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.
Q: I read a 2009 article titled “Lunch with Dan” from the MotorSport Magazine website and in it the writer said that Dan was working on his autobiography. Do you know if he finished the book? I looked on Amazon and could not find it.
RM: Evi finished writing it a few months ago, and she and Dan had been sorting through the thousands of photos in what will likely be a two-volume collector’s item. One book will be about his driving career, and the other will be about his life as a car owner, builder and free thinker. I think the hope is to have one book ready by next Christmas, and I was joking with The Big Eagle over New Year’s that we needed something ASAP because I was going to buy 50 of them for Xmas presents.
Q: I’d just like to take a minute to thank you for your excellent reporting over the years, especially lately with the sad news about Dan Gurney. As I’ve been immersing myself in a multitude of articles and podcasts, not to mention dozens of Facebook posts, it’s been quite depressing. However, Dan wasn’t a friend of mine – no matter how hard I wish it, I never met him. (Ironically, I was going to make a visit to AAR this past Monday morning, as I was in the area, and wanted to go to ‘holy ground’ as it were, at least for a photo from the street, just to say I’d been there.) It would have been a dream to have met him.
But you knew him. You’re experiencing a personal loss here. And as a member of the news media, I know that reporters get wrapped up in stories, and contacts, and sometimes personal relationships develop, and now, you’ve lost a friend. I’m sorry for you. You’re a ‘racing dork’ first and a reporter second, and I know he was a hero to you, as he was to anybody with half a brain. Thank you for all that you do. I loved hearing that Dan “let Robin Miller speak for” him when it came to the IRL split. Proof you’ve been right about it all these years. Tough to go where you went, and I know it cost you a job, but you did what he would have done, you did the right thing. Well done, sir.
Bill Bailey, Fresno, CA
RM: Well thank you, but the thing I’ve learned in the past week is just how many people Dan touched during his 86 years. Whether you knew him or cheered for him or just admired from afar, his spirit and all-American attitude resonated with people for five decades. He was a self-made hero that will never be seen again in motorsports. As for what he said to Dave Despain on WIND TUNNEL, it was the proudest moment of my professional life.
Q: I’ve been a reader of your Mailbag for years and an IndyCar fan all my life. Dan Gurney was one of my heroes, and his remarkable career touched so many marques and so many fans of motorsport. For Porschephiles like me, his win at the 1962 French Grand Prix in 1962 will forever be remembered as Porsche’s first and only F1 victory. I am sure that IndyCar and IMS are going to pay tribute to The Big Eagle in some way this coming year, but may I suggest that their leadership mandate that every car carry his legendary No.48 in a white oval on the roll hoop where it can be plainly by the fans? I can’t think of a better, more meaningful tribute to Dan than his storied No.48 on every car in every IndyCar race next year.
RM: That’s a great idea, Bob. I know Marshall made a bunch of cool decals to honor DSG and will be passing them out at this weekend’s Rolex 24 at Daytona. I’m sure there will be some kind of a visual tribute to The Big Eagle for the Indy 500.
Q: With the great Dan Gurney having driven 100+ race cars, I wondered if he ever drove an Indy roadster in a race or practice and qualifying? Did he ever race sprint or midgets or dirt race? I know Mario and Foyt and many drivers of his era did. Also curious what his favorite race and car were (if it wasn’t his F1 victory at Spa). Any book recommendations on him would be appreciated. Glad to see Indy drivers interested in IMSA and Daytona 24 again. Keep up your great insights.
Craig Bailey, Palm Bay, FL
RM: Gurney passed his rookie test in John Zink’s Watson roadster in 1962 [below] before getting into the turbine, and when it wouldn’t run fast enough he jumped to Mickey Thompson for his initial Indy 500. Not sure if he ever got to run a midget or sprinter, but I’m sure he was game for it. You need to buy John Zimmerman’s book “Dan Gurney’s Eagle Racing Cars”, and then get Dan’s autobiography when it’s ready later this year.
Q: So the latest news is, of course, Danica has funding for Daytona and the Indy 500. While that’s good news for Patrick, one has to wonder if it’s good news for the sport in general.
