Robin Miller's Mailbag for September 28, presented by Honda Racing / HPD

Robin Miller's Mailbag for September 28, presented by Honda Racing / HPD

IndyCar

Robin Miller's Mailbag for September 28, presented by Honda Racing / HPD

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Welcome to the Robin Miller Mailbag as presented by Honda Racing / HPD. You can follow the Santa Clarita, California-based company at: 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 millersmailbag@racer.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: After watching the snooze fest at Sonoma, I intended to write a plea letter to you in hopes of influencing some press for a move back to an oval for the IndyCar finale. Work travel prevented that, but lo and behold, you felt the same way, and your article was excellent. I also liked your list of alternatives. I was at Texas in 2002 when Sam Hornish edged out Helio after 30 laps of side-by-side daring. No one was sitting. Chicago used to be a nice finale track as well. Jay Frye appears to listen and has done great things in his short tenure – thanks for alerting him to this obvious need for change.

Ed Koenig, Sacramento

RM: Trust me, Jay didn’t need to be alerted, he was a proponent of an oval-track finish long before I wrote that column, but because of contracts it may take a couple years to make it happen. I kinda like Gateway now that there’s no pro football team in St. Louis and with Curtis Francois promoting IndyCar, but Phoenix might also be cool.

Q: Can we use some common sense here? There is only one place that should host the IndyCar season finale. It’s Indianapolis. Get the GP out of the month of May, where it has no buzz and gets swallowed up by the Indy 500. As you have pointed out many times, nobody cares about road racing at IMS in May. That month is, and always will be, about oval racing and the Indy 500. Give the GP a stand-alone in early October as the final race of the season. The vast majority of open-wheel racing fans and IndyCar fans reside within driving distance of IMS. Bring the championship to those fans, and you might actually get more then the friends and family that have shown up each year at Sonoma or Fontana. And IMS could spread out their big racing events (Indy 500 in May, Brickyard in July, ICS finale in October). This isn’t rocket science, but some in the IndyCar world seem to be too dense to figure it out. 

Drew, Gale IN

RM: If an oval can’t be secured for the finale, I’m all for your suggestion for all the reasons you stated. The only good thing about the road race in May is that it’s on national television and helps promote qualifying and the Indy 500, and gives IndyCar a three-week shot on ABC. The only downside is that the Boston Consulting Group also favors this as the last race.

Q: Amen to your pitch for an oval finale. I love road racing as much as anyone but totally agree that for a wrap-up with real drama (and forget artificial double points) an oval is the way to go. As you said, it brings the heritage in as well as close racing with passing. And as you also point out, there are several good candidates. As an old friend of mine used to say, ” from your lips to God’s ears.”

Jeff Brown, Bernardsville, N.J.

RM: The desired ingredients for your title-clinching race is passing, a few nail-biting moments and drama – which any oval can deliver in spades compared to Sonoma. I don’t care how nice the restaurants are; I want an ass-kicker for the finale.

Q: Last week a reader opined that Mosport should replace the downtown Toronto race and you seemed to agree. Mosport is my home track and a fine one, but if the crowds (in fewer, smaller grandstands ) are dwindling downtown, a trolly ride from anywhere, how likely will they improve holding a race an hour-and-a half out in the boonies? Would a circuit race anywhere ever be favored over a downtown one? I thought bringing the race to the people rather than the other way around was an IndyCar mantra. Thanks for a great season!

Anthony Jenkins

RM: Before CART came apart, Molson left and construction began eating away at the track, Toronto was one of the best, most vibrant and well-attended events in North America. It’s still a great city with its share of passionate fans, but its not much of a circuit anymore. Mosport has been refurbished and I think would draw a good crowd. Elkhart Lake and Mid-Ohio draw much better than Toronto or Detroit or St. Pete. Long Beach is obviously the benchmark for street racing, but road courses are making a serious comeback in IndyCar. Look for Portland to join the fun in 2018.

