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: When you look back at the 2015 IndyCar season three events stand out for me: Justin Wilson’s death, Dixie’s amazing run to snatch the championship late in the last race of the year and JPM’s brilliant run at Indy. Now that you’ve had some time to reflect on the season, are there significant stories that you felt were under reported, or just got lost in the shuffle of he season.
Gerry Courtney, San Francisco, CA
RM: Whether you loved it, hated it, or watched it with a hand over one eye like the NASCAR drivers tweeting about it, the Fontana race did more for raising IndyCar’s awareness than anything in recent history. It also helped drive up viewership for the rest of the season. And the rescue of James Hinchcliffe at Indy by the Holmatro Safety Team simply reaffirmed there’s nothing in motorsports like this group.
The emergence of Josef Newgarden and resurgence of Graham Rahal were the two best storylines for my money, and the JPM/Power duel at Indianapolis was the best moment. Obviously, losing a person of Justin’s caliber tempered everything on track, but his drive at Mid-Ohio was part of another memorable year for IndyCar.
Q: After enjoying the Indy Car tests at Road America, I was wondering if the Phoenix tests will be open to the public? The dates are perfect for someone stuck in the frozen tundra at that time of year. I would be able to take in a day of testing, and extend my stay for some other activities in that part of the country. The Grand Canyon is wonderful during that time of year, and there are hardly any crowds – plus a little warmth would be welcome in February. Let me know what you find, and thanks for all you do for us die-hard Indy fans.
RM: According to IndyCar’s Mike Kitchel, The Test in the West at PIR will be open to the public and the fact it’s on a Friday and Saturday should give it a chance to be well-attended.
Q: Here’s a PR thought for the Feb. 26-27 test at Phoenix: We’re trying to reach younger fans, right? Why not take this opportunity to arrange for a field trip to the speedway for elementary school kids? I have some knowledge that in another city, a couple thousand kids were bussed into a symphony rehearsal. Why not a learning experience about open-wheel racing for the kids? Can you imagine the wide-eyed future fans as they got to sit in a display car? IndyCar should investigate this and other creative approaches to get added value out of their schedule.
Patrick Hartley, Phoenix, Arizona
RM: IndyCar says it’s working on fan engagement and autograph sessions for PIR, and it’s possible that your suggestion could be implemented since it’s used daily at IMS during May.
Q: I saw Graham Rahal on The Rich Eisen Show and thought he did a tremendous job. Has IndyCar made any attempt to try and get Eisen, Dan Patrick or one of the other sports talk show hosts to come and do a show from one of the IndyCar events? It seems like a good way to grow the series would be to make fans of some of the mainstream media guys. What better why to sell them then to show them the product in person; maybe give them a ride with Mario Andetti in the two-seater or let Paul Tracy or Townsend Bell drive them around the track? Give them VIP treatment for the race, and let the people and the great racing win them over.
Scott R., Portland OR
RM: Not sure that conversation has ever taken place, and not sure if those two guys do remote shows other than NCAA Finals and Super Bowl, but it’s certainly worth pursuing getting one or both in the two-seater with Mario. Or a trip to the 100th Indianapolis 500 and some VIP treatment to get them close to the action. Eisen had Graham on right after Fontana and seems to be more than willing to help promote IndyCar. And both radio shows play here in Indianapolis, so it’s a natural to at least try and get one, or both, to do a show from IMS.
Q: Given all of Conor Daly’s presence at the races and on social media, I couldn’t help but noticing he’s had something Smithfield on him, whether it be a hat or shirt. For having never been able to start at Indy this year, he has been quite the marketing asset for them. Is there any word if they will be backing him for a ride at Indy again, or perhaps an entire season? If there’s anybody that deserves that one chance to show what he can do against the big dogs, it has to be Daly.
