<em style="background: rgba(0, 0, 0, 0) url('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 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 tell this season IndyCar pushed teams to do more on social media. Have to say that Penske especially has done a great job posting videos and pictures from the track, and all their drivers do a great job. Penske does lots of videos like the Penske Games, etc. However, I think they are missing a HUGE opportunity. This week Penske posted a video about Newgarden’s number for next season. It was a funny video, and both Pagenaud and Newgarden came off great.
The only issue is, no one who doesn’t already know these guys will see it. It only had 400 views after being up for a full day. This is great for fans that already exist, but wastes a chance to promote the brand. IndyCar and these teams need to put the resources they are using for these videos to reach people outside the fan base. For example, there are several huge YouTube stars in the LA area, and if Penske were to put those resources to teaming up with one of them for Long Beach, they would easily have over one million views in a week from the YouTube star’s fan base. They could use the two-seater and things like that, and get the drivers exposed to new audiences. The YouTubers’ audiences are younger (16-30) which is great for getting IndyCar driver name recognition to that demographic.
It would be a great way to get these drivers personalities and names out there, and the YouTube people could use the IndyCar resources for their own channel as well. This would be great in getting people outside of the sport familiar with these drivers and personalities, and use the resources these teams are already using more effectively.
RM: I’m not sure IndyCar had anything to do with Penske’s videos since they’ve been doing them for about three years now, but your point is well taken. The Shell ad with JoNew, Vettel and Logano was excellent and exactly what IndyCar needs to run on prime time during the off-season, because it must reach a national audience – not the I-465 crowd, which is about all IndyCar ever targets. I don’t care how much money it costs, you’ve got an American champion with a great personality that must be introduced to the public, and this opportunity cannot be squandered.
Q: On Sunday’s NASCAR broadcast from Texas Motor Speedway on NBCSN, the lead announcer made the statement that Kurt Busch had set a new qualification record with the fastest lap speed ever run at Texas, and for that matter on a 1.5 mile track, “period.” He did not state that it was the NASCAR record. Now, as an IndyCar fan, that always infuriates me, especially since the pole speed in June at Texas was 22 miles per hour faster (not to mention a top lap speed by Dixon of 225 mph and previous CART speed records that are much higher). My question is, does anybody in the business complain about that, and if not, why? It’s like when they say Talladega is the world’s fastest race track — it’s not even NASCAR’s fastest race track. They should not be able to get away with that kind of bald-faced falsification!
Cyndy Riordan, Kankakee, IL
RM: I think it’s kind of an unwritten rule of television that NASCAR is always talking about its track records, and ditto for IndyCar when it’s on. I do recall the NBCSN NASCAR crew comparing the speeds at Phoenix a couple years ago, and it was cool to see the lap speed difference and hear the awe in Jeff Burton’s voice. But I don’t believe anyone misleads fans about the fastest cars or tracks – just a by-product of promoting the event. But thanks for defending open wheel!
Q: Wow Robin, you better hope A.J. doesn’t ready your Mailbag. He’s been so nice to you lately, too. In your answer to Jake from NY’s question you state “Obviously Mario”, and AJ would be in the mix with Dixon and Unser? I don’t even think Unser was that great on road courses. Hope you get to feeling better soon. Miss you on the IndyCar podcast.
PS: I finally got upgraded to Penthouse seats for next year after more than 35 years of buying race tickets for the Indy 500. Actually been to 46 races, but didn’t always buy my tickets through the ticked office.
RM: Tex is cool, he knows a lot of us are mad because he dropped Daly but it’s his team and that’s big-time racing and nothing personal. Al Unser was a helluva road racer in F5000 and Indy cars, and so was Lloyd Ruby. Ditto for Parnelli, who was offered a ride by Colin Chapman but politely declined to be Clark’s B-driver. And, of course, The Big Eagle was as good as anyone at turning right and left. So throw in A.J. and Mario and it’s a helluva list before you add Dixie. Glad you got upgraded, about time.
Q: I have to wonder how ABC feels about the developments at Foyt’s? Were they on the way out? Is that what made the current cash grab so important? Racing is a confounding business for sure, but this was a big surprise.
RM: A.J. told me a few months ago that ABC really liked Conor but wasn’t dictating whom he hired or fired, and I believe him. ABC is a great sponsor and with T.K. it’s going to get some major PR in 2018, and I just hope they have a great May. As for the new Brazilian kid and his TV money, I guess the more the merrier when trying to upgrade the team, pit crews, engineering and testing, but nobody is privy to the details just yet.
Q: I just read about your time working on Johnny Parsons’ pit crew at Indianapolis in the 1970s, and even running the pit board. Has there ever been a better place to watch the race? Also, can you elaborate on the pros and cons of being embedded with a team and how that time helped with your perspective as a reporter? Many of us are jealous of your vocation and life and want that book that keeps being promised to come out.