Q: I saw your editorial about how Sonoma should not be the final race of the year, and I agree fully. I watched the race until Power dropped out with mechanical issues. Then, I turned off the TV as I knew Simon Pagenaud was going to be champion. I believe that the championship-ending race should reflect Indy’s heritage and should be run on an oval, on a Saturday evening, under the lights. Watching a Sonoma snoozefest of Sunday evening at 6pm CST doesn’t cut it for me.

Jerry Wilt, Houston

RM: A night race on an oval combined to give IndyCar some great finishes at Fontana, it just started so late for Midwest viewers. So, ideally, maybe a night show at Gateway or Iowa would be the best place to wrap up the season.


Q: I agree with you that the season finale should be on an oval, and I wish the powers that be could make Fontana work. I think the series needs three superspeedways. Has there been any talk of doing away with double points? As you have said, IndyCar doesn’t need it, and the series that thought up this gimmick dumped it after one season. Also, has there been any talk of going back to Motegi? (ABOVE) I know the oval was damaged after the earthquake a few years ago. It seems the series wants to expand in some direction overseas, and this could be another oval brought back. Thanks, keep up the great work here and NBCSN!

Thomas Peterson, Newport News, VA

RM: I like the way Jay Frye has listened to the paddock about rules, cars and testing so I would think he’s open to blowing up double points if that’s what the majority wants (and I don’t know anybody that likes it). As for Japan, it’s up to Honda, but I think Sato needs to have a ride to make it happen.

Q: All the recent chatter about where and when to end the season, possible new tracks, or maybe starting earlier spurred me to chime in here. Where and when the season starts is fine. St. Pete the week before Sebring is a great starting point for the year. Starting in February you can pretty easily get lost, as it puts you up against Speed Weeks and a little event called the Super Bowl. I looked up old PPG Indy Car schedules from the early 90’s and confirmed my memory that they started in mid-March and didn’t run much past Labor Day. They ran three races after Labor Day in 1994, and ended on Columbus Day weekend.

This needs to happen again, starting in 2018. If Portland is in the mix and Fontana still is interested, it wouldn’t take much to do a slight alteration to the schedule. Put Portland in where Gateway is now. Move Gateway to Sonoma’s current date – even if Portland isn’t in the mix. Put Sonoma on the first weekend in October, then end at Fontana on Columbus Day weekend, on Sunday afternoon.

I’m fully aware ABC has a lock on network coverage, but that seems like it might be addressed when the current contract runs out. If NBC gets the chance to put IndyCar on it can use it as a lead in to Sunday Night Football. The start times for the two west coast races would be the perfect lead-in to SNF for TV and the spectators. Don’t give me this nonsense that it’s too hot in SoCal in early October, because it isn’t. I’m sure Fontana would be pleased to be on network TV and hosting the finale. Again, I’m aware NBC coverage might not happen in 2018 but why not get the schedule set up to be ready when/if it does? What do you think?

Eric Zwirlein, Lancaster, NY

RM: Well, first off I know the season always ended in November at Phoenix in the USAC and early CART days, and it went until Halloween or Nov. 1 from 1997-2000 at Fontana. Not going to be any network but ABC until the new contract is negotiated after 2018, but Fontana has made it clear that it needs a night race in October to bring back IndyCar. I’d be in favor of that or a Friday night finale at Gateway, since Saturday and Sunday are so college and NFL saturated.

Q: I’m with you Robin, Sonoma is not the ideal final race. Personally, I think one thing stands between figuring out a logical solution to: more ovals, sanity for double-points, a good finale and the Triple Crown returning. It’s Mark Miles channeling the Boston Consulting Group! My solution? Bring back Fontana (the finale in autumn needs to be someplace where it’s NOT likely to rain – Gateway and Chicagoland are too iffy, even though they can have awesome weather in the fall). Make it the finale in October (heck, November!), thus making every IndyCar fan + the paddock happy. Restore the Triple Crown (with the $$$ bonus for winning all three). Make Triple Crown events double points because they are LONGER events – pseudo-endurance. It’s logical, non-gimmicky. Other than West-Coast starting times (even more painful for me because I live in Europe), I see no downside – only positive changes. I’m pretty sure the only people that do are Mark Miles and the BCG!