Alan Bandi, Butler, PA
RM: The Smithfield people made it very clear they had been tracking Conor’s career for a long time and want to do whatever possible for him to succeed in IndyCar. But I worry that IndyCar hasn’t rolled out the red carpet and that’s disappointing, because this is a big company involved in NASCAR that’s looking to branch out. Not saying Smithfield is prepared to spend $5-7 million, but it’s obvious they are associate sponsor material. And Conor showed his chops at Long Beach and Detroit (ABOVE) in relief roles, so imagine what he could do in a full-time ride?
Q: I just checked out the Mazda Road to Indy 2016 schedule and I am fine with that many double-headers. But at the same time, I’m just a bit sad that they had to remove Long Beach. As far as the double-headers go for the IndyCar support series, Dan Andersen should consider implementing a mandatory pit-stop in the first race, GP2-style (for Indy Lights only). Then there is the Chris Griffis Memorial test that will take place at the Circuit of the Americas. Maybe in the near future, we hope that Andersen Promotions could work out something so getting these young drivers can showcase their talent in a Formula 1 atmosphere during the North American F1 rounds as we await the debut of Haas F1 next year. I’d really love to see an Indy Lights event in COTA.
JLS, Chicago, IL
RM: Not sure Lights needs pit stops, just seems like an added expense, and the fact there are seven double-headers gives the series good exposure – even without Long Beach. I imagine Bernie would want a fortune to run a support race at COTA ans get at least 20 minutes of track time. If IndyCar ever makes it to Austin, then Lights could follow.
Q: Noticed another news item about a nine-year-old football player who died. This makes at least five such unfortunate incidents I have seen since this August. Yet where is the outcry that (tackle) football should be banned? Should these young athletes, and their parents, be told there is a chance that they may die playing a sport? And yet some unknowing yokel can demand to immediately cease IndyCar when a driver know the risks associated with the profession?
Also: Sorry NASCAR, but anytime a driver uses a car as a weapon on the racetrack, it should result in a suspension. Racing accidents happen, yes. Hard driving competition accidents happen, yes. But there’s already enough potential dangers in these without condoning deliberately putting another driver, and potentially fans, at risk of injury. And, yes, that goes for Ms. Patrick as well. Like I said, any intentional use of a car as a weapon should be banned, period.
RM: Actually, the total of football fatalities so far this year in the USA is up to 11 and, you are correct, no national publications are crying out to ban it. You would think “60 Minutes” would do a whole show on these shocking statistics. I do think more and more parents are wary of letting their kids play football but it’s almost like this topic is swept under the rug. As for NASCAR, the hypocrisy of crashing people and being suspended is almost as funny as having a Top 25 car.
Q: Sorry to see that Honda got the ‘call’. I like Honda, had some of their cars, but they missed the aero design. Too bad. IndyCar comes to Phoenix next year, just up the road from me. Since it is all spec cars, I have no desire to spend my time and money on them. Time will tell, but my guess is that racing is fading away. At least anything I (and millions of others who have left) care to watch.
RM: Like I wrote last week, it’s mixed feelings since innovation and creating an edge is what made racing so compelling 40 or 50 years ago. It’s the essence of racing. But IndyCar cannot afford to lose Honda so it did the smart thing for survival. As for the racing, it’s never been better despite having spec cars, so you should at least come to the open test at PIR in February.
Q: A few weeks back when answering a question about 1960s Indy drivers Jochen Rindt and Masten Gregory, you mentioned talking to Eamon “Chalkie” Fullalove. I recall he and his pal “Rabbit” (don’t remember his real name) compiled quite a resume of cars they either built or wrenched for some top IndyCar teams of the ’60s and ’70s, an era of huge innovation. Do you have more info on their accomplishments? It would be fun to learn about other famous designers and builders from those times. Builder names such as Watson, Kurtis, Chapman, Kuzma, Meskowski, Epperly, Edmunds, Salih, Stapp and Finley; and designers such as Terry, Southgate, Slobodynskyj, Riley, Timbs, Barnard, and Philippe. Have you thought about future articles to educate us on any of these legends?
