Welcome to the Robin Miller Mailbag as presented by Honda Racing / HPD. You can follow the Santa Clarita, California-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 can imagine you’ve been inundated by fans with thoughts on Justin Wilson, but I have been having one thought of my own. Probably the thing that makes me angry almost as much as Justin’s passing itself, is the fact that we will now never get to experience his move to sports car racing. I was lucky enough to catch Justin, as well as Seabass, driving a DP car at Lime Rock Park on a gorgeous late September day in 2013 for the Rolex sports car series season finale. At Lime Rock, you can get very close to the track, and the back chicane is a great place to watch. What a treat it is to see IndyCar guys wringing the neck of a DP car at a bullring like Lime Rock! For guys that don’t drive that type of car every day, they were wicked fast. Justin had already established himself as a pretty decent sports car ace, and we were discussing back then how he was going to have a great future in sports cars, especially now that North American sports car series were merging. While Justin was still working hard at trying to land a ride in IndyCar, I just kept going on nonchalantly confident with the fact that he was still going to tear up the track later on in life in sports cars. That Justin Wilson was going to have another great chapter to write in motorsports history. Well, I guess now we’ll never know.
Bob Fay, Seymour, CT
RM: That’s why I’ll treasure the 10-minute conversation I had with JWill on Saturday at Pocono because he was laughing that he loved sports cars but he was too young to become a full-timer. I know Mike Shank was looking forward to having him around all the time after his IndyCar career was over.
Q: So here we are raising funds to support a family after a fatality in an IndyCar event. Apparently not even a major team like Andretti or the sanctioning body IndyCar, which make financial gains from the risks the drivers and crews take, do not cover the families in case of a fatality. Along with the hardship of losing a husband and father, the family is now also at a financial crises. Seems that the pinnacle of open wheel racing in North America could do much better. What are the typical arrangements that the teams and IndyCar set up in their contracts with the drivers and crews to take care of the families when these events occur? We all know that it will happen again.
Wayne, Bellingham WA
RM: I believe the IndyCar insurance policy is $250,000 for a driver but, like most married racers, JWill undoubtedly had a personal policy as well. But it’s not up to the teams. And because he paid back his F1 investors, missed the lucrative CART days and never drove for big Honda/Toyota teams, he never made big money like TK or Dario or Wheldon. And the fact he was a prince of a person with two young daughters has prompted the entire racing fraternity to come to Julia Wilson’s aid. Between individual contributions and Graham Rahal’s upcoming EBay auction, raising $1 million seems attainable.
Q: Still reeling from the loss of JW. Nice to see the racing community support the family financially with various auctions and initiatives. Sad to see both JW and DW lose their life while driving part-time and both on the verge of securing full time rides. Curious: are the drivers insured either by the series or private companies. And also, would it be possible to find out much the drivers are paid? Is this public knowledge, like in other sports? I’ve heard some are making nothing while the top guys are getting millions. I read a story that PT got almost nothing in the early Penske years, but the later contracts were quite sizeable.
RM: Most drivers are insured by both. I wrote a story in 1998 speculating than Michael Andretti and Al Unser Jr. were being paid $6-8 million retainers and I think in the Honda/Toyota bidding war in CART some of the front runners like Dario, P.T. and Zanardi were making north of $4 million. Today I imagine Dixon is the highest paid (maybe $3 million?) but the big money is long gone and Justin probably never earned more than $500,000 in his best year.
Q: Do you think that Justin’s height and weight was a big part of why he was not picked by Penske or Ganassi? I know it is a big deal in F1. And congrats to Oriol Servia for his great drive in the race on Sunday. For not being in shape and not driving a Indy car since last May, he was pretty impressive! Is he still happy being a retired driver and managing Penske Jr’s Formula E team?
Victor Martino, San Jose
RM: It was always speculated that Penske took Power instead of Wilson because of the weight difference and Newman/Haas engineers made it no secret they were concerned with Justin’s 210 pounds. Servia did a helluva job and I know he’d like to be driving an IndyCar full-time, so ‘happy’ is a relative term.
Q: I can’t root for Montoya or Ganassi since they made a stink and sulked away from the 2009 Daytona 24 podium. That showed the true lack of class for those individuals and the organization. Too bad Dixon drives for that team because he seems like a great guy. Since winning is the only thing they have scoreboard. Anyway, that left me to pull for Rahal. I really don’t understand how a team could get it so wrong preparing for the biggest race in its history? They had testing plus the usual weekend. Oh well, there may be a next year. It seems like the rather poor ability of Penske to finish championships is in their head. No way should you bring in Power while leading. He realistically had no chance and all it did was give somebody else (Dixon) the opportunity to lead the most laps. Hate to admit it but the Ganassi boys seem to have it together. Double points need to be eliminated and pits need to stay open. Fastest driver on any given day should win.
