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 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.
Following the passing of icon Dan Gurney and the outpouring of adulation from his legions of fans, we’ve decided to run tributes to The Big Eagle in the top half of today’s Mailbag, and then continue with the normal Q&A format.
Thanks, Robin Miller.
The racing world – scratch that. the WORLD – has lost a man whose dignity, desire, intelligence, talent and class was above most humans to have driven on this earth. God bless and godspeed, Mr. Gurney!
Just finished your article “Gurney, All-American Treasure”. Being a fan that started watching racing in the end of ’60s, I missed the F1 and Le Mans wins if they were broadcast, but I do remember watching Dan Gurney in Can-Am, Trans Am and IndyCar, and following his teams throughout the years. The White Paper, written from an owner and driver’s perspective, is still a guide for racing today. Thanks for the article and all of the great information and opinions you supply us.
Dino, New Hanover, PA
I just learned of the death of All American Racer Dan Gurney. What a giant in our favorite sport. I’m glad you had the chance to interview him on many occasions and were able to share those interviews with us on RACER.
Joe Weiss, Spooner, Wisconsin
I was born long after Dan Gurney achieved his fame and made most of his fortune, so I never truly got to see the man at his peak. Eulogies aside, I’m not sure there’s a man whose resume could possibly read like his. Sadly, slowly and surely we’re losing the greatest generation of racers and innovators.
Dan W., Ft. Worth, TX
Just logged on RACER.com to find Dan Gurney passed away due to complications from pneumonia. I subsequently read your article on Dan. What a racer, car designer/builder, team owner and gentleman he was. My first Can-Am race as a spectator was the ’70 race at Mosport. If I recall correctly, he started first and finished first after battling Jackie Oliver during the second half of the race. I wish more of today’s pro racers could experience the thrill of piloting the various types of cars Dan did. Considering how dangerous racing was at that time, his driving ability and seat of the pants intuition/engineering skills were huge assets that helped keep him alive! RIP Big Eagle!
David from Pittsburgh
More will come later, but for now, just four words…
Dan Gurney, heavy heart.
BP, Brewster, NY
I was shocked and greatly saddened when I read tonight that my favorite driver of all time, Dan Gurney, had passed away. I met him once and he couldn’t have been nicer. I had a Dan Gurney for President sticker on my car. He got me started with going to the Indy 500 and following IndyCar, F1 and Le Mans. I wish AAR was still in IndyCar, and wish his son, Alex, had gotten a chance. So many memories come back when I think of him. Please tell us a memory or two that you have of him.
This is regarding one of the top five American racing greats of all time, Dan Gurney. I know you were friends and I know you must be very sad. My most sincere condolences to his family and friends for one of racing’s true good guys.
Doug Ferguson, Debary, FL
While it’s a sad to hear of Dan Gurney’s passing, it’s certainly amazing to look back at his accomplishments and successes in all forms of motorsports. Just winning an F1 race as an American driver in an American car would be enough to make you a success, but that is just one of many achievements highlighted in your tribute article.
I was fortunate to meet Dan on the 2001 USGP weekend at a silent auction in Union Station. I was there as part of the Grand Prix Tours weekend, and as we were leaving, Dan and his wife were waiting for a car outside and we started chatting. He could not have been nicer to me, especially as a fan/amateur driver. When I mentioned I had driven a Formula Vee Caldwell D13, he immediately started talking about the car and what he knew of the history. There never will be someone like Dan Gurney again. The combination of talented driver, engineer, car builder, team manager as well as visionary just seems too much for a single person. I’ve watched the documentaries on Bruce McLaren and Frank Williams, and now I wish and hope that someone will do the same for Dan.
Jim Doyle, Hoboken, NJ
Such a great, great man. Such a good person – he meant so much, he did so much for the racing community over the years, I don’t think it can be calculated how much his life made an impact! I was so fortunate over the years to at least be near him, say hello, snap some pics, and he was always, always so gracious and accommodating to me. Knew he wasn’t doing too good lately, but wasn’t expecting this sad news on this cold day to have to share. RIP Dan RIP and thanks for the ride!