David Leigh

RM: As discussed in an earlier letter, Fontana would be fine if it’s held in October at night but that’s not going to happen on Mark’s watch. And the Triple Crown only makes CENTS if there’s big money involved, which isn’t likely. I hate double points anywhere and qualifying points at Indy is ludicrous. IndyCar’s championship usually plays out like real competition should so no gimmicks, please. A Gateway finale at night in September should have good weather and I just like the idea of a Midwestern race to end the season. Thanks for staying up late and watching IndyCar.


 

Q: First, do you think J.R. Hildebrand (ABOVE) will ever get back in an IndyCar full-time? He had a rough few years and now everyone seams to be afraid of him. But he’s proven strong at Indianapolis these past few years, and I’d love to see him ruffle some feathers in the field. Secondly, what do you think of the possibility of Tony Kannan staying at Ganassi? My thoughts are that with Ganassi losing Target, if TK goes elsewhere would Ganassi will be willing to lose two big sponsorships in one year? Yes, there’s talk of them going with Honda, which could bring in more money, but still … Also, maybe Ganassi would want to keep TK for a few more years until another sought-after driver becomes available, like James Hinchcliffe.

Kaitlyn Swanson, Kandiyohi, MN

RM: I think Ed Carpenter really likes J.R., as a racer and test driver, and it’s obviously Hildebrand’s best chance for returning full-time. And he’s done an excellent job for ECR the past couple Mays. T.K. will make his decision this week and, initially, I don’t think Chip wanted to give me more than one more year but with the NTT Data people pushing to keep him and Honda in the picture (they love Kanaan), it could be a two-year deal – which is what A.J. has already offered him.

Q: A few thoughts on now that the IndyCars have parked them for the year:

Awesome racing again, from some of the best and most approachable drivers in any series. Best-kept secret in all of sports. Am I the only one who would’ve like to seen Newgarden anywhere but Penske, for no reason other than that we don’t need one team dominating the series like they did this year? IndyCar does not need an all-Penske fight for the title in the last race.

The aero kit freeze is a good thing, and with Jay Frye, Bill Pappas and co in charge of the next kit I have hope it will race better and look like an IndyCar. Now that Mark Miles has fixed the schedule to a degree, it is imperative that he not screw up the TV contract. ABC/ESPN does squat for IndyCar across all its platforms and received way too much consideration for what it has done in the past instead of what it will do over the life of the contract. Give it to NBC/NBC-SN and be creative with Twin 125’s at Pocono, PrimeTime weeknight races, whatever! Now is the time to work with the partner to take the next step. Thanks to RACER.com for your great coverage when we can’t be there. You guys have the dream job.

Scott St. Clair, Erie, PA

RM: No you’re not the only guy who doesn’t want to see JoNew at Team Penske. I wrote a column a couple months back that said as much as I’ve hounded The Captain to hire him, I changed my mind and I want him to stay with Ed Carpenter. I don’t want the balance of power to be shifted any more than it is (although Ganassi going to Honda will certainly help) and I’ve been hoping I’m wrong about Newgarden going to Team Penske. There may be competition from FOX, ABC and NBC for the new TV contract, but give Miles credit for getting the month of May on ABC – that was a good move for sponsors. Naturally, a lot of us hope NBC gets the deal because it’s obvious motorsports matters to NBC and NBCSN, and it would be best for IndyCar. I’ve had the dream job for almost 50 years.

Q: I had a thought while watching Rossi in his black/white blank livery. Why not have a charity as an unpaid main sponsor on the car? They already get mostly nothing from sponsors, so the only real cost is the livery and maybe the suits. In return you might get some more publicity, with a chance at new sponsors, and with the charity probably blasting it out in email you get at least a few more people watching the race and rooting for you. You can even change charities to match something regionally relevant to each race, hold s fan vote or something. I just think seeing him blasting around in a March of Dimes or Wounded Warrior car is better than a blank paint job. This may have occurred to other people before and been rejected, I just don’t see why.

Adam Johnson

RM: Might be cool to do for one race but with four cars Andretti needs any and all the funding he can get and I think they’ve got some opportunities for Rossi after his deal is announced.