Bruce Selby, Magnolia, TX
RM: Graeme “Rabbit” Bartils and Eamon “Chalkie” Fullalove (Chalkie is pictured above with Colin Chapman and Jim Clark in 1967) first worked together at Brabham in 1968, where Bartils built the Repco-Brabham engines that Jack Brabham and Jochen Rindt raced at Indy, and Fullalove was a mechanic about-to turn-fabricator. Rabbit got his nickname because when he took out his false front teeth he looked like Bugs Bunny, while Chalkie got his moniker for cheating at darts. They were working together at McLaren in 1971 when Gene White hired them away to build Indy cars that became known as the “Atlanta cars.” Then they went to work for A.J. Foyt in 1972 and on to Eldon Rasmussen before the Rabbit headed south for NASCAR and Chalkie began building wings at Jackie Howerton’s shop.
Today, Bartils still works in Dawsonville, Ga., while Fullalove resides in Old Windsor and is one of the last great aluminum men – still making wings for vintage F1 cars and creating daily hell on Facebook. Chalkie, shown here in his first trip to Indy in 1967 with Colin Chapman and Jim Clark, managed to avoid any long-term jail sentences despite driving a rental car into the Holiday Inn swimming pool, making acetylene bombs, and verbally abusing all of IndyCar racing. He and some of the original Lotus team are coming back for the 100th Indianapolis 500 – provided they clear customs and I can get them pit passes. I intend to make videos about the great builders you referred to so keep watching RACER.com for my weekly series of Bench Racing.
Q: In this week’s mailbag you said that Paul Page, “will be back for the 100th Indianapolis 500 and that’s all in 2016.” That was in regards to Tom in Waco’s question about Paul Page returning to ABC broadcasts. Was your quote referring to Paul Page doing the ABC broadcast just for Indy only, or was it referring to him only doing the Indy 500 this season for the Indianapolis Radio Network? I hope the answer is for ABC and was real excited to read that. But before I get my hopes up, I wanted to get clarification from you.
John Baadilla, Norwalk, CA
RM: No, that’s my fault for not clarifying. Paul will be back one last time for IMS Radio, not ABC, although the thought of re-uniting him, Sam and Uncle Bobby would be highly entertaining.
Q: I know you don’t normally post photos for the Mailbag, but I wanted to share this photo of our IndySlotCar club, all of whom bought #BadassWilson T-shirts. It’s not the sizable donation that some of the auction items brought in, but we are all huge IndyCar fans, and especially of Justin as he once ran with us when we had our “Mini Mile” at the Milwaukee track for a Champ Car weekend autograph session. Thanks for keeping some talk about IndyCar alive in the long off-season.
Mike Kristof, Commissioner, IndySlotCar Series
RM: Hey, everything helps, and as Marshall’s story indicates, because of all you fans out there the fund for Justin has grown to over $600,000 for his wife and two little girls. The fact he ran with your club is just another indicator of what a cool guy JWill was – all the time.
Q: Excited to get back to Road America, but bummed to see Milwaukee off the schedule; have been going there since I was in diapers. Any chance IndyCar can pitch Red Bull on some form of sponsorship, given the issues in F1? I know that Cheever may have screwed the pooch some years back, but perhaps a Mr. Penske might be smooth enough to land a permanent sponsor for a top-running car.
Matt, Milwaukee, WI
RM: IndyCar has the best pipeline of all to Red Bull since Jay Frye, the chief revenue officer for Hulman Motorsports, ran the NASCAR Red Bull program. He still has a direct line of communication and friends in high places at Red Bull so if IndyCar ever has a shot at re-uniting it’s with Jay. But nothing yet.
Q: A cold chill travelled down my back when I flipped over to RACER.com this morning. Maybe life wasn’t worth living anymore. Maybe, just maybe, it was time to look for a new meaning in an alternative universe. Or at least find another addition that would sent me to a ugly death in a dark ally that would shame my family and friends. My name would never be spoken again in proper circles.