My questions are these: When will IndyCar stop relying on gimmicks to bring eyes to the 500 in the vain hope that those eyes will continue to follow the series long after the likes of Kurt Busch, Fernando Alonso, and now Danica Patrick come to the series via a one day event – aka the Greatest Spectacle in Racing, the Indy 500 – have returned to their day jobs? When will the series realize that fans like to root for someone who they’ve followed their entire career and who has finally got his or her shot at the “big time?” When will IndyCar decide that too much reliability in its cars and engines is a bad thing, that dependability is the enemy of innovation, that the thrill of auto racing comes with risk and bravery of drivers on the edge? And when will the series’ head honchos recognize that the only way to bring eyes to the sport is by promotion, promotion, promotion – and that they have to take ownership of promoting the sport by investing in it via that same promotion?
Jake, Pasadena, CA
RM: I didn’t look at Busch or Alonso as a gimmick, I looked at a couple of racers that wanted to try their hand at the Indy 500 – just like in the 1960s when the best of F1 and NASCAR would descend on Indianapolis in May – and it simply added to the race’s credibility. I suppose you could say Danica falls into that gimmick category, but her career took off at IMS and it’s only fitting that’s where she’ll end it. I’m not sure reliability is bad, it’s made for some great Indy 500s lately but it hasn’t translated into TV ratings. And it still requires quite a bit of bravery to run into the corner at Indy at 225mph. No doubt IndyCar needs some promotional help, and that’s why it needs a good marketing partner to replace Verizon.
Q: I was listening to Tony Stewart’s episodes of Dinner with Racers (your episode was great by the way, Robin) and he said he had an offer to run this year’s Indy 500. He didn’t seem too excited about it, but he still put the idea out there. Have you heard anything about this actually happening?
RM: I’m sure Stew gets offers every May, but he told me a few years ago he wasn’t going to show up and a do a one-off at Indy because you couldn’t be competitive. So I don’t see him changing his mind about that. I haven’t heard a word about him for 2018.
Q: Is this the type of thing that IndyCar should be doing? Acura Team Penske’s Helio Castroneves and Ricky Taylor completed a whirlwind media tour Friday in New York City, which included ringing the closing bell at the New York Stock Exchange. Castroneves and Taylor were joined by IMSA President Scott Atherton for a number of high-profile media appearances in advance of next weekend’s WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season-opening Rolex 24 at Daytona. Both drivers made multiple stops throughout the day, including visits to CNN, FOX and ABC Sports, with an Acura ARX-05 show car on display on Wall Street.
RM: IndyCar does something similar before and after Indianapolis each May and while it draws some attention, I think a 30-second, national TV commercial would generate a lot more awareness. Repetition and national television are the keys.
Q: I’m glad to see that Harding has officially confirmed that it will run Gabby Chaves full-time this season. With the addition of Harding and Carlin to the grid as full-time teams, as well as Juncos and Michael Shank coming on-board part-time, it looks like the 2018 season might be the point at which IndyCar’s moves toward making participation as easy and cost-effective as possible starts to pay off. That said, what would realistic expectations be for these new teams? While it’s probably optimistic to think that they’ll be competing for wins and podiums this year, maybe they can put up a good fight in the mid-pack. I just don’t want them to get frustrated and quit the series if they don’t start collecting trophies in their first year. What do you think?
Garrick, Mobile, AL
RM: I’m not sure a one-car operation can have a better introduction than Mike Harding got a year ago when Gabby finished fifth at Texas, ninth at Indy and started eighth at Pocono. Shank and Juncos are lifelong racers that are also very realistic about the level of competition in IndyCar, and I imagine anything in the top 10 would be considered damn good. But they’re not the type of guys to walk away if it’s tough sledding after one year.
Q: Michael Andretti has bought into an Australian Supercars team, and I hope that eventually leads to a reunion with Simona de Silvestro. I don’t feel she got a fair shake with Andretti in 2015. She only got to do three IndyCar races during a time when the team wasn’t very good anyway. (Ryan Hunter-Reay finished 15th at Indy, for example.) Simona had to take a different path to keep her career going, but I believe her heart is still with IndyCar. And she’s never going to get anywhere in Supercars driving for Nissan [above]. Her more experienced teammates usually only run mid-pack. I’m sure it’s only a matter of time until Michael has one of the better teams in the series. It would be nice if Simona could at least do the Indy 500 again sometime in the future. Do you have any insight?
Pat, Brownsburg, IN
RM: I think she simply went where there was interest and, despite the fact she’s the best female road racer ever in IndyCar, nobody was willing to step up and give her a full-time ride. I have no idea what Andretti’s plans are Down Under, but Simona belongs in the Indy 500.
