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: For the past several years we have seen the management of IndyCar shoot themselves in the foot with such abandon that it seemed they wanted the 100th running of the Indy 500 to be the last. As a longtime open-wheel fan, Indy/CART, I have been increasingly depressed by this lack of interest and have been almost resigned to the fact that this next Indy may be the last. Then I came across an article that talked about a major multi-million dollar real-estate development being planned right along side of the Speedway, and it put some questions into my mind.
Is this development just some sort of pie-in-the-sky scheme to simply increase the land value so when the Speedway is also sold, the value will be higher? Will people buy into this new development only to discover the value is gone as the races are done? Does the management of IndyCar pay any attention to such happenings? Or do they care less, as their actions appear to show? Will they ever start to run the series with enough sense to make the Indy 500 last another hundred runnings? Do enough people care to make any of this matter?
Keith, Maple Ridge, BC, Canada
RM: There is a school of thought that IMS is being spruced up to be put on the market but Mari Hulman always said it was for her grandkids and would never be sold and Mark Miles claims it’s not for sale. As for the proposed $50 million project across from the track by the roundabout named after Wilbur Shaw that includes 150 apartments, 10 condos, a 120-room hotel and a 500-space parking garage, it sounds pretty ambitious but Main Street has undergone a major makeover so this venture appears to be real.
There had also been talk of IMS building a hotel and new suites outside Turn 2 but I don’t think there’s enough demand for a pair of hotels. Other than May and maybe a couple nights of the Brickyard, not sure why anyone would want to stay that far from downtown and old Speedway Motel (which closed in 2009) was a ghost town except for May, although it was also pretty run down.
I don’t think the Indy 500 is going away any time soon but I do think a lot of longtime ticket and suite holders are pissed off about the recent increases and treatment and won’t be renewing after 2016. That should be IMS’ #1 concern. As for whether IndyCar can continue to survive would seem to be the long-term concern. Or should be.
Q: What is the latest status on Mexico City, because I’ve heard that IndyCar might go there in 2017? If they did, how would the racing fare out as far as competition is concerned? Ovals that I’d add back to the circuit would be: Kentucky, Fontana, Milwaukee, Michigan, Loudon, and Eurospeedway in Germany. Remove Texas in place of Austin if they can stop those state money issues over there. What are your ideas for bringing some ovals back?
RM: If Carlos Slim wants it to happen, there will be a race in Mexico City but it’s going to need a couple of Mexican drivers to have a shot at drawing the crowds that flocked to the CART race in 2002. I have no idea if Mark Miles still has it on his radar but the F1 race was a major success last month. As for ovals, I would go back to Fontana in October and try a double-header at either Gateway or Kentucky but you can’t even think about promoting an oval without a major title sponsor and some fan-friendly prices.
Q: Tony Kanaan is one of my favorite drivers and I respect his thoughts a great deal, but I had to disagree with his recent quote where he said the Foyts and Andrettis of past generations didn’t have to work out as hard because the cars were not as demanding. He does realize he is talking about an era where the Foyts and Andrettis had to deal with limited downforce, no power steering, manual shifting, no cooling suits, etc. Could you provide a little bit more insight as to exactly what he meant there? I’m sure he didn’t intend it to be demeaning to drivers of that era, but it kind of sounded that way.
RM: I didn’t see his comments but both eras demanded strength and stamina. A 100-lap dirt race in August at DuQuoin in 95-degree temperatures with no power steering or drink bottles or cool suits would be just as much of a workout as two hours around Mid-Ohio today. And some of those Indy 500s were four and five hours long in the 1950s and 1960s and the excessive heat from a front-engine roadster proved fatal to Carl Scarborough in 1953. But, knowing T.K., he respects A.J. and the past and I’m sure he wasn’t trying to demean any generation.
Q: Not you. You’re too young to retire. But what about Kanaan, Castroneves, and Montoya for starters. I don’t dislike them, but at this point I also don’t care about them. Their fan base and attractiveness to sponsors may mean if they retire those cars don’t race so the answer to my question might be no, but when it’s impossible for Newgarden to get a ride with Chip or Roger and Conor Daly has to get on his hands and knees to beg people to let him race, there’s a bit of a flaw in the system. I miss Simona too.
