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 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: I have a business question for you. Why aren’t there more souvenirs at IndyCar events? Is it a license issue? Is it a track issue? Who in the IndyCar organization should I contact to talk about this? I have the access to manufacturers and would like to produce IndyCar team and series products. Any input would be appreciated.
Jeff Loveland, Chilton Wisconsin
RM: Supply and demand would be the most honest answer. Not a real stampede for Carlos Huertas or James Jakes’ T-shirts, so other than Team Penske and Target, most everything is piled into one IndyCar truck as most events (except Indianapolis). And renting a space for a trailer has to be more expensive than the normal sales for most drivers. But I’ll send you the name of the IndyCar person that will hopefully want to listen to your pitch.
Q: In RACER.com’s latest poll on which track should be added to the 2016 schedule, you didn’t have a choice for “all of the above.” But based on the competency of the current management, maybe it should have read “any of the above.” I’ve got a feeling that 2016 is going to look worse than 2015, if that is possible. Any idea if the 2016 schedule will be released before the first race?
RM: I have it on good authority the 2016 schedule will be out before Dale Coyne announces his driver lineup.
Q: I note RACER‘s coverage of NASCAR’s chase – during NFL season. F1 is still going. Even Indy Lights at Laguna Seca went into NFL season … on TV, even. And then there are the years of series history. Surely this says something about the survivability of NFL competition. This idea is all a bit silly, and worse, it seems to be hurting the teams and series on sponsors and employees. Also, the concession of this time period in the public eye is a bit galling. Among race fans there is talk of NASCAR’s Chase, Hamilton’s efforts and the U.S. GP in Austin. And then there is the void where IndyCar could be, and instead it’s sad talk about races that may not come off, or racers trying to get together funding for a ride. To me, giving up the fall is almost an admission that IndyCar can’t compete, which has bad implications for a series. Instead of looking at it like how can we max out interest and sponsors and get good drivers rides, and get healthy races, it’s running scared. That can’t possibly end well, can it?
RM: No it can’t, and if you’re off for seven months again, maybe only have one race in August and stop in early September, it’s a recipe for losing sponsors and team members. Mark Miles has rumored there could be a race in October, but I’m not sure it would be in North America or part of the 2016 calendar. The bottom line is that NASCAR, F1, NHRA and sports cars go against the NFL because they always have and they know their audience. IndyCar should be racing into October at the minimum.
Q: What did you think about Simona de Silvestro racing the Bathurst 1000 (ABOVE)? SeaBass was there, too. And do you think there is any chance Simona could run the full season, or at least the 500 for Andretti next year? She is supposed to race the full Formula E schedule, but I believe she still wants to come back to IndyCar.
RM: It just shows her pluck and willingness to drive anything, and she evidently impressed a lot of folks. Her co-driver crashed, they lost 53 laps making repairs and Simona went out and drove 121 laps with no relief. Seabass did a nice job and was part of the ninth-place team. I’m sure de Silvestro wants to be back in IndyCar but, obviously, she needs a sponsor.
Q: It’s obviously not a huge issue in IndyCar, and I’m prepared going to get a lot of internal flak for this, but have the stewards ever looked into the idea of coming up with some sort of system to attempt to finish the race under green (with the exception of throwing the occasional red flag)? I’m not necessarily suggesting they should adopt the green-white-checker system that NASCAR uses, but there’s got to be something that would help please fans without making it feel like they’re not just trying to manufacture excitement. Also, as far as I know, IndyCar brought the Triple Crown back in 2013, and I could be wrong, but I believe we still had it in 2014. What happened this year, though? Did they just completely rid of it, or did it get no exposure at all? And if they did get rid of it, is this also why we didn’t see a three-wide start at Pocono and Fontana? And just a minor bit of curiosity this time, but Verizon just recently got a new logo. I assume that this means we’ll be seeing IndyCar update theirs as well sometime soon?
Jeremy, Palo, IA
RM: Not sure how it could be done without some kind of manipulation, and even the red flags aren’t consistent. I’ve always said that the only reason to promote the Triple Crown is to have some big financial incentive and, other than Fuzzy’s Vodka offering $1 million to win all three, there’s never been anything. When you only have 22 or 23 cars for a 500-mile race the last thing you need is three abreast and a U.S. 500 start and wipe out half the field (because half of this field wouldn’t have back-up cars ready with engines). No clue about the logo.