Q: With the lack of qualified American talent in IndyCar who do you think will come along next? Josef Newgarden, Graham Rahal, Alexander Rossi and Ryan-Hunter Reay hold their own, but Marco Andretti seems to struggle, as does Charlie Kimball at times. There are one or two diamonds in the rough in the Mazda Road To Indy Program that, given some seasoning, could be very stout.

Matthew Marks

RM: Not sure how to answer this one. JoNew is the next big thing, think if Rahal and RHR had Chevy aero kits the past two years, and Kimball has continued to over-achieve. I think R.C. Enerson certainly has a bright future. Ditto for Spencer Pigot, and Conor Daly has shown he can run up front, he just needs a veteran teammate to give him a little oval-track schooling. And Sage Karam and J.R. Hildebrand shouldn’t be Indy-only guys. There’s plenty of American talent, just not enough car owners.

Q: I’m confused by Conor Daly. He appears to be built like a wrestler rather than the jockey-slim types like Power and Castroneves, and certainly unlike most waiflike F1 drivers. How does Daly get away with it?

Karl LaFong, Canada

RM: Fortunately for Daly, IndyCar installed weight ballast a few years ago – something 200-pound Paul Tracy never had the luxury of when he was running CART against 140-pounders.


Q: It has been 20 years since Buddy Lazier won his Indy 500. Then later, he began his own team (ABOVE) just to run the Memorial Day weekend. There are so many drivers who are itching to have a full season. Will Buddy ever consider attempting to run a full-time team and give a chance to a new talent, or just run one-offs only?

JLS, Chicago, IL

RM: I believe the plan for the Lazier Racing family is to develop into a full-time team and their driver will be Flinn Lazier, the 17-year-old son of Buddy, who finished second last weekend in Formula Vee’s SCCA Nationals.

Q: A recurring theme in the Mailbag is a need for bigger purses. But where is the money to come from? The only thing that seems feasible to me is if the promoters can land title sponsors for the individual events.

Chad R. Larson, Phoenix

RM: IndyCar simply gets rid of the Leader’s Circle and puts that money into the purses – the promoters aren’t responsible for the purses.

Q: I read that comedian Steve Harvey sought to start a race team in Sprint Cup, but failed. Seems like an opening for IndyCar. Does IndyCar seek potential team owners to help bolster the ranks, or is that left to the free market and the interest of those with the funds to start a team?

Brad VanSwol, Sussex, Wisconsin

RM: Isn’t Harvey suing NASCAR? Hollywood always seemed like a good source for owners, with James Garner, Steve McQueen, Dan Blocker, Kent McCord, Cedric the Entertainer, Tom Cruise and Bill Cosby showing interest. But only Paul Newman and David Letterman pulled the trigger (Cosby got Willy T. Ribbs a sponsor with Dervice Merchandise) and put their own money into IndyCar. IndyCar doesn’t seek out owners, per se, but it will help them for Indianapolis if the car count is short like it has been.

Q: Do you feel as if the series is doing enough to attract younger fans to the races, or at least to get them to watch on television? I’m 18 and have only been following the series full-time since about Milwaukee last year I was previously a NASCAR fan of sorts, but over the years have lost interest in that series.

Back to the point of younger crowd: I was able to attend my local race, St Petersburg, this year for the first time, and noticed that the average fan age was somewhere in the 40s in what I would call a city with a large millennial culture. Me and my friend must have been among only a handful of people under 30, except for little kids with their parents. Also, thanks to my parents, we took a family trip to Indy for the 500 this year, and it was more of the same except for those in The Snake Pit, who probably couldn’t tell you who won the race.

I’ve heard Long Beach attracts a younger crowd, but that’s one race on a schedule that will have 17 next year. And to compare the modern day to the past, I look back to my grandfather. He was a huge fan of open-wheel racing as far back as the 50s, and we have tons of pictures of him at IMS in his 20s to 30s with a crowd that also looked to be the same age. I also have stories of him going to local bars and drinking with the likes of Foyt and Ruttman after their races at Dayton Speedway, traveling out to California with Ruttman and having their car break down in the desert and having to stay at the Unser’s, which I believe was in New Mexico.

