sequence for ABC’s Wide World of Sports when Jim McKay would speak of, “…the human drama of athletic competition.” Anyone who remembers their high school literature class knows that without conflict, you have no story. They don’t need to go as far as professional wrestling, but they do need some storylines. Then again, what do I know? I’m just a dumb Hoosier who was born in Anderson and flunked out of Ball State.
Andy Gaunt , Fort Wayne, IN
RM: A few hours after issuing the 9.3.8 bulletin to the teams (which Marshall Pruett obtained and then thankfully put on RACER.com), Miles was inundated with complaints and questions from drivers to teams to fans to the media so he immediately issued a clarification that it wasn’t a gag order and had nothing to do with Ed Carpenter and Sage Karam. Racing is fueled by emotion and conflict and questioning officials’ calls to drivers threatening each other to throwing a computer when your car runs out of fuel is part of the entertainment. McEnroe and Connors were great tennis players who made great theater with their tantrums and Miles knows this.
Q: Detrimental Competitor Conduct? Miles is a joke. Everything he has done has been detrimental to the IndyCar series from the abbreviated season to bringing back TGBB. Listening to the Bull***t Consulting Group and refusal to hear anything everyone that loves the sport has to say has marked his time at the helm so mismanaged that we might long for the guidance of Paul Gentilozzi. At least he loves racing. Now he is trying to outlaw griping and complaining in a sport that is extremely emotionally charged, it proves just how clueless he is.
I think that this was in the works after Fontana and the Carpenter/Karam fracas was just enough of a distraction of focus for BBMM and crew to throw in Rule 9.3.8. I can’t wait for the first person to fall victim of this gag order. I realize that rules need to be “tweaked” as the season goes on, but this is the most blatant act of making it up as you go that they have done this season. This wasn’t even a knee-jerk reaction like they had when the cars were getting airborne at Indy. This was crafted with careful forethought and criticism elimination as the final goal.
Does anyone in the Hulman-George clan care about the series? Maybe Tony could give some of those bean counters some insight. I just wish I could channel my inner Dennis Miller to go on a really inspirational rant. At least your job at RACER is safe. Is the broadcast job on the line?
Enough of that. I am looking forward to Mid-Ohio to see just how far Honda has come with the aero kit and seeing if Graham has what it takes for the championship. I’m rooting for him.
Dino from New Hanover, Pa.
RM: I think Miles’ edict came out a lot more heavy-handed than he intended (or at least that’s how it was interpreted because of the legalese way it was written) because he said in the driver’s meeting he didn’t appreciate anyone badmouthing the series. Well, hell, just like in baseball, basketball or football, you criticize an official or a league decision to the media and you are probably going to get fined. Will didn’t think about that when he gave TGBB the double bird at Loudon and we would have gladly chipped in to pay his fine except Randy Bernard realized it was fabulous publicity so he fined Power $30,000 and then made him do a couple of IndyCar appearances rather than actually make him pay. I didn’t agree with Power or JPM at Fontana but it’s their opinion and their right to speak about their profession because they’re the ones hanging their asses out. And their comments, along with A.J.’s and Carpenter’s kept IndyCar in the headlines for a week.
Q: I just read Mark Miles latest brain fart regarding competitor conduct. This guy needs to be run out of Indy on a rail…after a good tar and feathering. “Diminishes the public confidence in the sport”? That’s exactly what management is doing all on its own. Next you could mandate nerf bars so nobody gets hurt? Then we could award trophies for every position. Maybe eliminate the championship points system since it’s not really fair to reward the highest finishers with the most points. Put some chalk dust down near the apron so we’ll know when the tires are out of bounds. Tell Mark to try these offending comments on for size, “You need to take your fuzzy balls back to Wimbledon and get as far away from (what used to be) a man’s sport as possible.” Somebody call A.J. to slap this fool before we’re down to one race a year.
Napalm Nick, Locust Grove, VA
RM: Bobby Unser called me after Miles’ bulletin became public and, as you can imagine, was plenty riled up and wishing he still had his ABC gig so he could vent. But I think we all know that A.J., Uncle Bobby, Mario, Dan Gurney and Herk became even more popular because they always said what was on their mind. No filters, no PR speak, no political correctness and nobody really trying to censor them. When Foyt ripped off his Citicorp patch and threw it down before Pocono one year, the CEO nearly fainted until he saw all the ink he got from it in the Philly newspapers and television stations. I get that Miles doesn’t want competitors trashing officials or the schedule, but I truly don’t think he wants to mute his driver’s personalities.
Q: Goodbye, old friend. After many years of following IndyCar and the mailbag I’m afraid I have to sign off. Mark Miles “gag order” is the final straw for me. I salute you for all you have done to try to save open-wheel racing, and I hope that you, even without some of us, will continue. From the time of Bobby Grim and the old Bardahl Deuce I have been an almost fanatical racing fan, and sometimes participant. But now, as bad as it is and as much as it hurts me, I’m afraid Bernie’s series, and maybe even NASCAR, are all that’s left.
RM: No Paul, please don’t give up yet. Miles rescinded that gag order after re-reading the First Amendment. And IndyCar, despite all its warts, is still REAL racing so hang in there.