Scott McCallum, Chillicothe, OH
RM: Nobody with less mechanical skill and common sense around a race car has ever been luckier than I was, because I got to stooge for Jim Hurtubise and his Mallard roadster in 1968 at the age of 18 before Bill Finley took pity on me in 1969-76 and allowed me to be part of his IndyCar team. I was a stooge who ran the pit board and kept notes and speeds and tire temps, and on some race days I got to be the vent man during pit stops (and I never sat the fueler on fire, which was a miracle).
Running the pit board is insanity and the worst place to be standing because of the obvious danger, but hell it was cool back then. But being around the action every day and watching how clever Finley operated at building an Indy car from scratch in his garage was an experience that cannot be learned in books or fully appreciated without being there. Racing engulfed my life in the 1970s after I started running USAC midgets, and I wouldn’t trade those days or memories for anything.
Q: I would have preferred to see Ed Jones stay with Coyne, but good on him for taking advantage of an opportunity with Chip. I am hoping and praying that Conor can get enough sponsorship for the No.19 car! Can we start a GoFundMe for him?? It doesn’t seem like there are any conflicts between IMSA races and IndyCar road course races… would be awesome to see Sage run the road course races for Carpenter in the No.20!
RM: Not sure anyone would turn Chip down, especially a kid without big bucks who wants to make IndyCar his home for the forseeable future. It’s the break of his career, and he earned a shot with his splendid rookie season. Daly is working on sponsorship, but I think the Coyne boys are pulling for him. Love to see Sage with ECR but he needs some backing.
Q: I understand that part of the problem with Conor was he enjoyed the social side of being an IndyCar driver more than working at improving as a driver on the track. I root hard for him and I wish Foyt kept him – but you have to be totally committed to driving to be competitive in Indy car. Hopefully CD has learned his lesson and gets another opportunity. Did Foyt just do it for the money? If so, do you blame them?
RM: I’m not sure that’s entirely true. I do know a driver did sit down with him mid-season and told him to get re-focused and quit worrying about partying on race weeks, but CD is a kid, and when I think about the Indy guys of the ’60s and ’70s and what they did between races, it was all about chasing fun. And maybe something did change, because in those final six races of 2017, I thought Daly drove his butt off and earned his ride for 2018. Not exactly sure why A.J. changed his mind because I thought things were cool following Sonoma, but I don’t know that money was the determining factor. I think ABC may be the best sponsor in the paddock in terms of money, and we know it is in terms of longevity.
Q: Is Esteban Gutierrez still a possibility in IndyCar? ECR or DCR?
RM: He better be if IndyCar is going to Mexico City on Aug. 3.
Q: Have you heard anything about what JR Hildebrand will be doing next year? It appears his IndyCar career is over. Any chance we could see him in IMSA in a prototype? Or is his career sadly over? Just another kid who came up through the ladder system who never got to show his full potential.
TR Lewis, Chicago
RM: I haven’t heard, but I’d be surprised if he didn’t have a ride at Indy since he always runs strong. His full-time IndyCar career may be over but not his Indy 500 days. He won everything in the ladder system, but Panther Racing never got a handle on the road courses and it just seemed like he became so much better on ovals. He did get a rare second shot with ECR and fighting chance with 62 starts, but it was spread over seven seasons so not an ideal platform to shine.
Q: So 23 years later, how do you think Tony George feels about the split and the rift he caused? Did the development of the Mercedes push rod engine have any effect on The Split? Maybe not, but it seems at the start of 1994 unity was still an option.
Ben Rabourn, Wyoming, MI
RM: Gosh Ben, I don’t know. TG and I did a radio show about it a few years ago and I guess he still sticks to his guns about certain things, but I think engine leases in general stuck in his craw more than the Mercedes one-off motor. He made mistakes, CART owners made mistakes by not embracing him more and Tony got some terrible advice from Bill France Jr. – along others. But it’s too late now and no need in rehashing it again.
Q: Watching Newgarden’s season left me wondering about what might have been had AJ Allmendinger stayed with Forsythe. He was such a bright spark. Such a shame to lose him to the dull slog of NASCAR.
RM: I agree 1,000,000,000 percent. He was born to be an open-wheel driver. When he was paired with Michael Cannon something clicked, and A.J. was suddenly kicking everyone’s ass. I’ll always think he got some bad advice from his “manager” to leave open-wheel for tin-tops, but maybe it’s been good financially. I just know how competitive he was and how much winning meant and how proud he was, so I can’t imagine NASCAR has been that much fun.
Q: Regarding fuel saving, do you think it would improve the racing if fuel-setting knobs were removed from the steering wheels? Sure, it may not stop drivers from trying to save fuel, but to paraphrase SuperTex, they would have to do it with an educated foot, instead of having assistance from an electronic aide. Second, do you think the points system should be revamped so drivers are more abundantly rewarded for leading the race instead of taking it easy in an attempt to hit fuel mileage targets? Under the current system, all a driver gets is one point if they lead a lap other than the final lap, so why risk burning more fuel if you have a car that can lead? I’ve advocated previously for revamping the points system so there is a greater premium for winning, and I also think there should be an incentive to try to lead the race from green to checkers.