The point is that open-wheel racing in America, especially the Midwest, was the cool thing to be into; now it seems like its mostly an aging fan base with no future 20-30 years down the road. I may be wrong, but from my point of view it’s a problem that I’m not sure is being addressed by the series, maybe because there is nothing to do other than wait and see. I’m not an expert on this but I’m sure you are. Thoughts?

Stephen, Tampa, FL

RM: I think your observation about an older crowd is spot on. It’s like that at midget and sprint-car races as well. And memorabilia shows look like nursing homes. Bringing school kids to IMS still seems the best way to connect, but the younger generation isn’t inclined to drive a car – let alone take a road trip to Terre Haute or Mid-Ohio. I’m not sure how you get teenagers and 20-somethings interested in racing unless it’s on the Verizon app.

Q: Well here we are at the end of another IndyCar season (way too soon). It turned out to be a good season with a lot of good stories and a pretty thrilling finish to boot. So, what does your crystal ball have to say about next year? I copied this question/answer out of the Mailbag in January and emailed it to my wife, and she kept it. We read it after the Sonoma race. Here it is:

“Marco, Graham, Josef each win two races; Conor Daly scores a podium; Pagenaud wins a race; Dixon wins Indy; Kanaan gets two poles, one victory and his AARP card; Power wins the championship; Montoya quits point racing, wins three times and speeding in the pits to cost him the title; Castroneves wins the pole at Indy but finishes second in the race; Road America draws the third-best crowd of 2016; Honda closes the gap but Chevy is still supreme; the Phoenix race draws more than the air race at IMS.”

I must say, Mr. Miller, your crystal ball isn’t as foggy as one might think! You were very close on many of your predictions. Care to have a go at predicting 2017?

Brian S, Mason, OH

RM: Not too bad but let’s wait and see where the drivers and teams wind up before I make any 2017 predictions.


 

Q: Congratulations on going two for two on your predictions: Pagenaud winning the championship (ABOVE), and Newgarden going to Penske. Conor Daly had a great first season (qualifying was a challenge though) and would probably be ROTY if Rossi ran out of fuel at Indy. Anxious to hear that he has a spot next year. How about a shout out to Jeremy Shaw? He must be super proud of these guys.

Lee Robie, Cincinnati, Oh

RM: Thanks but I think I must have made two predictions for the championship (see the letter on the previous page) and unintentionally duped the racing public. I blame it on age, but I know I picked Pagenaud in our NBCSN pre-season predictions and I think I also said it in the Mailbag – but it may have been after I also predicted Power on RACER.com in another story. But Ben Bretzman (Pagenaud’s engineer) remembers that I predicted Simon before the first race, so I’m officially patting myself on the back.

Q: Did you see the Top 3 markets for IndyCar were Indianapolis, Milwaukee and Richmond? You think a return to Milwaukee and Richmond makes sense? The No.4 and No.5 markets were NC – return to Charlotte? Does IndyCar management look at this type of info?

Bill Krill, Milwaukee

RM: I did and it makes sense, because the IRL always drew a nice crowd at Richmond and Milwaukee was an IndyCar bastion for 90 years before The Split and the date kept getting changed. Both of those venues could work with the right time and promotion but not sure about Charlotte. And, yes, IndyCar management looks this info.

Q: It stinks that IndyCar’s ratings have declined a bit from last year, but my question has to do with the balance of the data that was in The Star’s article:

“Indianapolis was the highest-rated market with a 2.38 rating. Milwaukee was second (0.83) followed by Richmond, Va. (0.80), Greenville, S.C. (0.78) and Greensboro, N.C. (0.73).”

Serious? Richmond, Greenville, SC and Greensboro, NC were the number 3, 4 and 5 markets are in the south mid-Atlantic area and an area where IndyCar has not run for years. Does such data suggest that IndyCar should be seriously trying to get a race to support those markets? Richmond had stellar draws until the last race, when no-one could pass. I was at Charlotte the fateful night in which three spectators were killed, and the crowd was way beyond what was expected. There is occasional talk about a street race in Norfolk. Should this area be a high priority, and is Rockingham a possible venue as it would be within four or so hours of all those markets?