Mark, San Diego, CA
RM: Racecars are fickle animals and the finale at Sonoma showed how important it can be to have multiple cars (Ganassi) working on a setup compared to one. Graham qualified well (sixth) but they never got a handle on it during the race. Power certainly did have a shot if he wins and leads the most laps, not sure I understand your logic. The fastest driver seldom wins any NASCAR race and it’s potluck many times on IndyCar road/street courses but that’s a product of closed pits.
Q: In your interview with Derrick Walker it looked and sounded like he was a broken, defeated man. His body language and his eyes looked as though IndyCar had sucked the life out of him. As I was watching the interview, a thought occurred to me: An IndyCar reality show which captures the backstabbing and drama from inside the paddock – a “Hard Knocks” style reality show for the Verizon IndyCar Series! If IndyCar can’t seem to get out of its own way, why not use its own ineptitude as a marketing tool? That would make the off-season a lot less boring. Let’s make this happen!
Rob Peterson, Rochester, NY
RM: You are very perceptive: the job did beat him down, as it will his successor, because of the never satisfied/eat-your-own culture of IndyCar. Derrick felt like he failed and he knows he made some mistakes but he cared and worked hard and nobody had his back until the knife was already in it. It would make a great reality show and we could call it: Weasels, Vipers and Racers.
Q: I know the name of the show is “NASCAR America” but I tuned in to see the interview with Scott Dixon. The first thing they say is how Dale Jarrett started the tradition of kissing the bricks. Please. Then they did a comparison of Dixon to Jimmie Johnson. Can’t they just interview Dixie and not wedge NASCAR into the discussion? I guess it’s not surprising but bothers me. As much as I was rooting for young Rahal I have to give credit to Dixon. Plus, he is a great ambassador for IndyCar.
Jim Doyle , Hoboken, NJ
RM: I’m just happy they had Dixon on the show and the NBCSN TV ratings would indicate the cross-promotion of NASCAR and IndyCar is helping get some new eyeballs so that’s good. Scott is a great with fans, media and sponsors – he’s just anonymous with the general public.
Q: I had the opportunity to take my nine-year-old son to watch the season finale at Sonoma thanks to RACER magazine. What a race! It was an incredible finish to the season. I must say, that I think it is unfortunate that Power and Montoya seemed to turn Sonoma into WHINE country, rather than wine country! I know the race had just ended, but honestly, they really showed little class. I know Montoya was very disappointed to lose the championship by criteria, but perhaps he forgot that he won his championship over Franchitti back in ’99 the same way.
He was upset about the double points. I don’t like it either, but he wasn’t complaining before the race! Perhaps he has forgotten that he scored double points for his win at Indy? He thinks that Dixon had a bad season and had one good race. Did he not notice who won at Long Beach and Texas? Did he not realize that Dixon was the only driver to win three races? I also don’t remember hearing Montoya complain when he was off the pace, but still started on the pole because the field was set on entrant points (on more than one occasion).
I do think that double points added to the drama of the end of the season but I wish that there were no double points races. A season championship should weight each race the same, however, the double points make the final race more exciting. The sport needs to attract more viewers, and if that is what it takes then I am all for it. The rules were the same for everybody. I think the Penske boys should be asking what they need to do differently, not complaining about the results. Montoya ended his season in the way that he did because he made a move to the inside of Power, that he did not need to make. No matter who was to blame, Montoya seemed to lose focus on the big picture, and took an unnecessary risk and paid for it. I always appreciate your point of view. What do you think?
Lance Campbell, Oakdale, CA
RM: I do recall JPM and a few other drivers saying they didn’t like double points long before Sonoma but the reality is that using the old system, Montoya wins by four points. No doubt Montoya isn’t a good loser but that’s nothing new for guys that are driven to win. Yet most fans felt like Team Penske did too much whining at Fontana and Sonoma. And Juan did something out of character to lose the title.
Q: Why is it taking so long for one of the big teams to sign Newgarden? Josef’s the complete package: young, American, handsome, humble, well-spoken and most importantly … lightning fast! If I was in charge of hiring at Ganassi, Penske or Andretti, I would have signed him up a couple years ago. Seems like a no-brainer decision. What are they waiting for?
Kurt Newgord, Racine, WI
RM: Well, Penske is staying pat for 2016, Ganassi could be cutting back to Dixon, Kanaan and Kimball and Andretti only needs money to make Josef an offer. No seats available at the moment but it’s amazing to me that RP hasn’t signed this kid and farmed him out for a year or two.