Q: IndyCar’s feeder series is the Mazda Road To Indy, right? How come Mazda isn’t competing at the top of the ladder? Is there anything IndyCar can do to entice them to join the top level? I suppose Mazda likes running production-based engines (if memory serves, most of the ladder cars use modified Mazda engines), so building a bespoke engine would be a tough sell for them. Unless they teamed up with, say … Cosworth. The Ford ties to Mazda are still there, so it might work out. However, way back in 2011, I remember the rules be written to allow for four-cylinder engines, so perhaps the Mazda does have an avenue of sneaking into the big-time, unless the rules have been rewritten since then. Does Mazda have any interest in moving up to IndyCar, or are they happy being a spec-series supplier? On the engine rule front, is there any hope of loosening the regs slightly to allow for more engine combos? I’m not advocating a new engine formula, just looking for ways of luring other OEMs to the series by tweaking the current rules to meet some other existing engine packages.
Dave Zipf, Lexington, KY
RM: From all I’ve heard and observed, Mazda loves its current role in the feeder system for IndyCar and has really never seemed interested in moving up. People also have speculated that Mazda doesn’t have the financial wherewithal to compete with General Motors and Honda. But it seems Mazda is happy with the promotional value and recognition it receives in Lights, Pro Mazda and USF2000 and, on the flip side, there would be no ladder system without Dan Andersen and Mazda’s commitment so IndyCar should be very thankful for both.
Q: My son and a family friend enjoyed an Indian summer weekend at SCCA regional races held at Mid-Ohio. While there, the topic of racing’s high costs, especially at the pro levels, came up. Knowing your interest in sports, perhaps more on the betting side, you’ve seen the implementation of salary caps, and similar mechanisms to level the playing field between big market and smaller market sports teams. I think a similar re-boot would be healthy for IndyCar, and for that matter, F1. Looking back, the Can-Am offered a great series with lots of innovation and close racing … until Porsche and RP wheeled out the 917/10, and next the 917/30 “Turbo Panzer.” (ABOVE). Who had the money to compete with that? No-one – and the series eventually died. I think IndyCar and F1 fans would embrace an owners’ championship that limits what each team can spend, leveling the playing field. This championship would track what each team spent versus drivers’ points earned. The lower the value, the better. Benchmarking teams like this would be fascinating, and would perhaps showcase how well certain less-funded teams have performed, like Coyne with JWill several years ago, CFH Racing with JoeNew, and Graham Rahal with RLL his past season.
David Huff, Pittsburgh
RM: I really don’t think you can have it any more level than it’s been the past three seasons in IndyCar. Teams are very limited in what they can do to the cars, testing is restricted and it’s given teams like CFH, RLL and KVSH a chance to knock off the Big 3 on a regular basis. F1 could certainly use some kind of salary cap with its dreadful disparity, and there was talk about it, but I can’t imagine it happening.
Q: RACER reported that Sam Hornish’s NASCAR future is uncertain. For the love of God, please tell us no sponsor is going to make us watch him embarrass himself in the back of the field for another season.
Mark in Tampa
RM: It can’t be much fun for Sam, especially considering all the time he spent at the front of the pack in the Indy Racing League. He adapted OK to Nationwide (now Xfinity) cars, but his Cup transition has been a struggle. You would assume a younger driver will be hired to replace him and Sam will ride off into the sunset.
Q: That photograph of some of the 1928 Indy 500 fans in last week’s Mailbag got me thinking. I’m not aware of any books that give the IndyCar fan real insights into the drivers between 1911-1941, besides Meyer, Rose and Shaw. I did read two books about that era, King of the Boards and a book about the riding mechanics. Those are good books, but they cover a lot of territory.
Maybe this is more of a question for Donald Davidson, but occasionally you have listed books that have really informed me about racers and the 500 from 1950 to the split. Books like: As a Matter of Fact I Am Parnelli Jones, Against Death and Time, Stainless Steel Carrot, Black August, and more. I’m particularly interested in the star-crossed lives of the Chevrolet Brothers, San Francisco’s own Jimmy Murphy (thanks for citing him in your great article about the demise of the Syracuse Mile), and Russ Snowberger, a guy who raced his first race in 1921, ran at Indy for three decades and was a crew chief at Indy until 1960. The final racer I’m interested in is the great Ted Horn. (J.R. told me there is a book about him, but I can’t find it). Since the 100th anniversary of the 500 is six months down the line, maybe you could list some books that you recommend from the pre WWII days of Indy, if you don’t have suggestions about the guys I listed above?