Forrester L Morgan, Myrtle Beach, S.C.

RM: I do think Richmond is worth pursuing again, and it is rather surprising to see the Carolinas watch. Norfolk seemed like it had good potential since it has no major sports teams, and Rockingham might have been an option if Andy Hillenburg was still there.

Q: To say that I was encouraged by Jay Frye’s plans for the 2018 update to the DW12 would be an understatement. It sounds like he’s listened closely to what fans want to see from IndyCar, so my fingers are crossed that he and whatever aero kit manufacturer wins the bid will follow through.

As for the schedule for 2018, this also sounds promising, but one thing still eludes the series: competitive purses outside of Indy. Unfortunately, this seems to be a chicken/egg type of situation. The sponsors/promoters can’t or don’t want to cough up the money for larger purses until TV ratings and physical attendance is up, but big crowds almost always turn up when big money is on the line.

So I had an idea that I promise is only half hare-brained. Get the series’ title sponsor to bite on this: The Verizon 4G/LTE Network Challenge. Very similar to the old No Bull 5 program that NASCAR used to run. Top 4 (4G/LTE) finishers from the previous challenge race and one lucky (randomly drawn) fan representative for each of the four drivers, are eligible to split a $1 million bonus for winning the race. The challenge races would be the marquee event of each of the 4 (4G/LTE) types of racetrack in the series: Long Beach (street circuit), Indy 500 (superspeedway oval), Road America (road course), and Iowa (short oval).

Everyone wins: 1. Verizon gets a great way to further market their new faster network in a much less annoying way than slipping the drivers a check for pitching it in every single interview. 2. The series gets to market the track diversity that is only found in IndyCar. 3. The fans to get more involved by offering the chance to pair up with their favorite driver to win some serious cash. 4. The drivers/teams have a chance to cash in a big check. Mark the eligible drivers’ cars with a “Verizon Red” stripe on the leading edges of the wings, and on the suspension pieces to help fans keep track of the challenge racers. I always thought the No Bull 5 program was brilliant, because everyone was a winner. Why not mimic that?

Not to get greedy, but if they could also bring back MIS or Autoclub for a 500-miler and get someone like Sunoco to sponsor a $1 Million to win Triple Crown series, it would only add to the appeal. Finally, move the Texas race to the first weekend in October and make it the series finale. Texas used to put on some great series finales for the IRL, with the exception of Kenny Brack’s awful wreck in the 2003 race. Use the momentum from this years’ barn-burner of a race to build the suspense for the championship round.

Grayson Gibson, Broken Arrow, OK

RM: Jay and his staff have done a nice job of listening and planning before reacting so there’s every reason to believe the 2018 aero package will be a good one. The incentive programs you pitched would be fabulous, but it’s all about money and right now I think IndyCar is just thrilled to have Verizon on board, so not sure it’s in any position to demand more money. Ditto for the Triple Crown. If John Menard wants to put up a $5 million point fund for three 500-milers with $10 million going to anyone who could sweep (all you do is buy an insurance policy), then it’s worth doing. Without the proper amount of money, it’s not worth having or promoting. But I don’t think Texas will go up against football. At least that’s what Eddie Gossage told me after I wrote that column.


Q: The Penske cars were really fast on Sunday … kinda like Verizon’s 4G LTE network (memo to Verizon: please contact me for my mailing address. I’ll be expecting a check). What are you hearing about the future plans of Colton Herta? (ABOVE) Seems like he’s really turning some heads lately.

Mark, Niagara Falls, NY

RM: Yeah, that got real old but I think there’s going to be a remedy in 2017. Colton is having another good season across The Pond, but I think his Dad wants to get him back over here sooner than later. I’d like to be his agent.

Q: Love the silly season updates! Keep them coming. Did you see the new Fox TV series premier of Lethal Weapon? Riggs and Murtaugh start a chase scene on the docks in Long Beach, and end up crashing through tires and into the Grand Prix. I had to slow it down, but it looks like they used actual IndyCar race footage from this year. I can make out Power in silver and the 2016 paint scheme for Hinchcliffe, Munoz, Aleshin and Conor Daly. Somehow they added the two street cars between Indy Cars in turn 10 in one part. Did Fox pay IndyCar, the Grand Prix Association or NBCSN for the footage? Seems like there would be some cross-promotion, but I haven’t seen any.