Q: With Wink Hartman considering an exit and the fourth Ganassi car in doubt, it would seem unlikely J-New gets a ride at any of the big three teams next season. Is the Honda/RLL deal the best chance for Newgarden to have a full-time ride next season? Or could Carpenter-Fisher still have enough budget to pay him if Hartman isn’t involved? By the way this stuff is fascinating to me. Any chance you or Marshall could do some “rumor mills” in the off-season? Or maybe even just some backstories of past dramas? For example last May, I read a piece on one of the major sports websites about Sage Karam’s story involving the Andrettis, Michael Fux, and how Sage ended up with Ganassi. I’m a pretty big fan of the series and I didn’t know any of this stuff. It really adds a human element which can be very interesting for the fans during the long offseason. Thanks!
RM: Honda wants Josef back in the family but it’s likely not going to spend $6-8 million to make it happen so I imagine it’s up to RLL to find the bulk of it. Ed says he wants to keep running two cars, with or without Wink, and that Josef is his priority but I’m worried about Sarah if Hartman leaves. Marshall periodically has a silly season story and we’ll report whatever we can as it unfolds.
Q: Do you have any insight into another website’s allegations that the series is about to be bought by another company but that the Hulman/ George family would retain part ownership of the series? Its probably just wishful thinking, but I can’t help but believe this is the best possible scenario for the series to not only survive, but grow as well. Also I heard a rumor that Jay Frye is the leading candidate to take over for Derrick Walker…what’s your take on that?
Kyle “FL” Good
RM: Marshall Pruett has a two-part series on RACER.com that will answer your question but it’s more of a marketing partnership proposal than any kind of takeover or buy-in. I did hear that Chip Ganassi had a group willing to buy IndyCar and put it on FOX television but when contacted all the Chipster would say is: “I don’t know what you are talking about.” Which is Chipspeak for “maybe but I’m not about to tell you.” I know at least two owners are pushing for Frye to take the job and Jay is a smart guy but he’d still need a technical advisor and a chief steward. IndyCar needs a guy in the office every day running the whole show, and that could be Frye because Mark Miles neither has the time or background.
Q: Today I asked Mr. Cavin if there were any names being thrown around for Mr. Walker’s replacement and Curt said “Jay Frye” pretty quickly! And then just as quick, Danielle, Jay’s wife posted “That’s news to me!” What are your thoughts on who may be replacing Mr. Walker’s position? And if you were Scott Dixon would you want the #1 put on your car or keep the #9 on your car? Thank you Mr. Miller! Love your mailbag segment! We never miss it!
Frank Linker, host “Indy Sportscar Podcast”
RM: I told Jay a few weeks ago that a couple of owners had thrown out his name as Derrick’s replacement and he was flattered – and interested. But, as I said in the response above yours, he would still need a couple of lieutenants to manage the nuts & bolts of competition and Race Control. Frye’s forte would be shaping the schedule, helping the teams with sponsorship and managing the message. He knows the players and the landscape so he’d be a better alternative than bringing in some wonderboy from the Boston Consulting Group. I would always wear No. 1 unless Target told me it wanted No. 9.
Q: It seemed inappropriate to say this in the immediate aftermath of the Justin Wilson accident. But I took my father and son-in-law to Pocono for the first time this year and had a fantastic weekend! We spent three days in the vicinity of the track and enjoyed plenty of great outdoor activities in the Pocono Mountains. And our race day experience was terrific as well. It’s a very good facility, with great sight lines and great racing. The TV coverage doesn’t do it justice (no matter how good NBCSN is). If they continue the event we will definitely return. Saw plenty of license plates from New Jersey, New York, and beyond. I’ve got to believe that if both Pocono and IndyCar commit to continue the race with a stable date for some length of time that the event will grow to be successful. If ABC Supply would commit to extending their title sponsorship, would that buy time for the attendance to grow?
RM: Justin would understand and be happy you had a good experience, trust me. ABC Supply obviously helps the bottom line and it’s continued participation might be the difference between the race staying or going away. But it takes at least five years to try and re-connect with your audience after being gone for 25 years. And Pocono was willing to take a chance so hopefully it stays for at least two more years.
Q: The IndyCar season is over and it was great, although short. And, except for the tragic loss of Justin Wilson, it’s hard to imagine anything better. I hope those in charge of IndyCar won’t wait until the week before the first race to replace Derrick Walker. I’m hoping for either Wally Dallenbach Jr. or Jon Beekhuis to replace Mr. Walker. Race drivers give us fans a lot of excitement on the track and when we the fans can give back to a driver I think we all need to stand up and do our part. I have made a donation to the Wilson family. And I want to challenge all the readers of the mailbag to do the same and make a donation. Anything you can give the Wilson family will help them out. These are the times we need to show we care.