Tony Mezzacca, Madison, NJ
Meeting Mr. Gurney at Long Beach was a highlight of my life. You are so lucky to have been close to him and to be able to call him your friend. What a man!
Deb Schaeffer, L.A.
As you know Robin, I have been following you across various media since the late ’70s. Sometimes I have agreed with you, and on other occasions I have not. In a column a few years back you placed Dan Gurney among your Top 5 drivers of all-time. I was shocked, but out of my respect for you, I started looking at Dan’s career a bit differently than I previously had. Over a short time, I realized that the man we just lost was a legend who like AJ, Mario, Big Al and Parnelli, could win in everything and anything that had wheels. Thank you for helping me see the obvious.
Sorry to hear about Dan passing away. What an amazing life and career he had. You should know and be proud that if not for you, many of us would not even know who he was. I was lucky enough to see some Eagles running in Vancouver back in the day.
I was fortunate to work for Dan Gurney at AAR in ’68 and ’69 (below). I have some really great and funny stories from my time there, like when Dan took the ’69 Eagle Indy car for a shakedown run on the city street the shop was on. The conversation with the Santa Ana police was priceless! Or when the race car mechanics had to push one of our pickup trucks across the street to the Ford dealership because they screwed it up so bad (karma for when I got my butt chewed for taking the air cleaner off to fix a stuck choke). Many more stories the world should hear.
Steve Todd, Albuquerque, NM
I held up a sign at Indy in the late ’60s that said ‘Go Dan Go’, and every time he went out on the track I cheered because it was an American legend driving a car built in Santa Ana, and I felt enormous pride. When I finally got to meet Mr. Gurney outside Gasoline Alley he couldn’t have been friendlier or more appreciative of my patronage. He went into his garage and brought me out an AAR shirt, and that made my life. I’m 84 years old and I still treasure that moment. RIP Dan Gurney, and condolences to his family.
P. Edwards, Los Angeles
I wish someone with adequate financial backing and desire be contacted to put together a DVD that commemorated Dan Gurney’s life. Maybe you could approach someone in RACER magazine to do some exploration to preserve the history. You have to know who to go to. All it takes is rubbing elbows with the right people to make it happen. The interview you held some while back with Dan, Mario and Parnelli Jones should be included in these videos. Call it “The History of American Great Racing Legends DVD Series.”
I happened to see Ray Everham do a series I think for A&E network on refurbishing two race cars: one was an Eagle and the other was one Mario drove. Gurney said he could not pass Mario during the practice sessions because the right rear torsion bar did not keep the rear wheel in the turns from developing a dangerous tendency to hop with ever increasing height as he went through the turn. His mechanic said they used the biggest rod available, and Gurney said ‘you are not listening, it needs to be bigger’. This was the day before the qualifications, so Dan went out and found a piece of pipe in some metal fabrication shop in Indy. He said he split it longitudinally, then had the mechanics make clamp fasteners to attach it to the torsion bar. That fixed the problem, and he was competitive again. Everham had never heard that story. This is what I am asking to be captured.
Thomas Grimes, Waco, TX
ROBIN MILLER: IMS still has about 500 copies of the Gurney/Andretti/Jones videos we made in 2010, and between the Speedway and RACER magazine we’ll figure out how to make them available to Dan’s fans. The series of videos that I did with Dan in 2014 at AAR can be watched on RACER.com.
Q: Admittedly I’ve never been a fan of Danicrash Patrick, so I find it funny that she announced her intent to race at Daytona and Indy as her last two races before retiring, and now can’t seem to find a ride for either race. It seems like this a case of her having an overvalued sense of herself, and assuming that owners would line up for the PR of having her in their car? Am I correct, or is there something else at play that I can’t see? All other drivers should learn a lesson from Danicrash and not announce anything until they have a contract signed.