Ryan in West Michigan
RM: That trio is still quick and probably has a minimum of two good years left – depending on their desire and results. I’ve said for years that Graham Rahal and Josef Newgarden would be Penske perfect fits but, so far, no inclination there’s any interest from The Captain. Sage Karam and Daly slotting into Ganassi would also be real good for IndyCar’s future but, again, just about everyone needs a good sponsor to get their foot in the door. Except Dixie.
Q: With news filtering out the other day that double points will continue to be gained for Indy and Sonoma I say “Oh, no, not again!” If any other race other than the Indy 500 is worthy of awarding double points at, it’s either Texas or the Pocono 500, and definitely not the finale at Sonoma. It’s a shame that the season finale is there because it’s a poor track for actual racing, narrow, hardly anywhere to pass and the only redeeming feature is that it’s unlikely to be raining. Just because Scott Dixon stole the championship there this year from Montoya doesn’t mean there will be any more drama next year, and certainly not worth double points. It’s the one issue I expected the new and improved management to listen to the fans about and it’s really disappointing that they didn’t. Once again, we’ll have this issue hanging over the championship like a dark cloud ominously with the prospect of a less than worthy champion as a result of it. With all the steps in the right direction, this is a misstep that continues in the wrong one and I hope it’s amended.
Rick in Toronto
RM: I couldn’t agree with you more, except Dixon was obviously worthy with his season-high three wins. But double points, even at Indy, are unnecessary because it diminishes the championship. IndyCar didn’t need gimmicks to determine the title from 2010-’13 and having it decided on a track as un-racy as Sonoma does nothing for the television ratings either. It’s a bad idea that needs to go away ASAP and even Formula 1 pulled the plug on the same thing after one year.
Q: I know you are always bombarded with emails saying we need to go here or there or everywhere but there are a couple tracks I was wondering if you had any up to date information on. First, the CART/Champ Car races at Denver I thought were very good but returning there, at least to my knowledge, hasn’t been discussed at all. The Champ Car race in Monterrey, Mexico at Fundidora Park I thought was very exciting and seemed to be well attended and from what I can tell the track is still there. On top of that it seemed in the early 2000s a fourth of the field was sponsored by Mexican companies.
I also don’t quite understand why IndyCar isn’t following the Bernie model and racing in countries with dictatorship governments willing to spend tons of money to host a race? I’m sure if IndyCar had a competent sales staff pounding the pavement we could find a few countries in South America or the Middle East willing to spend millions of dollars on a race. Heck, I work in sales myself and I can’t come up with a reason this isn’t happening other than the IndyCar front office either doesn’t want to expand and grow or they do not have good people working for them trying to find new destinations. They surely can’t expect new tracks to approach them about hosting a race, can they? What are your thoughts on this?
RM: Denver had a couple good passing spots and decent crowds in its CART/Champ Car incarnation but still lost money as I recall. There was also talk that somebody was going to build an oval outside Denver but that went away. You have to remember that Adrian Fernandez, Michel Jourdain and Mario Dominguez were CART full-timers when Monterrey was on the schedule and, just like Mexico City, there’s no use even discussing going back unless the locals have somebody to cheer on. IndyCar made a couple runs at China with no success and Brazil lost millions, so I don’t know how Bernie convinces countries to spend a fortune to financially fail. I think IndyCar has pursued various tracks in and outside North America but it’s got to make CENTS and it’s a costly proposition. Fans are always saying why not go back to MIS or Kentucky or Chicago but the lack of attendance makes it risky business, so Phoenix will be the litmus test in 2016. Except it’s going to take at least three years to give it a fair chance.
Q: While listening to JMV on Indy radio the week of the Homestead NASCAR race, I heard Kyle Busch being interviewed about running in the Indy 500. He stated that he couldn’t do anything like that until he won a championship. Now that he’s got that under his belt, what do you think our chances are of the other Busch brother coming north in May for the 100th running?
Bob Young, Lafayette, IN
RM: That’s exactly what he said when Randy Bernard asked him in 2010 and it would be great to have the current NASCAR champion competing in the 100th Indy 500 but I can’t see Joe Gibbs allowing it. Especially since the Toyota king would have to drive either a Chevy or Honda.