David, Greensboro, NC
RM: Hell I’m not sure that would solve anything because almost every driver, even a rookie like Alex Rossi last year at Indy, has come close to copying Scott Dixon’s miserly ways with the throttle pedal. The only points that should be awarded for leading a race is for leading the most laps. Period. Nothing else.
Q: Since we are in our six-month IndyCar winter and column topics are up for grabs, I thought I would ask if you ever had any chance to meet, work for, work with Chris Economaki back in the day? Seems he was reporting often starting in the 60’s and enjoyed a very long career. I enjoyed watching his reporting because he was passionate about the subject matter as you are, and it’s a pleasure watching you, I must say. Thanks for making it more interesting beyond the racing action. On another subject. My wife and I are doing Portland next September and wonder what the best viewing seats are as I am waiting for tickets to go on sale and to get a look at the track and grandstand layout. Never been there.
RM: Economaki turned SPEED SPORT NEWS into auto racing’s bible and worked his ass off doing it, but got lots and lots of free help along the way from people that loved racing and just wanted to contribute. To make his column was a dream, as Mario would say, and when I was starting to cover USAC at The Indianapolis Star I was suddenly on his radar. He asked me to submit stories or if he could re-print something from The Star and give us credit and I was over the moon to have a byline in SSN. I was never paid a penny but I didn’t care, it was such status, and every now and then he would throw me a bone in his column.
But when the USAC/CART/IRL war began dominating the headlines, something changed. I was more critical of USAC, then the IRL, and Economaki was tried and true to the old guard, Tony George and IMS. He took a few shots at me in print but then speculated that Roger Penske had paid a $150,000 gambling debt of mine (really) and told some friends of mine he thought I was doing drugs because of my anti-TG attitude. Drugs? I drink Pepsi. That was the final straw for me. I confronted him at Phoenix in about 1996, and we never spoke again. When Dave Despain did his wonderful tribute to Chris on SPEED a few years ago I politely declined from being interviewed, but I’ll always give him his due for becoming such a pioneer in reporting and television, and Economaki was very good for auto racing for 60 years. We just didn’t end up friends. As for Portland, the back part of the track has been widened so maybe that’s worth taking a look at.
Q: I read comments from Jenson Button a few weeks ago where he basically said that IndyCar scared him too much to consider. Two questions related to this: Is this a bad look for IndyCar when such a proven driver expresses concerns over the sport’s safety? Also, is this a fairly common opinion among drivers that IndyCar is simply too scary to try out?
Sam from THE REGION
RM: No, I think it’s actually good that a world champion says IndyCar is too insane for him because that would make me want to watch it if I was an F1 fan. But most road racers (other than Nigel Mansell, Juan Pablo Montoya and Fernando Alonso) seem to start out with quite a bit of trepidation at turning left. I was at Teo Fabi’s initial IMS test, and he got out after five laps and said no way. Then he came back and won the pole that May. Alonso’s indoctrination last April was one of the coolest and calmest things I’ve ever seen because he was so open, so bright and so good. And he looked like a 10-year-veteran in the race.
Q: I was watching a Champ Car race from 2007 the other day, and the mention of Tristan Gommendy got me wondering why he’s even allowed a rookie test for Indy next year. The thought is not based off his driving in Champ Car necessarily, he was decent but forgettable in his one season with PKV, but rather the fact that he hasn’t been in an Indy-type car in 10 years, and to the best of my knowledge has never raced on an oval.
The Indy 500, in my opinion, should not be where a driver makes their oval debut, and I believe that even for guys like Alonso, though I was still excited for his entry. Especially after Jay Howard’s performance in the same car this year, where he made a mistake that I believe to be from lack of experience/time away from the sport that could have very easily taken Scott Dixon from us. I understand why Sam took him in, I imagine Tristan and his backers are bringing a pretty penny for an Indy one-off. That’s why I believe it’s up to the authorities at IndyCar to vet who is allowed to take to the track, and it seems like more years than not in recent memory there has been at least one driver in the field who probably shouldn’t be there.
Kite in San Antonio
RM: If I listed all the drivers who made Indianapolis their oval-track debut, I don’t think you would feel that way. It’s all about equipment, engineering and getting comfortable. and that’s why we have rookie orientation. And IMS is a lot easier oval to start at than a place like Milwaukee or Iowa or Texas. The amount of w**kers allowed to run Indy has also been reduced to almost zero during the past few years. Assuming his deal holds together, Tristan will be fine.
Q: I know a lot of the NASCAR drivers could do well in an IndyCar on an oval, but how many could hold their own on road and street circuits in an IndyCar? I’m guessing not too many.
RM: Gordon, Stewart, Larson and the Busch brothers would be just fine, and if you are an elite racer then you can adapt to anything.