Q: Yes, some of the things competitors and owners have said are bad for the series. However, the statement by Mark Miles was tone deaf at the least, and likely will shorten his tenure as the head of IndyCar. You simply can’t follow a season that has had a ridiculously short season (shorter than even he planned) that has been filled with absolutely bizarre actions in your officiating team by muzzling the fine men and women that literally risk their lives each and every race. To top it off, I’m not even sure Miles even attends the races. The quickest way for Miles not to get insulted by fans, owners, drivers, and the random dog or cat that passes by is to stop doing stupid things. Until then, no decree will silence them, or us. IndyCar has the best racing product on the planet. The driving field is deep. Engineers around the world love what is going on here. So it is time for the IndyCar “leadership” to take advantage of that while there are still fans left.
Jeremy from Harrisburg (living in Indiana)
RM: It never looks good when your defending champion says the racing is insane and somebody is going to die but I have no problem with Will Power saying that because he’s in the line of fire. He’s entitled to his opinion and it didn’t demean IndyCar, it got them more press because of his stature. Miles ain’t going anywhere, trust me.
Q: You know better than anyone, the press baits drivers, team owners, anyone who can evoke a lively remark in the heat of the moment. The people who need to be smacked with big fines are not the drivers, the team owners, etc. rather the news reporters who poke their mics and cameras where common sense would say, “That is not a real story and we do not need to go there.” It does no one any good to report on this type crap. Stick to racing and let ambulance chasers spook out the scandal sheet crap.
I hate to see reporters catch a driver after some hair-raising incident of any type and expect a ridiculous lively reply. It is like asking the driver, and expecting a sane answer, “What did it feel like when you were killed”? Rise above the gutter nonsense and stop poking drivers and owners with sore points of the past. That is stupid.
Thomas Grimes, Waco, TX
RM: I’ve seen East Coast media prod football players after a close loss but I disagree about auto racing coverage. I think most of the people that cover motorsports understand it’s not a ball or a strike or a missed FG – it’s a dangerous profession that requires sensitivity in certain situations. It’s our job to ask a driver what happened in a crash or maybe what they thought of the racing, but I don’t see reporters baiting drivers to give sensational answers. Maybe sometimes we don’t give them enough time to cool off but that’s part of live television nowadays.
Q: I’m done complaining about the horrible management of the IndyCar series while remaining a four-decade-long active fan. I’m done attending IndyCar races and I’m done watching them. IndyCar King and ruler Mark Miles must be immune from criticism. Indeed, why should a former tennis marketing weasel have to hear any feedback from actual drivers who have to run 215mph inches apart in packs? Miles has now clearly confirmed what Dario tweeted, that the drivers have to air their concerns in public because they are not listened to in private. It’s also clear that Miles is fundamentally incapable of hearing what Will Power and Tony Kanaan actually said. The Hulman family has spent a lot of years and hundreds of millions of dollars trying to destroy what was once a great racing series. They can continue their destruction without this fan.
Dale Murray, Mount Joy, PA
RM: If you don’t understand racing it’s pretty hard to accept criticism about rules, schedules, tracks, etc. But Fontana wasn’t as hot as drivers expected so the added downforce helped the tires live and the cars run in a knot (but not a pack). Depending on your perspective it was a great race or a scary race or a crazy race – or all three. But it’s not Miles’ job to worry about the racing or the downforce package – that’s Derrick Walker’s job.
Q: Why do you think Miles issued this rule? How long before the series pulls your hardcard?
David, Waxhaw, NC
RM: He issued the bulletin because he didn’t like the comments from Team Penske but he backed off considerably after the flak it created. I was told I would not be allowed to attend any more IndyCar races this year after Sept. 1.
Q: Just read with astonishment the new rule PROHIBITING anyone from the teams or media from criticizing the series. We all have seen IndyCar make absolutely stupid decisions, but this one may be the worst so far. Since they have forgotten that “Freedom of Speech” is in our U.S. constitution, maybe they can adopt the policies of North Korea. Mark Miles will now be called “Our Great leader.” And anyone criticizing the officials, rules, or series, will be shot in the winner’s circle immediately after the race.
RM: I got a text message from Mikhail Aleshin and he wondered if the Iron Curtain had been moved.
Q: Real Leaders are active, not reactive. Real leaders shape ideas they don’t just respond to them. Real leaders listen more objectively to criticism and other points of view and learn from them. Real leader fix problems, they don’t deflect or make excuses. Real leaders don’t stifle critics or peers or stakeholders because their ego is having its feathers ruffled.
Clearly, IndyCar has no leadership. They have managers. Poor managers, poor well paid managers, who don’t listen or do what’s required for the betterment of the series, it’s stakeholders, fans, media or image. If they did, there wouldn’t be so much grousing about their inept conduct to even concern themselves about, as if they can spare the time. Clearly, spending time to come up with guidelines to threaten misconduct in their eyes was time poorly spent and just reflects poorly on how badly they must be doing their jobs. Instead, I’d think they’d be concerned with next year’s schedule, television coverage, running the 100th Indy, growing sponsor value, and other more meaningful things. But, I guess they only have the ability and time to make up more rules about how others should conduct themselves instead. It’s just more proof of how far down the drain the whole mess is.
RM: Throughout its history, AAA, USAC, CART, IRL, Champ Car & IndyCar, open wheel racing has never had a Bill France or a Bernie – a racer with leadership and marketing prowess who’s got skin in the game and racing in his blood. Until that person surfaces, it will flounder.