Michael Latino, Fontana, Ca.
RM: I would see Wally or Jon moving into the role as Race Director/Chief Steward – not as Walker’s replacement. I think they’re two distinctly different jobs. I’ve had fans send me checks from $20 to $100 to help Justin’s family but Graham Rahal’s upcoming auction on EBay figures to score some big money (wait until you see the list of donors and what they’re putting up for bid).
Q: I read that they are asking Al [Unser] Jr. to take Walker’s place. Not good. Little Al was a great driver, was well-liked, and did a lot of good PR work for Indy. His problem is that he is in too tight with the Hulman family and the people that are running Indy. As I’ve said before, a couple of friends and I think Jon Beekhuis would do a great job but I get the feeling he would not take the job. I don’t think he would like to work with Miles and TGBB. My hopes are that the following things happen. Get rid of Miles and TGBB and the BCG. Get rid of the double point system. Cut the length of the yellow flag time. Open the pits during yellow flag time. What do you say?
Don, Torrance, CA
RM: I respectfully disagree, I think Unser would be an excellent choice for Chief Steward or Race Director. He knows the game, the players and he’d be well respected by the drivers. And he wants to do it. Miles isn’t going anywhere and the pits aren’t going to be open under cautions unless Beaux Barfield comes back.
Q: With Miles sticking with the BCG recommendation to not go past Labor Day, we accepted his commitment to start the season earlier, soon after the Super Bowl. China and the Middle East were supposed to fill that role last season, but they both fell through, leaving us to wait until St. Pete for the season to start. Through the Mailbag and tweets to Curt Cavin and Kevin Lee, I got the three of you to acknowledge that for the 48 states, the only non-snow option for February and March is Laguna Seca. Fontana and Phoenix have the weather, but are booked with NASCAR during that time.
Mexico would work and I hope it goes, but if that falls through like last year, should Miles have a contingency plan? Should he be communicating with Gil Campbell of SCRAMP on adding Laguna Seca if it is the only option? The only hang up is the AT&T Pro Am at Pebble Beach Feb. 20-21, so realistically the earliest date would be March 5-6. Also, are you coming out for the Mazda Road to Indy finale and Pirelli World Challenge this weekend? Anybody else coming?
Paul, Carmel, CA
RM: Marshall Pruett and I talked to Miles after Sonoma and sounded encouraged about Mexico City for late February but, of course, IndyCar must find a ride for Memo Rojas or Luis Diaz or maybe Esteban Gutierrez. Don’t see Laguna as an option to open the season. I won’t be there this weekend but Marshall will be shooting pictures, videos and covering the Lights’ finale.
Q: I respect your no-BS approach to reporting. I’ve heard all the talking heads response to this question, so I would appreciate your take. How could IndyCar not have Watkins on its schedule? Now that Road America is back, does Watkins Glen stand any chance of getting back on the schedule?
RM: I think since Jay Frye kinda re-opened the lines of communication with ISC/NASCAR that The Glen may have a chance down the road. But the last IndyCar race on July 4, 2010 (ABOVE) was poorly attended and it has to make sense for the promoter so if the right date can be found….
Q: With IndyCar management’s desire to end the 2016 series in early September, why not have a four or five-race fall “Can-Am” IndyCar Festival that would visit venues not used during the 2016 season, such as Mosport (CTMP), Watkins Glen, St. Jovite, Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, New Hampshire, Lime Rock, MIS, Cleveland, or perhaps VIR? The U.S. and Canadian Northeast is a kaleidoscope of colors with all the fall foliage. Finding a festival series sponsor could be tough. It might be easier signing one or two local/regional sponsors for each weekend’s race events. A portion of the festival proceeds would go to selected charities endorsed by the teams and IndyCar. Do you think this has a snowball’s chance?
David in Pittsburgh
RM: It sounds romantic and old-schoolish and cool but unless somebody dropped in a mountain of money for a point fund, I couldn’t see it ever happening. And those tracks would need some kind of financial guarantee as well. But I’m all for going back to The Glen and Mosport during the regular season.
Q: It’s really disappointing to hear about the loss of Fontana from the schedule after what was arguably the most exciting race of the season (and in a long time). That is exactly the kind of excitement you need for a season finale, versus some contrived gimmick to settle the championship. One of the reasons stated was concern for the late start time on the East Coast. That’s what a DVR is for. No one seems concerned about the late Sunday start time for Milwaukee that we fans who drive up from Chicago deal with. Run the race on a Saturday evening in the fall (cooler temps, better grip, better for the paying fans) and whomever on the east coast that has to go to work on Sunday morning can record it. Based on the lack of long-term success with any east coast venues, it seems to me that the bulk of fan support is near the Midwest and beyond.