Josh Wagar, Erlanger, KY
RM: Not sure, but it’s certainly not out of the question to think she made the announcement in hopes that sponsors would immediately step up and make it happen. I know Chip Ganassi talked with her people about both races but nothing materialized, so he’s no longer interested. She said in a story on RACER.com last week that putting this deal together than tougher than she imagined, so it sounds like finding money is going to be challenging. But she’ll have a ride for Indy, count on that.
Q: It’s looking like right now there is no one wanting to run Danica Patrick. Honestly, nothing personal towards her, but as a racing fan she doesn’t move the needle for me. I don’t think the IndyCar teams and the Indianapolis 500 has a need for big name one-offs. I understand why race fans want to see one-off drivers from different disciplines come and run the Indy 500, and don’t get me wrong, I love it. But, why must IndyCar and the 500 look at one-off drivers to move the needle? IndyCar is full of its own stars that it fails to promote. Ryan Hunter-Reay and Josef Newgarden, for example, are beasts on the track so promote the hell out of them.
I’m all for Fernando Alonso or Kurt Busch coming over because I always thought it would’ve been neat to see the likes of Jimmy Clark or Jackie Stewart or Cale Yarborough racing at Indy back in the 60’s. My issue is, yes they are great drivers, and I welcome anyone to come run the 500, but the downside is, if they happen to win Indy then IndyCar has no-one to promote at the races after the 500. IndyCar is a great product, and provides fans with some of the best racing in the world, but I just don’t get why the series doesn’t promote the product it has. Once that’s established, I would probably be a bit more welcoming to one-offs at Indy. Just a thought.
Kris, Peru, IN
RM: When you score the lowest TV rating of all time like Indy did in 2017, naturally IMS and IndyCar are looking for a way to attract viewers and they believe Danica will move the needle. I think her presence will get a bump from the print/social media, but don’t think it’s going to make much difference for television. The numbers flatlined during her last couple years in IndyCar and I’m not sure enough people still care about her to make a difference. But I do believe IndyCar will foot the bill to make sure she’s got a decent ride in May.
Q: Why does IndyCar test at Sebring when it doesn’t race there? I know it’s been said repeatedly that Sebring is too rough to race on, but many IndyCar circuits past and present, especially temporary street courses, could not be considered very smooth, either. So is it to stress the chassis to the max on less-than-ideal conditions, or just a convenient, relatively warm place to go testing in the winter? Maybe Sebring is considered too narrow for modern IndyCars to hold a race on? The wide IMSA prototypes and GT cars seem to do just fine there, though…
Chris Pericak, Charlottesville, VA
RM: The Sebring track that IndyCar teams practice on is a much smoother and shorter than the big course that hosts the annual 12-hour sports car race. It’s way too rough for an IndyCar and would need to be repaved, but it’s just fine for sports cars, so no reason to repave because they draw a huge crowd and don’t need an IndyCar race.
Q: It was incredibly embarrassing last season that Scott Dixon had no title sponsor. Any news or thoughts on sponsorship for him this year? I need some new No. 9 gear! I’m such a Dixon fan that I actually named my cat after him. Yes, I’m that person! Keep up the great work. Love the Mailbag!
Laurel E.O. Heath, Uniontown, Ohio
RM: No news yet, but Kyle Larson announced his new sponsor this week so maybe Dixie’s is on the horizon. It says something when the best driver in the series can’t get backing, but money is very scarce right now.
Robin, I am just trying to find out the status of ordering your character shirts of A.J., Gurney, Mario and Parnelli. I keep checking every few days and I am still not able to order yet. Could you please give me any info you have on them? I look forward to reading your opinions every week. I love all of the old school stuff. I grew up in Kokomo. I have many great memories of my father taking me to the Kokomo Speedway. I still try to go there a couple times each year, even though I live in Lafayette now. Also, this will be my 39th Indy 500, and my son’s 29th. I started him early, and he knows more than I do. He keeps me up on any news that he finds. He is a lot more tech-savvy than me. I would like to turn the clock back to the late ’70s and early ’80s when I first started going to the track. Keep up the great work. I like your TV stuff too.