Q: Please explain how Mark Miles has not been busted for his mindless new gag? It’s so vaguely worded they can throw it out whenever they like, kind of what NASCAR does with its equally brainless “Actions Detrimental to Stock Car Racing” rule. It’s fun to see the personalities of the drivers come out. It allows us, the fans, to say things like; “Yeah, I agree, that was a crap penalty.” or “Yeah, (s)he’s got a point, but they’re still bitching a bit too much.” or “Someone fetch the crying towel!”. I want to hear drivers’ opinions after the race, even if I want to flip off my TV afterwards. I want to hear Sage Karam tell Ed Carpenter to go pound sand on TV. I want to hear Ed Carpenter bitching. Because I love that neither CART or the IRL censored its drivers… I loved hearing drivers mouthing off. From Gil de Ferran saying Zanardi should be disqualified after Road America, 1996, Buddy Lazier being furious at Tony Stewart in the first New Hampshire IRL race, the ridiculous fiasco of Detroit 2001, Bourdais calling the officials out on live TV and over the PA at Mont-Tremblant for not issuing a blocking penalty, anything Paul Tracy did ever, Robby Gordon kicking the Ford emblem on a truck (I think) out of frustration at Ford’s crappy season, Michael Andretti (paraphrasing) saying he was glad the Michigan 500 was gone, the FIASCO of 1993, Detroit..All of those incidents got fans engaged with their TV, if nothing else.
C.W., Chicago, IL
Hoping that I don’t run afoul of Rule 9.3.8
RM: As I said earlier, I don’t think Miles initially realized how heavy handed his edict sounded but it certainly softened with his response a few hours later. But it was intended to stifle criticism of IndyCar, not mute the drivers from verbal combat. Your recollections show just how memorable free speech has been through the years.
Q: Well, can you afford to get fired from RACER and NBC Sports? Looks like MM is showing true lack of vertebrae by trying to get tough on free speech. Maybe you should tell him to wrap that sweater around his neck a little tighter than usual and maybe some of the problems would go away. Times are bad when Robin Miller says TG would run a better ship, times are even worse when you are probably right.
Tom in Waco
RM: No pink slips yet but my video rant on RACER about the schedule got full backing from my bosses and NBCSN hides my soap box so I think I’m safe for at least three more races.
Q: After watching Iowa as well as all of the races this year, I have to say, Sage Karam [ABOVE] is going to be huge! I watched him dice it up with the veterans and I see no fear at all! He reminds me of P.T… I remember watching Detriot 1992 with P.T.’s former kart mechanic, and when Paul put a pass on Michael I turned to him and said“everyone is going to know who Paul Tracy is now!” I think we’re witnessing history in the making!
Oh yeah, take the wings off and give them 1000hp for the ovals, now that’s a show!!
RM: Sage reminds me a lot of P.T. and that’s a good thing because we need young Americans who have talent and character and BALLS. Dario doesn’t throw around compliments but he’s liked Karam since they started testing him so that’s a pretty good endorsement.
Q: I thought Iowa was great but what people don’t see on TV is that Ed Carpenter is older (34) and more conservative. He has a college degree, a future business and lots to lose. He has a wife and children standing in the pits and a huge non-racing career ahead of him (beautiful family). Sage Karam is a young 20-year-old man with no wife, kids or future business. So he has a “Win or Crash” mentality. He can only make a living by winning races. He feels invincible in the racecar. So his mentality is “GO FOR IT”. If they get in your way “RUN OVER THEM”. He is a young Paul Tracy.
If Ed Carpenter is not willing to take the risk he should drive sports cars, not open-wheel race cars, inches apart, full throttle at 187mph. When you are young you are invincible. When you are older you are more conservative and not willing to take risks. Sage might be an a-hole, I don’t know him personally, but he drives like I would have when I was 20.
My question is: what should I do after August 30th? No more Indy car racing for 216 days?
Kit Carson, Omaha, NE
RM: As a rookie at Indianapolis, single and 24-year-old Juan Montoya said he would drive a lot deeper into the corners than those married guys with families. Sage is loaded with testosterone and takes a lot of chances but that’s what 20-year-olds have always done. Thankfully racing is much safer and the cars more forgiving so the learning curve isn’t as brutal but rookies don’t get nearly enough practice time like Parnelli and Mario back in the day either. But I truly don’t think Ed drives any less aggressive because he’s got three cute kids and a pretty wife. I think he’s more measured than 10 years ago but he’ll still go for an opening if it’s there.
Q: It’s said that when you point a finger (middle or otherwise); there’s three fingers pointing back (middle or otherwise). Carpenter’s after-race rant at Karam about needing to grow up and being dangerous was unbelievable.
Help me out here. Last week Carpenter’s teammate is leading the race and he held Newgarden up because he didn’t want to go a lap down. This is a team that can use every point it can get (Carpenter has said as much). And Karam needs to grow up? Two weeks earlier, Carpenter took Newgarden out at Fontana. “Could have happened to anybody.” It didn’t happen to “anybody”, and Karam is dangerous? Please! The hypocrisy runneth over.
With that said, it’s a good thing Carpenter took the occasion to step on his tool when he did, because the IndyCar Censorship Police have now arrived on the scene. I’ve seen organizations shoot themselves in the tail, but these IndyCar guys are using a machine gun – apparently with the Boston Contrivance Group supplying the ammunition.
John, Sacramento CA
RM: Because he grew up in midgets and sprints, Ed knows what happens when open-wheel cars interlock wheels so I think that was his main concern with Karam. Graham Rahal was also upset with Sage but somebody seems mad after every oval. Having said that, we’ve been watching guys chop and cut each other for 15 years on ovals and it’s kinda become a way of life.