Q: I know it’s too early to make predictions like who will be IndyCar champ, winner of the 500, etc. for the 2016 season. So what are some of the things you’d like to see happen this year in terms of competition, race control, car performance, etc.
Gerry Courtney, San Francisco, CA
RM: Al Unser Jr. as chief steward making all the on-track calls, no double points races, Bobby Unser and Paul Tracy in the ABC booth for Indy and Josef Newgarden battling Graham Rahal and Marco Andretti for the IndyCar title.
Q: I just finished Black Noon and I must say that was a really enjoyable read. I was wondering what your take or insights are into one of the darkest days in our sport. Was Dave MacDonald in over his head at Indy? Was the Thompson car as evil as they say and would any other driver (rookie or not) been equally at risk? Has Eddie Sachs Jr. given up hope of running the Indy 500?
Duncan, Port Perry, Ontario
RM: Art Garner did a wonderful job of capturing the drama of 1964 at Indianapolis and talked to all the right people. As for MacDonald, he was an accomplished sports car racer but he’d never run an open-wheel race prior to Indy that year and that was unusual in that USAC usually made a rookie run Phoenix or Milwaukee or Trenton (or all three) before taking your test at IMS (unless you were an F1 veteran). Listening to the other drivers it sounds like MacDonald was overly aggressive at the start but not necessarily over his head in terms of ability. The Sears All-State roller skate of Mickey Thompson became evil when it was forced to change the tire profile and it was a handful for everyone that tried it. Eddie Junior tried to put a couple deals together to field a car at Indianapolis but they fell through and I’m not sure if it’s still on his radar.
ABOVE: F5000 was the feature race at
the inaugural Long Beach GP in 1975.
Q: I’m a childhood fan of IndyCar who came back to the series after The Split ended. In researching the history of open-wheel racing in the U.S. during these long off seasons, I couldn’t understand why USAC dropped road racing for several years in the 1970s. Then I stumbled upon the SCCA’s Formula 5000 series. I was amazed to see that several F1 and Indy drivers participated, and even more surprised to learn that USAC actually co-sanctioned F5000 for its last three seasons from 1974-’76. Could you help me put F5000 in context in terms of the overall quality of the racing and drivers compared to IndyCar and F1 at that time, its popularity, and whether USAC and SCCA blew an opportunity to create a unified, diverse open-wheel series that could have prevented the CART split a few years later (I read old news accounts where USAC officials blamed the SCCA for refusing to compromise on technical regulations)?
Thanks for helping me understand the significance and legacy (if any) of F5000 and its proper context in the history of American open-wheel racing. You are the thinking fan’s guide to this sport – thanks for all the time you spend helping casual fans understand and appreciate it. Happy New Year!
Gideon Berger, Denver, CO
RM: In the three years of the SCCA/USAC Formula 5000 series (1974-’76), Brian Redman captured all three titles but it was excellent racing with a star-studded lineup as F1 world champions Mario Andretti, Alan Jones and even James Hunt competed along with Al Unser, Gordon Johncock, Danny Ongais, Mike Mosley, Jackie Oliver, Peter Gethin, David Hobbs, Tony Brise, John Morton, John Cannon, Brett Lunger, Vern Schuppan and a promising talent named B.J. Swanson who lost his life in 1976 at Mid-Ohio. The races also were well attended but, between USAC and SCCA management, it was doomed to fail and became another version of Can-Am in 1977 with bodies put on the F5000 cars. It should be remembered as a great series with big names and cool cars that died needlessly.
Q: I am glad that Honda and Chevy support Indy car racing but do you understand why they do it? The series figures minimally if at all in their marketing. I can’t think of a print of television ad by either company featuring the series in recent times. What is the intangible that keeps them involved?
RM: Well, other than the obvious PR bonanza from sponsoring the mailbag on RACER.com, I defer to my pal T.E. McHale, the motorsports manager of American Honda, to answer the Honda part of your question.
“I guess I would point out that Ryan Hunter-Reay’s Indy car had a prominent role in the Honda Dream Garage ad which ran nationwide throughout the spring of 2015, and Graham Rahal’s Steak n’ Shake car was featured in a Power of Dreams ad which aired throughout the summer. Granted, neither of those ads were exclusively focused on Honda’s racing efforts, but the cars were utilized to help provide context for the scope of Honda’s corporate activities. We also executed a ‘win’ ad in multiple national publications following RHR’s victory in the 2014 Indianapolis 500, and will likely do so again, should Honda power the winning driver in the 100th running of the 500 next May.”