Mark Short, Lafayette, IN
RM: Good news Mark, you can begin ordering today at the Indy Legends Shirts online store. We’ve got Mount Rushmore, the four-time Indy 500 winners, Parnelli, Mario and the Turbine and Gurney for President.
Q: As a kid, it was the look of open-wheel cars – ‘pure’ racecars – that really attracted me to the sport. From a midget to a Indy roadster, you knew those cars were built for one thing: going fast on a track! Over time, I even grew to accept wings on sprinters, Indy and F1 cars, before aero became more and more a necessary evil. Let’s just say this – after watching some of the test video from Sebring today, I feel like a kid again! Lurid memories of the Crapwagon have been blissfully erased!
John Weaver, Camp Hill, PA
RM: I agree, the new aero kit/bodywork has restored the “IndyCar” look to the Dallara DW12 and it looks good coming at you or going away from you – as it should. It also sounds like it’s racier and tougher to drive, so two more positives.
Q: Now that we have new leadership at the Speedway and new ownership in F1, have there been any talks of bringing F1 back to Indianapolis? I know Liberty wants more races in the U.S. and Indianapolis was well attended until “Tiregate.” The course we have now is better than when F1 ran here before, and we have more hotels and restaurants to serve the teams and fans. Run the race in September when the weather is good and the Colts’ regular season has not begun.
Tony in Indy
RM: Not unless F1 waived the sanction fee, because without a big-time title sponsor, it’s a financial loser, and Mark Miles is in the business of making money for IMS – not spending it.
In your opinion, what are the chances that IndyCar returns to Watkins Glen in the next couple of years? I finally attended a race at Road America (awesome) and The Glen was next on my list! We know Leigh Diffey will join the IndyCar broadcast crew on occasion during the 2018 season, but are there any plans to have David Hobbs or Steve Matchett join PT and TBell to call a race or two? I always enjoyed how they called a grand prix (making pass-less processions interesting), and the way they were unceremoniously dumped was pretty awful.
Mike Marsh, Spearfish, SD
RM: As we’ve said, The Glen would be willing to take IndyCar back on a weekend that makes sense (like a doubleheader with sports cars) but with NASCAR owning IMSA it doesn’t seem likely. Leigh is going to call all the IndyCar races for NBCSN, and I think my bosses would like to have Hobbo come to Road America and spend a little time in the booth if he can swing it.
Q: I’ve had it with IndyCar and reality TV. Explain to me how “The Amazing Race” is supposed to attract fans given that CBS airs no races and, well, one of the competitors doesn’t even have a ride? (Love you Conor, and I hope that changes.) And “The Bachelor” with an IndyCar driver who’s been long retired from the cockpit? Maybe these initiatives don’t cost IndyCar a ton of money, but I know it costs something, and that something could be put towards real marketing – maybe for that guy who won the title last year. I’ve already forgotten his name because IndyCar doesn’t market him.
For reality TV, I know some might say “if you don’t like it, don’t watch,” and I don’t, but I do follow IndyCar social media and its website, and this stuff is plastered all over there, too. I just want someone to tell me how these initiatives work, because from what I’ve seen in recent years, they don’t. The series struck gold once with Helio Castroneves on “Dancing With The Stars,” but that’s when the show was a sensation and the genre wasn’t yet overdone. That was a decade ago! Trying to replicate that is folly, and expends energy that desperately needs to be focused elsewhere.
RM: First off, I don’t think it costs IndyCar anything, and any national television exposure is good since IndyCar gets so little of it with David Letterman now gone from “Late Night.” How many new fans did Helio make with his “DWTS” success? Hard to gauge, but Castroneves was a lot more visible than Rossi or Conor because of how the shows are constructed and because of his success. Arie Luyendyk Jr. has the best possible forum to attract new fans, but he’s not a driver anymore so his presence really doesn’t help IndyCar.