Q: I attended my first IndyCar race at Iowa Speedway two weeks ago. Our plane got in late, so we hurried to the track in our rental car. Parking was easy and they had a good number of workers directing us, which worked well. As we were hurrying to the track from the car the fly over was happening. We began to run, at which time a track worker on a golf cart stopped to offer my wife, 8-month old daughter and myself a ride to the gate. That generosity from the worker guaranteed that we wouldn’t miss the start.
To make a long story short, we took our seats between the start/finish line and Turn 1 as the green flag came out. The action, sights and sounds were incredible. Now my question. After the race I wanted to buy a T-shirt and car for my little boy back home. The vendor directly behind the grandstands had these awesome T-shirts. The shirts had a picture of a Indy 500-winning car and the year it won above it. Example, a shirt of Mario’s Brawner Hawk with 1969 above it. Another with a Maserati or Alfa that reads 1940. I figured the shirts would be available online and didn’t bother to buy one. When I got home, I began searching and haven’t found anything. Since the shirts are so cool I figure that you have one or know were to buy one. Any info you have would be greatly appreciated.
Clint, Twin Falls, ID
RM: First off, hell of a job to fly to Iowa with your baby; that’s being a fan. And the people in Iowa, fans and workers alike, are the nicest, friendliest folks on the circuit. As for your T-shirts, they are drawn by one of my best friends, Bob Grim Jr., a former race driver whose father was an Indy 500 veteran and ace sprint shoe. He’s got great shirts on A.J., Al Unser, Johnny Rutherford, Mario and Parnelli plus the vintage cars you saw in Iowa. Go to IndyScreenPrint.com and start browsing.
Q: Iowa was a great deal of fun! Not just the race but the entire evening with NBC Sports (what a crew!). I loved the qualifying show (with added features) and loved the race afterwards. It was a great way to spend a Saturday evening.
I would just LOVE if IndyCar spent the summer following this format from after Indy until mid-August. Milwaukee, Texas, Phoenix, Iowa, Richmond, Pocono right in a row. Do you think street races could be run at night? If IndyCar wants to find a niche, maybe “Saturday night at the races” could fit the bill, something IndyCar could call its own. It cuts down on expenses and even some of the ladder series could race on Friday evenings to entertain race fans. Keep up the good work and let us keep hoping for Cleveland and Road America.
RM: Certainly food for thought, especially the month after Indianapolis, but you need lights at Milwaukee and Pocono, and Detroit isn’t giving up its date after Indy so the best might be a July or August of all Saturday night ovals. As far as street courses at night, it’s an interesting concept but not sure it’s logistically possible, although the airport course at Cleveland worked well as a night race (ABOVE). Good ideas: you want a job in IndyCar?
Q: The last IndyCar race I went to was the old CART street course in Denver when I was a kid, so it has been a very long time since seeing a race in person. I’ve now realize that I’ve been missing a lot. Watching the races on TV is nothing like seeing them in person.
Both the Pro Mazda race and the Indy Lights race were fun to watch at Iowa. The fun part of those series was that during the autograph sessions, the drivers actually asked what your name was to personalize what they were signing. The IndyCar race was a blast to watch as well. It would have been nicer to see the drivers be a little more personable, but it is understandable all things considered.
As for the new “competitor conduct” rule, it’s about the dumbest thing ever. No matter how they spin it, all they’re going to do is just fine people who say things they don’t like no matter what they actually say. Which will just result in really weird and bad interviews. And now, I need to start figuring out how to get to more races next year.
RM: Welcome back. Both support races at Iowa were a preview of the main event and it was about as entertaining a day as any fan can want – especially compared to hours of inactivity like a certain stock car race last weekend.
Q: Over the moon over the result at Iowa (big RHR fan and patriotic in general). Interesting to see the conflict between Karam and Carpenter, considering each had a point. Getting to my question: with the endgame now coming into play, Graham Rahal says he thinks he can win the championship. Putting aside the obvious skew of double points at Sonoma, and seeking to exploit your boundless knowledge and understanding of this sport, I have to ask: what are his odds? I say they’re long but not impossible. Mr. Rahal himself thinks of the two road courses as his strong points, but in all honesty, wouldn’t you be willing to suggest he may just be being modest with regards to Pocono?
Speaking of which: in light of his recent strong runs on the ovals, do you think Sage Karam might be able to at least bring a few more people to Long Pond in August? And do you think Marco might actually break through there?
Garrett from San Diego
RM: Considering Chevrolet’s season-long dominance in qualifying and only the narrow spaces of Mid-Ohio and Sonoma left, I think it’s 50-1 that Graham can overtake JPM. And Pocono should be his strong suit. But it’s still one small Honda team against all that GM muscle and as well as Rahal and RLL have performed in 2015, it’s still a long shot. But, if he pulls it off, there will be a massive Suicide Watch in Detroit. Karam will bring 1,500 extra fans to Pocono and Marco always runs well there.
Q: I find it interesting that everyone is talking about how Honda is catching Chevy, but it seems this resurgence has come in concert with a downforce increase for both manufacturers on ovals. This is all also coming about as the series is negotiating a new deal with Honda…fascinating. I also see that drivers who were struggling with less downforce (Carpenter, Andretti, etc.) where you had to actually “drive” the car now seem to be competing in these spec cars. When are we going to return to real racing where you put your best out there, lay it all out and the winners win?