The show also has some close up scenes with the street cars on track and smaller formula race cars passing them. It’s kind of silly to see them still racing with no yellow flag, but it is TV. Can you tell if they are Pro Mazda cars? They show one of those drivers a few times in a Muscle Milk helmet. Any idea who drove those or when that would have been filmed?

Mark Z, Long Beach, CA

RM: Never seen that show and I’m sure somebody paid something for footage, although it really doesn’t benefit IndyCar unless the series and/or drivers are identified as part of the plot. But some of the funniest movie footage is from ’60s movies like Red Line 7000 or Fireball 500 where they switch from stock cars to Indy cars to little formula cars – all in the same corner!

Q: Why was Zanardi’s pass on Herta at Laguna Seca allowed? He went off road with all four tires, cutting the turn, and Herta didn’t force him off track. What did Race Control think? Was there a discussion or protest? Puzzled.

Jon Schulz

RM: Here’s how chief steward Wally Dallenbach remembers it:

“Technically speaking, Alex went off course to take the lead, but that’s no different than somebody putting all four wheels under yellow line on an oval to make a pass or Lloyd Ruby putting two wheels in the grass at Indy. What Zanardi did was clean, he didn’t hit anybody, he was in control and he pulled it off. Unprecendented? Yeah but it was an amazing event and pass for the fans. Nobody contested it, and we didn’t want to take away the glory of what happened. And there wasn’t a hard and fast rule about going off-course to gain a position. Besides, I did enough things for Zanardi to think I had it in for him, and that was a classic move and he didn’t deserve to have it taken away.”

Q: What are the benefits of corner cutting? After watching the finale, most drivers took the Sonoma track to the extreme. (i.e., driving over curbs, taking it to the grass, hopping the corners) Why do this? Doesn’t it upset the car’s handling and performance? Wouldn’t you want to stay off the curbs instead of driving over them completely? 

Brett from Brighton, MI

RM: Some guys try to miss curbs at certain tracks and some places it’s more beneficial in terms of trying to make it more of a straightaway (like the Bus Stop at Watkins Glen) or simply giving the driver a chance to apply more throttle. It’s whatever works best.

Q: There’s now a page on Facebook called “USAC Midgets 1975-1990”. A guy by the name of Craig Burghardt says he’s got your old midget, and it’s for sale. What do you think of crowd-funding the car, and putting you in the seat at the Chili Bowl?

Greg Rickes

RM: I think I’d like to take my old Stanton/Chevy II to Kokomo Speedway one more time and hot lap it – by myself.

Q: I gotta tell you, Robin – as a fellow 1950 vintage boomer – we all love your work. Your broadcast reports, RACER.com articles and the Mailbag make me feel like I have been hanging with you all week in the paddock as you introduce me to all your “brothers” in the racing world. And that credibility that you have gained over the lifetime of your work imparts a level of knowledge and confidence to your reports – kind of a “I don’t care whose feathers I ruffle” approach, like your piece on the paltry purses at Indy 500.

As for me, when my name is drawn for the Honda two-seater next season and Leigh Diffey asks how I’m doing, I’ll reply “I feel terrific. I just convinced Mario to stay out until the first round of pit stops!” You know what?” Mario says – “We’ve got nothing to lose.” Right, what are they going to do – black flag us? Heh, heh! Let’s roll!” I love racing. Keep up the good work, brother.

Jim Ginley, Taunton, Massachusetts

RM: Thanks for the kind words Jim (do you prefer a check or money order?) but I’ve been lucky to stooge for Jim Hurtubise at 18, drive Bill Finley crazy fixing my wrecked cars, work for Lloyd Ruby, race USAC midgets for eight years, fight and laugh with A.J., hang with Rufus and Gurney and cover racing for almost 50 years with no parental supervision. And drive around Laguna with Mario, which I hope you get to experience.

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