Still, the headline burned into my eyes, and tears started to trickle out. The box in the upper right-hand corner would usually be glanced at and ignored as meaning advertisement selling empty promises for hard-earned cash or ill-gotten credit. Yet its power matched the greatest headlines from New York City Daily News and any other Murdock fear-peddling newspapers spread across the globe. Front page newspaper headlines bold and large enough to keep the International Space Station up to date with each passing over the major metropolitan watering holes spread across the planet: Indy Race Team Auction.
The words are so simple, yet cutting deep enough to leave a lasting pain. Bettenhausen, Lola and Champ Car are the only clues as who is auctioning this stuff off. Tell us more. Tell us more before this great name, Bettenhausen, is lost when the auctioneer’s hammer pounds the table for one last time. Oh please, tell us not to be afraid.
Redding, Still Denying Mental Health Services Knocking At the Door
RM: It’s the assets of HVM Racing, which took over Bettenhausen Racing following Tony’s death in 2000, and it will be held by Key Auctioneers on Nov. 19.
Here is the press release:
The assets of HVM Racing, an Indy racing team that competed in the IndyCar series from 2008-2012, will be auctioned on Thursday, November 19 according to Indianapolis-based Key Auctioneers. Among the items to be auctioned are two Indy cars, a semi and two transporters. The team’s original incarnation was as Bettenhausen Motorsports. After Tony Bettenhausen Jr. was killed in a 2000 plane crash, the team was sold to Keith Wiggins and others. Cedric the Entertainer was a one-time owner. Drivers for the team have included Helio Castroneves, Patrick Carpentier, E. J. Viso and Simona de Silvestro (ABOVE). The auction will feature three rings, and will include racing memorabilia of HVM Racing and other IndyCar teams (photos, t-shirts, polos, jackets, racing suits, helmets, shoes and more), as well as HVM hospitality materials, tools, metal fabrication equipment, radios, computers and other equipment. The wide array of items being auctioned is expected to attract both racing professionals and fans. The complete inventory and photos of the items can be found on Key Auctioneers’ website: http://www.keyauctioneers.com/auction-detail/?id=273510.
The auction will take place Thursday, November 19 beginning at 10 a.m. EST at 57 Gasoline Alley, Indianapolis, 46222. Online bidding will also be available. An inspection of items will take place Wednesday, November 18 from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. on site. For more information about the auction, contact Kevin Martin at email@example.com or 317.353.1100.
Q: Enjoyed your video tribute to Jack McGrath. Any particular reason he was going to quit running on dirt just to concentrate on Indianapolis?
Gordon Walker, Orange County, CA
RM: According to Gene Crucean’s excellent retrospective Fearless, McGrath was going to run a sporting goods store owned by car owner Jack Hinkle and cut back his racing to Indy only. He was 36 and probably figured he’d been dodging bullets for 15 years. It was a cruel irony that he died after announcing it would be his final dirt race and it brought a violent end to 1955 – when Vuky, Mike Nazaruk, Jerry Hoyt, Manny Ayulo and Larry “Crash” Crockett were all killed along with world driving champion Alberto Ascari, plus the horror of Le Mans where an estimated 82 people lost their lives.
Q: No IndyCars to watch in November, so I was just watching a replay of the F1 race in Austin. On the start of the second lap, the two Saubers got together and shed a bunch of their wings in debris on the track. Massa went right through it, yet they didn’t throw a caution. IndyCar almost always throws a caution when this happens. Do you have any idea why? What is the difference?
Ted from Conway, MA
RM: Obviously if it’s major debris in or near the groove, be it oval or road course or street circuit, IndyCar is going to clear it and sometimes it brings out a caution. I have no idea what F1’s procedure is, but didn’t see the incident you are wondering about.