Brad Edmondson, Muncie, IN
RM: I think you are spot on – the oval’s downforce package bridged the gap we saw on street and road courses but the cars still had to be driven at 10/10ths at Fontana, Milwaukee and Iowa. Not sure we’ve had three better ovals back-to-back-to-back and Rahal, Seabass, RHR and Newgarden all qualify as winners in my book.
Q: You mentioned last Mailbag that the only person you could see buying IMS is John Menard, which I take as not an actual rumor, just an interesting possibility. My question is narrower. I know that Menard gradually removed himself from Indy after Paul began advancing through NASCAR, ending with his sponsorship of Vision/Carpenter. With the 100th running next year, is there any indication that he could come back for a one-off as either an owner or, more likely, as a sponsor? He still loves IMS, as you noted, and Paul’s Brickyard win was certainly a triumph for him, but I find it hard to believe that he would let the 100th running pass by without any presence. His cars have a place in 500 history and I hope that he comes back for another attempt. Getting Robby Gordon to come back and drive a car for him would be the dream, but a third car with someone like Hildebrand for CFH seems entirely reasonable.
Matt Rekart, Kirkwood, MO
RM: I called John yesterday to inquire about buying IMS, being the title sponsor for the 100th Indianapolis 500 or returning as a car owner and here’s his response: “If they allow the V6 Buick, I’ll be back next year with two cars.” He expects to be inundated with sponsor requests for next May but doesn’t have any plans to do anything just yet. But he won’t be the title sponsor and it didn’t sound like buying IMS was in his plans.
Q: No need to worry about NASCAR buying IMS, they’re way too smart to buy a loser. The attendance at IMS this past weekend was shocking. Hardly anyone there for the Xfinity race and the once famed Brickyard 400 was even more shocking, to say the least. So it’s a “one trick pony” for the track now, the Indy 500.
So the racing highlights this past week were the trucks at Eldora (great fun) and the Hungarian F1 race [ABOVE], and it was pretty damn exciting watching it play out. So as we slide into the final throws of IndyCar 2015 can there be a reason for it to exist after the 100th anniversary of the 500 next May? As I continue with my ongoing diatribe about racing, IndyCar top on the list, there is little or no interest in racing as we once knew it. The population is larger than it’s ever been. The numbers of young people are at record highs. They just don’t give a damn about racing and there is no traction to racing. We were once called “Motorheads” and were attracted to the racecars and drivers. Today it appears that possible new fans are more content with “selfies” and letting the world know what they had for dinner last night on social media.
So with three races left, no promotion and ending it before the Evil NFL kicks off, will there be anyone watching or caring about next year? I am a fan of JPM but it would be great to see Rahal steal the show for the championship. Maybe just maybe it would get a line in the local press.
And finally, loved the piece on Rich Vogler. I can’t help but feel sad every time I hear his name. He was magic and it seemed too unbelievable that he died with all his accomplishments. He’s just the example of what kept us Motorheads glued to racing back then. My personal preference back then before winged sprints became the thing were just sprints, no wings. They were always the most fun to watch and I felt very privileged to watch Rapid Rich at Ascot.
RM: I guess I look at it a couple ways. There weren’t 40,000 people at the Brickyard and the Indy 500 has long since been restored as the only race anyone cares about at 16th & almost Georgetown. Yet IMS made good money because it gets somewhere in the neighborhood of $10 million from NASCAR’s television package so other than looking like a glorified tire test, it’s still a winner for Hulman & Company. But I fear you are right that all forms of racing are in trouble (except maybe Supercross) and there just isn’t much interest among the younger generations. Vogler was always worth the price of admission and one hell of a racer.
Q: Isn’t it amazing that Smoke can get three times as many people to come see a race on a half-mile dirt track in the middle of nowhere in Ohio on a Wednesday night than IndyCar can get to see a 500-mile race in Southern California?
RM: It’s equally amazing and depressing that with only one “bonafide” NASCAR star (Keselowski) on a skating rink with no cushion in tow vehicles going 11 seconds a lap slower than sprint cars can draw more people than every IndyCar oval except Indy and maybe Iowa.
Q: With another off week these two weeks between Iowa and Mid-Ohio, it has gotten me thinking about 2016. Are they getting closer to having a finalized schedule or are we looking at having to wait until January again for a schedule to be released? Can you share what races might be confirmed for 2016, and what races are likely vs. unlikely? Does the schedule look like it is only going to consist of two ovals with Indy and Iowa next year?
Back in the Wind Tunnel with Dave Despain days, Mario Andretti said something that made a lot of sense in regards to the IndyCar schedule. He said, IndyCar should stop going to places that NASCAR already has a lock on and touch markets that do not have a NASCAR race. Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, and Washington are four states with no NASCAR race. Why does IndyCar not look at touching these four markets?
RM: I think IndyCar would love to unveil the 2016 schedule in the season finale at Sonoma but not sure that’s realistic.
I think jury is out on Pocono until we see what happens next month and Milwaukee is iffy and Fontana is in only if it’s the last race in September or October. I still think Richmond and Phoenix are in the conversation and Road America is looking good. Champ Car tried Denver twice and IRL raced at Colorado Springs but they all got lukewarm receptions. USAC raced at Kent, Wash. in the late ‘60s and CART ran Portland for years with great success until losing GI Joe’s and the Rose Festival connection. But a Northwest race still makes sense if the promoter can get some help.