Joe Z in Naperville
RM: Fontana understood IndyCar not wanting to decide the championship at midnight on the East Coast but I think it would have accepted a 1 p.m. green flag in October. Sonoma had its best crowd yet for IndyCar a couple weeks ago but the finale needs to be in front of a good crowd in the Midwest. The question is, where?
Q: Firstly as a Brit who tries to watch IndyCar (we didn’t even have the Indy 500 live here!) it was a shame to see the calendar fall away from even the CART schedules in the late 1990s. So now the season is over — and if you were in charge without the worry of fees and contracts — what would your IndyCar season look like and which circuits would you like the series to go to (old and new).
Nigel Newman, Brands Hatch, UK
RM: First off, it sucks you can’t watch Indy live so hopefully that can be corrected by next May. I’d add Cleveland, Watkins Glen, Richmond and at least one more race in Canada (Mosport or Montreal) and I’d explore going back to Portland. I’d also figure out a way to go to Australia or New Zealand (or both).
Q: What was the deal with first full-course caution [at Sonoma]? I’ve watched almost every IndyCar race in the past 21 years and that has to be the most absurd call ever. Did someone from NASCAR sneak into race control? IndyCar has enough legitimate full-course cautions and shouldn’t have to fabricate them. These are supposed to be some of the best drivers in the world, but apparently race control doesn’t seem to think they can avoid a car moving slowly around the track. If a car moving very slowly around the track is the criteria for a full-course caution, then every lap that Milka Duno was on the track should have been run under yellow.
RM: I believe Luca Filippi actually stopped, so that’s when the full-course yellow came on and then he started moving again. There are a couple of blind places at Sonoma so you don’t want two guys racing each other to come up on a car going 30mph. That’s all I can figure.
Q: With everything that this season had to offer, good and bad, the one thing that was lost was Ryan Briscoe’s good season. He had a nice drive at Indy with little practice, and some other nice finishes later. Any chance he will be back next year for Honda?
RM: Nobody passed more cars on the ovals and, obviously, Briscoe is a good little shoe that belongs in a full-time ride. But, other than a one-off for somebody at Indianapolis, I don’t think there’s anything available – Honda or Chevy.
Q: If you read the release by IndyCar on the continued growth in television ratings, you get the sense that the series does have some positive momentum and may actually be moving in the right direction. It’s not that I’m skeptical, but I was curious if RACER was seeing a similar trend in growth for the website, particularly in regards to clicks and views for IndyCar stories? I would think that the two would be directly correlated, since RACER is the best source for news on the series.
John, Okemos, MI
RM: Well thanks for the compliment and your assessment is correct – RACER.com generated more traffic this season (May and August ranked 1-2 for all-time viewership) than ever before. It’s way over my head in internet lingo but we had over 400,000 “unique visitors” last May so I’m told that’s good.
Q: Folks need to get off their purist high horse regarding double points at Sonoma. Sure it’s hokey, but if that what it takes to insure a 25 percent increase in TV and attendance then so be it. I bet the promoter at Sonoma damn well wants/demands double points for next year’s finale. We live in an entertainment first mentality, heck the second wildcard game in baseball (not to mention the first) is hokey but it seems to work. In this case, the end justifies the means.
David Basnight, Raleigh, N.C.
RM: I would agree if I thought that was the only reason but, sadly, I believe Justin’s passing, the publicity it generated and how the IndyCar community reacted was a big part of the increased audience.
Q: What an absolutely great season. I think the aero kits made things very, very interesting, sometimes in a bad way but usually in a good way. Now the safety tweaks that were implemented in the middle of the season can be codified, giving both manufacturers a fresh, fair start for next year.
Now it’s the off-season – which means time for complaining! As IndyCar fans we obviously love to do that. But I really want what I’m about to say to be thought of as constructive criticism. I have two points: 1) I agree with Will Power, keep the pits open! I have a feeling some IndyCar players (Barnhart) like the lottery aspect of yellows, we the fans do not. 2) For the 2018/2019 car – implement a horsepower limit (and for god’s sake make it 1,000hp)! This will make the cars awesome, impressive, and open the door for affordable innovation.
A team could then be allowed to use literally any engine technology at all, as long as it doesn’t make more than 1,000hp. So, if Ford wanted to run their Eco Boost, great. If Menard wants to put a Buick V6 in the 500, great. If someone wants to enter an electric motor they think will last 500 miles, great! Innovation would be allowed, but not forced, and teams with a small budget could still compete using traditional engine styles. This would increase innovation and interest, while actually making the sport more affordable for small teams. It makes so much sense that I’m sure there’s no way IndyCar would actually do it.