Gerry Courtney, San Francisco, CA
RM: I called Donald and he says John Snowberger wrote a book about his brother, and there’s an old Ted Horn biography by Russ Catlin. Not sure how to find either one, but Google them, and if you go to a memorabilia show here in May someone there would surely give you some information or maybe have them for sale. If you can’t make it, I’ll look for you. Donald’s other suggestion is to buy Dick Wallen’s book on the board tracks called Gold, Guts & Glory (I wrote the chapter on Cincinnati) and Distant Thunder, When Midgets Were Mighty. The Autocourse History of the Indianapolis 500 (written by Donald and Rick Shaffer) is also informative as hell. Good luck.
Q: Why is the IndyCar series so hell-bent on adding street courses? If history has taught us anything, it is that road courses are a much better option for long-term sustainability. It seems like every year a street course goes bye-bye, sometimes before the race even happens, while races like Sonoma, Mid-Ohio, and Barber enjoy a decent amount of success. I’m sure Road America will do fine as well.
Another question I have is, why won’t a track like Iowa be considered for the season finale? It is an exciting track in one of the few locations in the country that has a passion for IndyCar racing. It would seem like a big deal, and look better for TV. Is Sonoma the season finale, because it is a good spot for sponsors and a season-ending banquet? If so, that is very unfortunate for the race fans. The fans should always be put first.
Brian, Joliet, IL
RM: I don’t think it’s so much a want as it is a need. IndyCar needs races, and cities seem more willing to try them than permanent road courses or ovals nowadays. Of course, as road courses go, NOLA was a disaster but Road Atlanta or Mosport (or both) would likely be decent draws for IndyCar if the run-off areas could be made safer (that’s IndyCar’s take, not mine BTW). But Baltimore, Las Vegas [the Champ Car race, ABOVE], Denver, Miami, San Jose and Houston came and went – just like ChicagoLand, Kansas City, Kentucky, Richmond, Homestead, Pikes Peak, Nashville and Las Vegas [the oval]. The ovals just tended to last a little longer. You are very perceptive about the season finale. IndyCar was giddy about ending the year in San Francisco, and Iowa wouldn’t be nearly cosmopolitan enough. It would have more people, a better race and a more intense atmosphere, but not nearly enough glitz for the sponsors.
It’s all about the shrimp cocktail.
Q: It’s almost time for the F1 U.S. and Mexican Grands Prix. Are going to cover one or both for NBCSN?
Tim Davis, Detroit, MI
RM: No it’s in the capable hands of Leigh Diffey, David Hobbs and Steve Matchett, but I’ll be watching.
Q: Just read your Syracuse article. We’re fans from the California Speedway who have searched you out the last couple years, but this is a throwback from my childhood. We actually went back to Oswego (and other parts north) in July for vacation – grew up there during summers with grandparents and went to the Speedway, right up the street from the McDonald’s. We were there for Harborfest and the Speedway was closed that night, but we roamed the empty stands for a few minutes the next morning when there was a Rusty Wallace school going on. Where in Oswego is the Syracuse group moving to? Is anything changing with the Oswego track? Keep us posted on this – I see readers from that area from time to time in the Mailbag. Maybe we’ll see you in Phoenix next year instead.
John P. Merli
RM: One report said the operator of Super DIRT Week, the five-day dirt car racing spectacular that draws 60,000 fans and more than 300 race cars, is looking at several locations for its new home, including two in nearby Oswego County. And there was a report after the race a new half-mile dirt track would be built in Central Square.
Q: Thank you for the story on Syracuse and the Final Super DIRT Week. I had the pleasure of being introduced to dirt modified racing by my grandfather, and each Friday night we would go to the Reading (PA) Fairgrounds and watch Toby Tobias, Al Taznady, Gerald Chamberlin, Bobby Gerhart, and Kenny Brightbill race. I attended Syracuse on seven occasions: the racing was awesome; the facility, not so much. Either way, another tradition will fade away. If you are a hardcore racing fan, NASCAR, INDYCAR, WoO, dirt or pavement, Super DIRT week was a must-do, if for no other reason than to rub elbows with some ornery, crusty, DIRT lifers.
RM: Sounds like it will be reincarnated as a half-mile, so that means the only USAC Mile tracks still standing are Indianapolis, DuQuoin, Springfield, Sacramento and Del Mar. And the last two haven’t hosted dirt cars in years.