Q: Realistically, how are we looking for 2016? Can we expect a mid-Feb thru mid-Sept schedule or do you expect no more than six months at best next season? What are the prospects for the following schedule?
Feb. 13 Phoenix (Sat night), Feb. 28 NOLA, March 20 St. Pete, April 3 Barber, Apr 17 Long Beach, April 24 Sonoma, May 14 Indy GP, May 29 Indy 500, June 4/5 Detroit x 2, June 11 Texas, June 26 Road America, July 9 Iowa, July 16/17 Toronto x 2, July 31 Milwaukee, Aug 7 Mid-Ohio, Aug 21 Pocono, Sept 4 Boston, Sept 17 Fontana. Twenty races over seven months just as Mr. Miles would like. Your thoughts?
Graeme Watson, Brentwood, Essex, U.K.
RM: Don’t think NOLA is coming back but everything else you mentioned could be in play and Miles wants to open early and Phoenix could be the spot but not sure when.
Q: Now that we’re nearing the end of the 2015 season (unbelievably), when do you think we get the announcement for the 2016 schedule? How many events total? There should be a minimum of 20. If not 2016, then 2017 and going forward. Is Chilton ready to move up to IndyCar? Any other potential new owners out there? Maybe if they announced a $10 million dollar winner’s share for the 100th running, they could stir up some new sponsorship, supplier, fan and potential new ownership interest? Would be almost a no brainer considering the potential magnitude of the event, and great investment in the future, so considering the current decision makers, I won’t hold my breath on it.
RM: I think maybe as many as 18 races in 2016 spread over seven months and announced by late August if possible. Chilton said at Iowa he hadn’t decided on his future but the question is whether Trevor Carlin [his boys Chilton and Ed Jones leading Iowa Indy Lights race, ABOVE. IMS photo] is moving up. He’s the only potential new IndyCar owner I know of right now.
Q: I have decided that you could make a ton of money if you started a “pay by the minute” counseling service for IndyCar fans. It seems like your Mailbag is mostly just people like myself venting our frustrations of the management that tries to ruin this series. I understood why Randy Bernard was run out of IndyCar because everyone wanted a scapegoat for what happened at Las Vegas with Dan Wheldon. In hindsight I think it was unfair to fully pass the blame on him and I wonder where IndyCar would be currently if he was still running the show.
The series desperately needs to expand beyond the five-month season and I don’t want to beat a dead horse. If the NFL season is so scary and we have no chance of competing why can’t we start in late January? NASCAR doesn’t start ’til middle/late February and there is plenty of tracks in states with decent weather in this time period. The week before the Super Bowl has nothing going on in the world of sports and this is a perfect time to kick off the season! Florida has mighty fine weather in January (southern Florida) as well as Phoenix. I am sure they could even get Fontana as a season opener or try Mexico or even Surfers Paradise.
I think IndyCar would benefit greatly if they would start the season before NASCAR and Formula 1, because they could capture many of the fans from other series before they start. Let me know if I am thinking in the right direction or not but to me this is at least an option if Mark Miles is unwilling to race past Labor Day.
Luke S from Prescott, AZ
RM: Randy got railroaded because he got sideways with a few owners and then Firestone. Period. As for Miles, he’s made it clear he wants to start in January or February but the trick is to find a track/promoter that doesn’t have a NASCAR conflict that is willing to take a shot on IndyCar. But I think the season will go past Labor Day in 2016.
Q: Longtime RACER.com reader and IndyCar fan who is fired up about a great season, some amazing races in a row, a little uptick in TV ratings and many awesome American stories as well as JPM and the Holmatro Safety crew. The last few Mailbags have been the most positive (or least negative) in YEARS and that is awesome! Now for my questions: in today’s world with all the tight contracts and sponsorships, who pays for the entirety of a driver’s safety uniform? IndyCar specifically, but any info for F1 and/or NASCAR would also be informative. How many sets of uniforms does a driver have?
Rich in Dade City, FL
RM: If Hinchman or Sparco or Simpson doesn’t give the suit away, then sponsors pay for them and guys like Dixon and T.K. have so many different paint and sponsor schemes during a season they go through a uniform a race. I imagine most drivers have at least a half dozen suits.
Q: I’m curious what your take is on the way penalties for race infractions are being handled. I can see positives for doing it the traditional way as in the past and for doing it after the race the way it is being done now. I think that in some situations, post-race is fine.
On the one hand a driver not having his visor down during a pit stop is unsafe for him, but affects the other competitors in now way whatsoever. In this case, post-race is fine with me. On the other hand, after Graham Rahal left the pits with the fuel hose still attached, past practice would have seen him suffer a stop and go or drive through penalty in the next lap or two. It was a serious incident which could have gotten people badly injured and I was flabbergasted that no penalty was handed down at that time. A penalty would have ruined his race for something that was not his fault, but my take is that an immediate penalty was warranted in this situation due to the safety ramifications.
Furthermore, a pit fire could have damaged another competitor. An important question that I would like to have answered is, how serious does an infraction need to be to warrant a stop-and-go or drive-through penalty? What if a car is leaking fluids onto the track affecting other drivers? Does that car get black flagged or does the team get a penalty on the Wednesday after the race? If the answer is the guy gets black flagged, how is that incident different from what happened in Graham’s incident?
Mr. Walker needs to be very careful with this strategy. My background is in electrical industry safety and I’ve seen this type of thing countless times. You’d better be careful what rules you make and how you interpret them, because they tend to come back and bite you in the you-know-what if you do it wrong.