John in Dayton
RM: Closing the pits came along way before Barnhart and as I recall it was necessary because USAC had so much trouble scoring the races. Now it’s more of a concern for drivers running flat-out to catch up or pit under a local yellow while safety trucks or the safety team are in harm’s way. Of course there are also times when it’s an isolated incident that presents no danger but the pits are still closed. I know Beaux Barfield tried to leave the pits open as long as possible before going yellow but that also pissed off people who claimed he was manipulating the outcome. I hate pit speed limits just as much but that’s never going to change either.
Q: I get a kick out of all these people that claim to be IndyCar diehards, then say they are done with the sport. There will always be bad calls, rules we don’t like, and gimmicks that come and go. The fact is, this is the best IndyCar racing that we’ve seen in decades – enjoy it. Even in the late ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s the drivers and cars were incredible, but the competition wasn’t this fierce. It’s simply amazing that there were seven teams that won this year and nine different drivers. I am here to say that I’m a diehard IndyCar fan – and I’m not going away until the series is the most popular on the planet again, or the series shuts down.
Mark Suska, Lexington, OH
RM: Good point Mark, when 20 cars are covered by less than a second at most tracks it’s the kind of competition never seen before. And I still love the fact you didn’t know who was going to win any races before they started (except Dixie at Mid-Ohio most years).
Q: I was reading your story in RACER magazine about Jimmy Clark losing the 1966 Indy 500 because USAC could not count laps and then thinking about how the IRL stole the 2002 500 from Paul Tracy, ABOVE, and again, more recently, when IndyCar failed to penalize Graham Rahal in Fontana when he pulled away with the fuel hose still engaged. Has officiating surrounding IndyCar racing just always been terrible?
Justin Klug, Park City, UT
RM: The scoring was always suspect in USAC before the introduction of electronics/computers and drivers policed themselves in the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s. The 2002 Indy 500 verdict was all about politics. Wally Dallenbach did a good job but it’s pretty much been a circus the past 20 years. It’s a tough job but it also requires common sense and consistency.
Q: First, a word about double points. It’s a flat-out gimmick. IndyCar racing has been excellent for the past few seasons because of the racing not full-course cautions, closed pits or double points. IndyCar doesn’t need green white checkers, lucky dogs, phantom cautions or anything else.’Nuff said.
As for ratings, I’d guess that any uptick in ratings due to double points would be minimal. Here’s why. I can only speak for myself but I think I’m in the majority. I watch every race. I watch for the racing. I’m not watching because there are double points and Sonoma was no different. Any true fan is going to watch the race regardless. Some fans might even not watch due to this gimmick.
I suggest that the uptick in ratings for the Sonoma race were due to three things. There was a tight points battle for the championship. Hardcore fans might advise their lesser-fan friends that this might be a good one to watch. Why? The racing has been incredible. There was no clear-cut front-runner to make things boring. JPM, leading the series all season, had not run off and hidden and still had to work to earn the championship. With five others in the running, the show would most likely be tremendous. Why? (this is important) NBCSN has put on an excellent show for all of their broadcasts. Camera angles, in-car shots, graphics, pit reporting and most important, the booth has been about perfect.
The point is this. We watch IndyCar racing because we love it. We like a good race supported by a good presentation. No double points or other gimmicks, aside perhaps from a Robin Miller in a tutu grid run, will change anyone’s mind. Enjoy the off-season, it’s a long one.
Bill Phypers, Brewster, NY
RM: You have to think the overall increase in NBCSN’s ratings this season is a direct correlation to the close, unpredictable racing. The finale had the championship being decided, the caveat (or curse) of double points and the emotional stage of Justin Wilson.
Q: I don’t usually watch NASCAR (since Dale was killed) but I did record the Darlington Throwback 500 Sunday. One thing my wife commented on during the commercials was the amount of drivers that were in them! She said, “Why don’t IndyCar sponsors get their drivers faces in ads?” I said, maybe because so few were U.S.-born? She said, “Even more reason to get their faces shown!” I had to admit she had a point so I started to think of sponsors of IndyCar… the top two were Target and Steak n’ Shake. If you are putting out money wouldn’t you think a TV spot would connect the dots and thereby increase awareness?