And here’s Chevy’s response, courtesy of a spokesman for Chevrolet racing:
“Chevrolet races in a variety of series including the Verizon IndyCar Series to develop and showcase technology transfer from production to racing and racing back to production. Examples would be: aerodynamics, fuel management systems, durability, etc.; develop engineers – provide excellent training ground for production engineers to add the unique skills needed in racing to their production-side resume and enhance the technology transfer; build Chevrolet brand image and opinion – public can witness Chevrolet reliability, durability and fuel economy through on-track performance and interact with current and prospective customers with at-track displays that feature many vheicles from the current Chevrolet lineup of cars, trucks and crossovers and Chevrolet Racing celebrity driver appearances to interact with fans. Every series in which Chevrolet races offers unique opportunites to showcase items prominent in that series. With regard to the Verizon IndyCar Series, the list includes direct fuel injection, turbocharging and aerodynamics. At the display, fans can see up close how much of the technology flows from racing to production.”
Q: I ordered several of the books you said would be great Xmas gifts and you were right. The Hungness book on Carl Fisher was a great read and I didn’t know he was into so many things. Hope I don’t have to wait until next Xmas for the Gurney book. When are they going to get a replacement for Walker? News from Boston doesn’t sound good. The Boston politicians haven’t changed in a 100 years. They still hire crooks to run things. Lets hope 2016 will be a banner year for IndyCar.
Don Betsworth, Torrance, CA
RM: Fisher was a fascinating character and I’m glad you got to read his story. Talking with Evi Gurney last week, the book might not debut until 2017 – 50 years after his victories at Spa and Le Mans. Boston is looking better after a couple of the squeaky wheels got oiled and I think it’s going to happen. But I do recall Paul Newman trying to promote a race for Philadelphia and he finally gave up because of all the politics.
Q: Mainly just wanted to thank you for the great video on Troy Ruttman. The high school auto shop teacher I had in the mid-’60s had been around racing all his life (and kept a V8-60 midget in the shop) and said that Ruttman was far and away the most gifted driver he had ever seen. He was also sincerely saddened that Troy threw it all away.
Unfortunately, my teacher passed away before Ruttman was able to get things together. As life has turned out, that teacher had more influence on me than we would both ever know (everybody has one gold standard teacher), so his observations about TR were Major.
There has been some discussion lately about racing books. It is long out of print (still easy to find, though), but Griff Borgeson’s “The Golden Age of the American Racing Car” is a gem. This Tucson guy is looking forward to the race and meeting you in Phoenix next year. I’m also scared s**tless about what “The Family” will do with IndyCar and IMS after the 100th running. But, that’s another story.
RM: Having never seen Troy run a sprinter I can only marvel at his achievements on the high banks through Bob Gates’ fine book but the fact Parnelli, A.J. and Dan revered Rutt is really all you need to know. And it’s cool he bounced back after racing to have a successful life. I’m more concerned with what the racing fans will do with Indy after next May. See ya in Phoenix.
Q: I just felt the need to pile on with my own comment about the lame logo for IndyCar. Isn’t the silhouette basically the same as the original IRL white-car-on-blue-background logo, only without color? And the only reason I really remember that logo is because I saw someone wearing what I thought was that logo at Cleveland during The Split, and I was going to jokingly chastise the person for wearing the “enemy” logo, until I realized that on his shirt, the car had clearly been wrecked, as it had its wings and wheels dangling (which, come to think of it, would be a pretty appropriate logo for IndyCar itself these days).
Couldn’t they come up with something, oh I don’t know…original?? Then again, this is IndyCar’s current brainless-trust we’re talking about!
Don, Youngstown, Ohio
RM: Like I said last week, the new IndyCar logo is pretty nondescript but the 100th Indy 500 logo is really disappointing. It’s almost impossible to identify what it’s promoting and all it needed was the Wing & Wheels, a date and the number for tickets. I think the shirt you saw was the genius of the CrapWagon boys.