Doug Mayer, Revelstoke, B.C., Canada
RM: Personally I think there are too many penalties for a series that doesn’t have a lot of money to begin with and I realize teams and drivers must be policed but to what extent? And I want to see any penalty called on the spot – not wait until Wednesday – and I’ve argued with Derrick about this for a year or more. But different infractions get different penalties – like blocking can be a drive-through, a stop-and-go or simply give up your position to the driver you blocked.
Q: The miracle of the smartphone has led me to stay up way past many bedtimes while browsing the depths of the interwebs. Earlier this week I fell through the YouTube wormhole and wound up watching Gil de Ferran’s run at Fontana to set the closed course speed record at 241.43 mph. [ABOVE, Gil leads the field to the green] I couldn’t help but watch and think, “Damn, he didn’t look like he was going that fast.” That brought up two thoughts for me. One, HOLY CRAP THAT IS FAST! That’s 15mph faster than the pole at Indy this year!
With all the talk leading up to the 100th running of the 500 and looking to break the track record, is it safe (sane) to be trying to run these speeds? We’ve seen the propensity these cars have of getting airborne, and I’d hate to see something terrible happen for the sake of an announcement going out around the speedway that hasn’t been said in a while.
Second, and I doubt this will ever happen, but what do you think we’d be looking at speed wise if we sent a present day IndyCar out on track at Daytona or Talladega? Laps would have to be limited to avoid another CART/Texas Motor Speedway scenario, but I’m curious. Keep being the voice of reason for IndyCar! We need you!
Desmond, Oak Lawn, IL
RM: I think the goal was to break Arie Luyendyk’s track record in 2016 but that was before the cars started flying last May. Now, I doubt it but depending on how much power was allowed and the compound that Firestone built, I’m sure an Indy car could lap Daytona at 245-250mph.
Q: I’ve been a fan of American open-wheel racing since the ’70s and I’m curious if you can provide any insight into the purses that are won for IndyCar events. Of course Indianapolis is the payday for the sport but what amount are winners earning in the other races?
Mark McKinley, Floyds Knobs, IN
RM: I believe it’s $30,000 or $40,000 to the winner (but thankfully is no longer made public) because all the purse money basically got thrown into the Leader’s Circle a few years ago. It screws the drivers and mechanics but it keeps the teams afloat.
Q: I just saw an article from GTSpirit.com that Graham Rahal just took delivery of a custom Porsche 918 Spyder? More power to him that he can swing it (those start at $845,000 and can go up to $1 million). I just hope RLL still has enough to invest in another full-time entry for 2016.
Rob Peterson, Rochester, NY
RM: I think Graham is pretty shrewd when it comes to buying and selling cars and I know he’s out searching for sponsorship to try and get RLL secure for 2016.
Q: Miller, you’re slippin’. When talking about versatile drivers (in response to a question about Montoya and Le Mans), you mentioned Foyt, Andretti, Gurney, Clark and Moss. No Parnelli? Rufus won two Baja 1000 races (and a Baja 500 and Mint 400), beat Penske in a USRRC race at Riverside in ’64, won a Can-Am heat race at Laguna in ’67, won four times in NASCAR (he thinks five – NASCAR officials may have shorted him a lap at Bay Meadows), was USAC stock car champ in addition to his two sprint car titles, and won a Trans-Am championship for Bud Moore. PJ should be on your list.
An honorable mention to Davy Jones (no relation) who came within a place of being the only guy other than Foyt to win Indy and Le Mans in the same year – 2nd at Indy and 1st overall at Le Mans in ’96.
Tom Hinshaw, Santa Barbara, CA
RM: I believe the question was about drivers that competed at Le Mans and other disciplines but Rufus never ran there so I didn’t include him. Of course he’s one of the greatest ever and he’s on my Mount Rushmore T-shirts (coming in 2016) with A.J., Mario and Daniel Sexton Gurney – the four most versatile ever in this country. [ABOVE: Parnelli on his way to fourth in the Can-Am race at Riverside in ’67, in a Lola T70-Chevy]
Q: As always I enjoyed your article about Rich Vogler. While the article was about Rich’s racing days, he and his family continue to have an impact to this day through the Rich Scholarship fund. This scholarship has helped many children from racing families pursue post high school education. Your articles have a strong and broad impact and those wishing to honor Rich could do so by supporting the scholarship fund. Information can be found at the Rich Vogler Memorial Scholarship Foundation.
RM: Thanks Mark, I know Eleanor has helped a lot of kids by keeping Rich’s flame alive and I appreciate you sharing this link.
Q: I want to agree with Nick Murray’s letter in your last Mailbag. In most cases, especially on ovals, the broadcast booth is on the same side of the track as the main grandstand. Sometime mid-race, hopefully during a yellow flag, send PT down to interview a few enthusiastic fans. This would be a great promotional opportunity for both the series and IndyCar on NBCSN. It would also be a treat for the fans to have a racing star pay them a visit. Nothing wrong with reporters, but former drivers would amp up the enthusiasm. NBC might even be able have this segment sponsored.
Kirby Kinghorn, Indianapolis
RM: I agree and I think it would be cool to see P.T. strolling through the grandstands with a camera and a microphone. The best Grid Runs were the ones with Dan Wheldon and I think the fans would enjoy seeing Tracy in that role.