RM: The top sponsors (just guessing) in IndyCar (financially) are probably Target, Verizon, ABC Supply, Novo Nordisk, DHL, Arrow and NTT Data. Novo had a national television commercial with Charlie Kimball a couple of years ago but, other than Shell and Helio and a Honda ad with a quick glimpse of RHR’s Indy-winning car, IndyCar is void of national TV spots. Mostly because those sponsors don’t spend a third of what a top-flight NASCAR team commands and its IndyCar advertising budget is too small to pay for a national TV commercial. Steak ‘n Shake was an associate sponsor (along with MAXIM) for Graham Rahal and they had billboards around Indianapolis in May so that was an unexpected shot in the arm. But I’ve said years that IndyCar needs to buy a 60-second spot to show off its drivers’ personalities like NASCAR does and run it continuously for the next six months. Give the sponsors you’ve got a little bang for their buck. And remind people that IndyCar will be back in the spring.
Q: With the feature-length documentary on Gonzalo Rodriguez, ‘Gonchi’, now on Netflix, do you have any recollections of him, and how would you rate him?
Alex, Wiltshire, UK
RM: I only met Rodriguez, ABOVE, once, but I reckon he had a promising future since The Captain had him on board.
Q: First, why is NASCAR popular (albeit waning) versus IndyCar? Tried to watch the end the Xfinity race at Road America on NBCSN. They putted around under yellow for 40 minutes without explanation (squirrel on track or NASCAR officials and fans had runs to the outhouse?). In that time, I switched to NBC and watched two great horse races at Saratoga. NBC gave no segue from the horses to IndyCar quallies over on NBCSN, where they ran near two sessions under the NASCAR yellow delay. Is IndyCar that far down the feeding order?
Secondly, does NASCAR have an NBA/NFL/NCAA-type clause forbidding criticism of officials? You, PT and the F1 crew always give honest commentary with seeming impunity.
Criticism aside, NBCSN is still heads above the Mickey Mouse networks. You and the NBCSN crew bring life to racing, even in times of tragedy. Finally, thanks for integrity, truth and honest journalism.
RM: NASCAR lapped open-wheel racing after the Split in 1996 and the only time IndyCar is on even ground is in May when the Indy 500 either beats or ties Charlotte. NASCAR has millions of viewers each week and its crowds are coming back if you saw Sonoma, Watkins Glen or Darlington. But NASCAR coming to NBCSN has been good for IndyCar and all the cross-promoting has during a NASCAR event has helped, along with leads-ins. Getting a couple IndyCar races on NBC is Mark Miles’ next goal. The NASCAR announcers (especially on FOX) are hear-no-evil, see-no-evil, speak-no-evil and that’s why I love Kyle Petty on NBCSN because he never hesitates to call out NASCAR when it’s called for and it makes Mike Helton crazy. I don’t think Paul Tracy would work for NBCSN if he was censored and I haven’t been fired yet so I’m proud our bosses don’t tell us what we can and can’t say.
Q: I realize that I’m a little late to the party here, but put me down for no more double points! This is just the humble opinion of a 31-year-fan of IndyCar racing. By the way, I was at Sonoma for the season finale — not because of double points, but in spite of them. I also watched the race on my DVR when I returned home after the race — not because of the double points, but in spite of them. It was a fantastic race live and on TV — not because of the double points, but in spite of them. I think you get my point. By the way, I thoroughly enjoyed the television coverage that NBCSN put together this year. The best in a long time. Please tell everyone thanks!
Michael McGill, San Diego, CA
RM: I think most of us would like to see double points go away and I’ll pass along your kudos to the NBCSN gang.
Q: Great job this season. Enjoy watching your videos on RACER.com and reading your take on things. I just became aware of something you might be interested in. Old time midget racer, Frank Burany, from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, recently celebrated his 100th birthday on August 16th! Frank and his late wife Helen used to own and operate the Sleepy Hollow Motel on Bluemound Road, just west of State Fair Park in Milwaukee. My family and I used to stay there when we would attend both the Rex Mays 100-miler in June and the Tony Bettenhausen 200 during the state fair in August each year back in the 1960s.
I even got the opportunity to travel with Frank one Saturday night before the 200-miler, down to Soldier Field in Chicago to watch Frank wheel a midget. He told me he warmed up for the event by driving on the Illinois tollways on our way there! Many IndyCar drivers also stayed at his motel before the Milwaukee events.
It was always a treat for me, as a young boy, to see those racecars on open air trailers parked at Frank’s motel. If anyone is interested, I’m sure Frank would love to hear from some race fans. His address is: Frank Burany, Three Pillars Senior Living, 410 North Main St., Dousman, Wisconsin, 53118
Joe Weiss, Spooner, Wisconsin
RM: How cool, I’ve stayed at that place several times and I recall reading about Frank in one of Dick Wallen’s books. Thanks for the update.