Q: Rossi and Daly on “The Amazing Race” are great, but I don’t see anyone tuning into the races or buying tickets after watching it.
Mark Suska, Lexington, OH
RM: It’s hard to quantify how many people might like Rossi or Daly and then check out a race. Judging by the TV ratings and attendance most places, I don’t think it made much difference with Helio, and he got major exposure for weeks. It’s tougher on “The Amazing Race” since there are so many people and the airtime is minimal. But, again, it’s still better than not being on a big-time national show that gets big numbers. If it creates 20 new fans of Rossi or Daly, then it’s worth it.
Q: For all the money that IndyCar has spent trying to get their drivers on reality shows, couldn’t they have split the bill with Chevy and Honda for TV commercials featuring their drivers?
Russ in Indianapolis
RM: Chevy, Honda and Firestone all agree to pay so much per year in marketing/promotion so it would have to come from that pot, but it would be a good investment – especially if positioned on the right prime time shows. A 60-second spot with JoNew, Hinch, Willy P., Rahal and Dixon arguing about who is the bravest (with action racing shots spliced in) would introduce these guys to the American public and do more in a minute than all the other promotions added together.
Q: Last month, I visited the Los Angeles Auto Show the day before it closed a 10-day run. Honda had Sato’s “Indy 500-winning car” on its stand Now, I believe it’s generally accepted that show cars such as this are basically window dressing, and whatever is sitting around the shop that can be made presentable is put on display; they aren’t museum exhibits. However, this “winning car,” which even had a phony wreath on it, was wearing a road course aero kit! And I knew for a fact that Sato’s actual winning car was touring Japan with him and the Borg at the time, before it assumed a place in Honda’s museum.
There’s a lot of truth-stretching in marketing, but if Honda couldn’t even be bothered to try to pull an old oval kit from the AA dumpster and slap it on the car to match Sato’s winner’s circle photo on display, then it seems that nobody really gives a damn. The kicker is that I asked one of the more senior-looking representatives manning the booth if anyone else had pointed out the discrepancy and called them out on it. His reply: I was the second one.
I guess there were very few IndyCar fans among the thousands and thousands of people who attended the show… and the aero kit concept was an even bigger dud than imagined. Painful truth, but at least they gave it a try.
John from LA
RM: You are an exception John, and 99 percent of the general public wouldn’t know or care – the fact there was an IndyCar on display is more important in my mind. It’s better than just a photo of Sato and, like you said, they gave it a try.
Q: We constantly hear about rides where the driver needs to bring some funding in order to drive with a particular team. Often the source of the funding is obvious. There are or have been drivers with funding from a rich family member, their government or a state-owned company, or a company from their native country. But say I don’t have any of those things and I’m Joe Driver trying to get a deal done. How do drivers go about soliciting funding? And why might a company opt to sponsor a driver rather than a team or car? (I’m think of Pagenaud and HP) Is it all about who you know? Thanks for the great column every week.
Lucas in Indy
RM: You knock on a lot of doors. Graham Rahal spent six months driving all over the country looking for sponsorship (and he scored Big O Tire) for Ganassi a few years ago, and I believe Zach Veach met his current sponsor by giving him a ride in the two-seater and then cultivating their relationship. If a company like NTT Data insisted on Tony Kanaan it might opt to stay with him instead of a team (although NTT is staying with Chip Ganassi and Ed Jones) and ABC Supply is loyal to A.J., not any particular driver. If Ryan Hunter-Reay left Andretti would DHL go with him because of their long association? Or is DHL more bound by a business-to-business deal with Andretti Autosport? Always an interesting question.
Q: Please tell me if I’m crazy. I have a memory of Indy cars and F1 cars running a race together back in the ’70s sometime. I want to say the race was at PIR and the Indy cars ran circles around the F1 cars. Did this really happen, or is it just my imagination? If it did happen, can you explain a little about what it was all about?