Q: Was reading an article in Entrepreneur magazine about FanDuel, the fantasy sports betting website which had some interesting information. Sixty percent of their users are under the age of 35. Their CEO is quoted as saying “Before FanDuel, players were watching four basketball games a week. After FanDuel, it’s seven.” The NBA saw the value and made a multiyear deal with FanDuel to run unique fantasy contests which are promoted on their broadcasts. A young user base, dramatic increases in fan engagement, and some good old-fashioned gambling sounds like a good reason for IndyCar to be the first motorsport to participate in this new fantasy sports betting format. You’re a gambler, what do you think?
RM: I know I was shocked to learn how many Fantasy Football players there were in this universe and you can’t help but see the constant advertising for these baseball and basketball web sites that promise to pay millions in winnings. I think IndyCar would be a good fit but I’d be surprised if NASCAR wasn’t already involved.
Q: Milwaukee needs a support race on Saturday. I would suggest $5,000 to win and $1,000 to start 150-lap ARCA/CRA Super Series & ARCA Midwest Tour co-sanctioned race. On the correct Saturday, you would get 40-50 cars with lots of local stars. I think you would get 5,000 people and be able to charge $30 a ticket. This would expose Late Model fans to IndyCar and Andretti would make more money on Saturday than on Sunday. It wouldn’t cost him any more money because he already has the track rented for the weekend.
Matt Converset, Decatur, IN
RM: Well, thanks Matt, I forwarded your suggestion to Kevin Healy of Andretti Sports Marketing. If you could get the stock car fans to stay for IndyCar it could be a nice weekend at the box office.
Q: I’ve been an IndyCar fan for well over 30 years. I’ve been to many, many races and I’ve attended 24 Indy 500s, skipping 1996-2000, I was at the U.S. 500 in 1996, because I was an Andretti fan and CART guy. Well, in that time I’ve seen a lot IndyCar leaders from John Frasco, Bill Stokkan, Andrew Craig, Chris Pook, even Tony George, leading up to Randy Bernard, and the current Mark Miles. I always felt Craig was a good leader, and tried his best. He talked to the fans, he listened to the fans, and he was great for CART’s growth in the late ’90s. I just think he couldn’t get anything done because of the owners.
I remember being in a CART fan club meeting at Homestead in 1999. Craig was in attendance, and he really listened to what the fans had to say. He had a vision, and he loved the fan input. Tony George? Well he ruined open-wheel racing as we know it, but he was a non-voting member on the CART board, and I can imagine his opinions were just “taken under advisement.” I mean, obviously with the owners having all the power, they could have easily boycotted an Indy 500 and what was Tony to do? It got pretty ugly back then if memory serves me right.
I loved Randy Bernard. Much like Craig, he didn’t hide, he talked & visited with fans, and he listened to them. He gave the fans what they were looking for, and wanted to bring the excitement and level of danger back into racing that so many of us grew up watching. Now we have Mark Miles. I don’t like to use the word “HATE” but you could use a thesaurus for other words to describe my disdain for this man. I did see him race morning at the Indy 500 in a golf cart & screamed out “Miles you tool” before I could control myself.
My point is…..I’ve never had that much disrepect for whoever was running IndyCar, even Tony George, who I’ve met a few times, and he too was out with fans. I feel like I’m beating a dead horse here, but Miles has to realize he is slowly killing the series. From his compact schedule, being distant to the fans, not listening to the fans, taking all his advice from the BCG and now making a hush-hush rule, rule 9.3.8, he’s just lost as a leader.
I used to be die-hard, live, breath, and sleep IndyCar fan. I do love it still but it’s like being in an abusive relationship. After a while you get tired of it. Why can’t Miles just step down and give it to someone that “gets it” and understands what IndyCar racing is, what needs to be done, and where it needs to go in the future? I mean I’m currently unemployed and I really need a job after relocating back here. Where can I send my résumé? I don’t think I could do any worse.
Kris, Kokomo, Indiana
RM: I’ll start with your last question: I don’t think Mark likes to share power, headlines or press conferences but you might have a shot at chief steward. The real dilemma is that the Frances and Bernie owned and controlled everything but made it better for the competitors – who can’t be trusted to ever do what’s best for the group. But they sat on and ousted Craig [ABOVE with Penske at Nazareth in 2000] and Bernard. Miles has ultimate power but limited knowledge so that’s not the answer either. It’s good racing and bad leadership – the age-old problem for IndyCar racing.
Q: OK, Miller! I’m a bit off sequence with your Mailbag but I decided to watch the only race of the year I couldn’t see before, Toronto, and I must say I am pretty impressed with Josef Newgarden. He’s some serious business! He reminded me of the old times – Montoya, Zanardi and other great young people. His driving looks so perfect, even his pit stops look sleek and perfect. I’m sure he’s a future champion, and it’s great, you guys need to have new great American idols on track.
On the other hand, I think Miles is a sort of sandbag for IndyCar racing. Don’t you think that, in a way, racing is getting better because of the great drivers, technicians and teams, more than by the category itself? Well, that’s what I think. Indy is hanging by a very thin and delicate rope, and it seems that every decision taken week to week can either completely kill the sport or throw it to the highest levels of the last years.
Ignacio Agustín Aguirre, Argentina
RM: If JoNew’s pit stops and strategy were as good as his driving the past couple races, he’d have four victories by now and, yes, he should be a future champion and big star if Ganassi or Penske is smart enough to hire him. IndyCar is the best racing going right now because it’s got depth and just enough of an equal playing field to make things unpredictable.
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