Q: It has been quite some time since a driver transitioned from two to four wheels. Eddie Lawson was quite a star in the ’80 when he won his four 500cc world titles. And when he made the switch to add two more wheels to his resume, I never realized that he never lost his clique. During the mid to late ’90s, his team – Galles Racing – was also the cream of the crop when they had Little Al (ABOVE) and Danny Sullivan. We wonder what Eddie and Rick are doing now?
JLS – Chicago, IL
RM: Eddie was a helluva racer and he didn’t get a fair shot in his short career in CART but if someone would have believed in him I think he would have been another Joe Leonard. I got to have lunch with him a couple years ago at Dan Gurney’s place and he’s doing well. Don’t know what happened to Galles.
Q: My letter isn’t about IndyCar or even racing per se, but a pet peeve of mine that occurs very often during race broadcasts. I respect your opinion more then most motorsports journalists so I’m really curious as to what your take is on the subject… and that is racers dropping an occasional A, S or F bomb during an interview.
Now I’m not easily offended by any of that in the least, but I understand that there are many who would be and most of the time I don’t even notice until the lead commentator says after said interview, “Sorry, we apologize for the language.” and that is my peeve. Why is the commentator apologizing for something they didn’t do or say? Are we the viewing audience held to such a low regard that we are supposed to actually think that (insert network of choice) is responsible for what words come out of a racer’s mouth? Is there some sort of contract they all must sign with the broadcaster beforehand stating they will not ever swear during a TV interview? (and if there is consider foot firmly inserted in mouth) If not, then it’s the responsibility of the racer to apologize and not the network.
It just seems so absurd and contrite to me. The only thing worse then no apology when one is warranted is one that’s insincere and a sincere one has to come from the offender, wouldn’t you agree? If this is such a worry for the networks that they make the announcers apologize for someone else, then why don’t they use a 10-second delay like has been done for decades now and just bleep out the offense? It just seems so ridiculous.
Doug N. San Francisco
RM: Believe it or not, even in this day and age you can still get a hefty fine if the FCC catches you out and you don’t respond on-air to %$^$@. I had one fan say he didn’t let his two young sons watch the race because the NBCSN team was wearing ‘BadAss’ buttons to honor Justin Wilson so we have to remember there are some sensitive souls and kids out there in TV-land. As foul-mouthed as I am in real life, I understand everyone (thankfully) isn’t like me so I get that we have to apologize on air if somebody goes off. It’s just a common courtesy and all sports do it to my knowledge.
Q: My late dad and I both had the terrible misfortune of seeing our sports heroes die. Mine was Ayrton Senna; his was Dale Earnhardt Sr. So I’m not naive about death in auto racing. And still, Justin Wilson’s death hits hard. In the last 16 years IndyCar has seen three of its greatest champions die at oval races outside the Indy 500 – Greg Moore, Dan Wheldon and now Wilson. And a fourth driver maybe greater than those three, Alex Zanardi, only survived a similar crash because the safety team and doctors saved him after his legs were ripped off.
There’s a pattern here. Some of these accidents were the drivers’ fault, some weren’t, but the horror of their outcomes, on high-speed oval tracks, was dumb luck. In 2015, that’s not good enough anymore. Some people say to fit the cars with canopies. These are racecar drivers, not fighter pilots; IMO that’s not the answer. In fact, one IndyCar oval race was canceled several years ago when it was calculated the G-forces against the drivers were worse than those battled by fighter pilots. Drivers fainting at 225mph is not a good idea.
Ironically, it was Justin Wilson himself who came up with the answer in a commentary just a few weeks ago. He said IndyCar’s ovals outside the Indy 500 had become unsafe – for spectators. He was willing to take the risk to race, but he didn’t think it was fair for fans to take the chance of [being hit by] flying shrapnel from crashes. If there are fans, that is. Last June, IndyCar had what all the drivers agreed was one of the most dangerous oval races in the sport’s long history – witnessed by 3,000 paying customers near Los Angeles. Less than a minor league game in (pick your sport).
So I think we are seeing economics and human compassion intersect. For IndyCar, ovals outside Indianapolis make no cents – or sense. In Justin Wilson’s memory, I propose we follow his suggestion. Except for the Indy 500, which is truly a part of Americana, leave the ovals to NASCAR – whose cars have roofs and are twice as heavy if they crash. If for no other reason, to honor the sadly prophetic idea a now fallen hero had about the state of his sport.
RM: Your suggestion could happen by default the way fans are turning their backs on attending oval races because Indy might be the only one still on the schedule by 2017. Ovals have always been the most dangerous form of racing for Indy cars but, as we’ve said over and over, they are part of the attraction and also part of the most challenging and diverse series in the world. They’re not for everyone – drivers or spectators – but Justin losing his life was more of a fluke than a product of oval racing.