Bobby Whitmore, Flower Mound, TX
RM: It was the Questor Grand Prix at Ontario Motor Speedway in 1971 (above), and it featured Formula 1 and Formula 5000 cars – no Indy cars. There were 38 cars and two heats, both won by Mario Andretti in a Ferrari, with fastest qualifier Jackie Stewart second in his Tyrrell. It was a who’s-who of IndyCar and F1 stars, but it didn’t draw very well and only ran once.
Q: I’ve been reading Parnelli Jones’ terrific memoir, written with Bones Bourcier, which discusses PJ’s deal with Andy Granatelli for the 1967 Indy 500. Granatelli agreed that Parnelli would run the Turbine in the race for $100,000 up front, and 50 percent of their winnings. In today’s dollars, $100,000 amounts to roughly $733,835. Not a bad payday for that era! Was anybody else in that neighborhood?
RM: I think Mario might have scored the first $100,000 tire deal from Firestone in the mid-’60s, although I’m pretty sure Goodyear gave A.J. close to that at the same time. Rufus always joked that he wouldn’t do it for $50,000 but he’d have to give it serious thought for $100,000, and Bones’ book is full of those great anecdotes.
Q: Will IndyCar officials reconsider implementing standing starts at particular courses such as Long Beach, the IMS road course, and Portland? I know the previous try was a disaster, but I still am optimistic about seeing these drivers make standing starts again in IndyCar.
RM: The standing starts worked great in Champ Car in 2007 but were a disaster at Houston and IMS a few years ago in IndyCar because the software wasn’t perfected. A standing start should be imperative at Long Beach, Toronto, IMS road course and maybe Portland. But I haven’t heard anyone mention it in years, so don’t hold your breath.
Q: When TG reserved 25 spots in the 1996 Indy 500 for IRL teams, was there any pushback from ABC? I have to imagine executives at ABC Sports weren’t too thrilled about losing virtually every known star and team to the US 500. Would it have required a restructure of the contract? Given how much influence television coverage has in every sport these days, it would be hard to imagine they weren’t consulted.
RM: I never heard of any, and as long as there were 33 cars I think that fulfills the contract, although I’m sure ABC was less than thrilled about the politics. It turned out about as well as could be expected for T.G. and ABC since Buddy Lazier was a feel-good story and it was a close finish, while CART crashed half the field coming to the green flag.
Q: As you know Montreal mayor, Valérie Plante, cancelled the 2018 Formula E race just prior to Christmas. It was a campaign promise for the newly-elected mayor to move the street course race to Circuit Gilles Villenueve or get rid of it entirely. When Formula E balked at this idea or creating a track anywhere but downtown streets, the CBC reported that the mayor yanked the plug. However, in the same report, readers learned that the promoter, and not the series itself, owed creditors $6.2 million and blew through $9.5 million of a $10 million credit line. According to reports, taxpayers were also expected to pay $35 million for staging of the race which was to run into 2019.
The same CBC report also unearthed that of 25,000 tickets sold, 20,000 were actually given away to fudge attendance figures. The innovation and engineering in Formula E is great, as is the idea of electric car racing, open-wheel or otherwise, but the on-track and trackside product has been a bore until this season: its fourth. There’s something about cars that sound like high-powered dentist drills that just doesn’t connect with people on any level. There is a ton of talent as far as drivers, though.
Even though the promoters in Montreal clearly blew it and this was a political move for Plante’s gain, is there any hope that Formula E can get a Canadian race going for 2018 or 2019 with a competent group of people, or is racing in Canada a dead issue? There was the usual small group of people – who knew nothing about auto racing, to be fair – that protested this race in downtown Montreal from the start. It’s definitely about politics, but the mayor is also right in calling it a “financial fiasco” for the city of Montreal. Having suffered a black eye like that, can Formula E rebound in Canada?
Geoff Roberts, Unionville, Canada
RM: I have no clue but I’m sure the Montreal government could make anything happen if chose to, and I’ve heard that getting anyone to pay for tickets is tough. So, not a moneymaker, and not something Montreal needs since it’s still got an F1 race.