Q: I absolutely love the look of the new car so I don’t want to be a Debbie Downer, but between 2010 and 2011 I went to three IndyCar races, and two of them ended up with horrific crashes with cars airborne. I hope the rear pod removal has a non-cosmetic benefit. I have loved not having cars fly during the past 14 races. The worst possibility to happen to our series is a ‘perfect storm’ followed by Mark Miles answering ‘why in the world did we remove the rear bumper’ on the 6 pm SportsCenter. Anything new with this car that will prevent it from being the airborne mess of the ’03 car?
Bob, Chesterfield, MI
RM: This is from IndyCar’s Bill Pappas, VP of race engineering. “We set out right from the start of the project not to go back on safety. We set our target to match the speeds of all the takeoff test criteria of the worst case I.E (DW12 Chevy or Honda), and in fact exceeded them. The purpose for the rear bumpers was to stop wheel-to-wheel contact. As it turned out they did nothing to prevent this, as seen by the Scott Dixon accident at Indianapolis last May.”
Q: Please tell me if I’m crazy or not. I have a memory of Indy cars and F1 cars running a race together back in the 70’s 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: I am running this letter again because last week I said you were thinking of the Questor Grand Prix in 1971 – between F1 and F5000 cars. As it turns out, you had a very good memory – much better than mine on this subject, and I was at the damn race. On Nov. 2, 1974 at Phoenix, the USAC Champ Car race had four F5000 participants (Evan Noyes, Jerry Karl, Sam Posey and Brett Lunger) competing against the IndyCar regulars. It was an experiment to see if there was any kind of compatibility on ovals, and there wasn’t. Posey finished 13th in his Talon chassis and was 17 laps behind winner Gordon Johncock, while Noyes and Karl dropped out and Lunger didn’t start. Thanks Bobby for that history lesson, and sorry I doubted you.
Q: Definitely been a long off-season. Excited to begin to see pictures and hear input on the new aero! To pass the time, I’ve been watching a lot of early 90’s CART races and Cup races. Gotta admit I absolutely love the broadcast of the races. Maybe it’s because it takes me back to when I started watching races, but Bob Jenkins and Doc Punch have to be two of my favorites. Doc always has seemed like such a great guy, and I hope to see him on some more stuff soon.
Bob was just awesome, he always seems to work so well with his crew and especially Benny Parsons! Some of the old Cup races have the raw satellite feed, and you can always hear him apologizing to his crew or saying ‘remind me to hire someone to get my notes in order’. I believe it was the last Motegi race that Dixon won; you and Bob where doing the broadcast for Versus, and he kept saying ‘Kevin Briscoe’. I just kept laughing and you guys seemed to be having such a great time, doing the race at something like 1 am! Hopefully Bob is doing well, and I greatly appreciate all that he and you guys have done to make us, the fans, smile, laugh, cry and get pissed about!
Todd, Ely, IA
RM: I think Bob played perfectly with Ned Jarrett and Benny, and those three helped NASCAR build a loyal audience. But Indy cars are Jenkins’ first love, and that was easy to spot. Jerry Punch was also a big part of that NASCAR crew and well liked by just about everyone. I saw Bob last weekend at the Racer Chasers, and he looks good.
Q: I listened to Marshall ‘s podcast with John Andretti. What a jack-of-all-trades! Why was John not able to get in with a top-flight team in open-wheelers or NASCAR? Timing? Talent? Funding?
R.I. Brown, Smithfield, VA “Ham Town USA”
RM: He had good IndyCar rides with Jim Hall, Derrick Walker, Mike Curb and A.J., and had his only win in Australia driving for Hall. He was loyal to Richard Petty and won the Firecracker 400 at Daytona, but never had as good equipment in NASCAR as he did CART.
Q: I have just rewatched the amazing CART race in Vancouver in 1997. It was auto racing at its very finest! Watching the race made me wonder why IndyCar has not returned there. The race always had massive crowds, and the racing was always superb. I remember that the reason for not continuing the CART race beyond 2004 was the fact that the city was hosting the Winter Olympics. Now that the Olympics are a distant memory, why doesn’t IndyCar return?
Peter Williams, Kent, UK
RM: All the construction for those Olympics wiped out the circuit, and there was no place else to race. Champ Car and then IRL went to Edmonton and the early CC races drew massive crowds, but eventually lost too much money and went away. IndyCar may have a shot at Calgary in a year or two, but Canada has always supported IndyCar, and there needs to be at least two and probably three races over the border.
Q: I’ve been going to the 500 since I was six years old (1990) and I have fond memories of the apron and how much it could be used to a drivers advantage, and also how cool it looked when the cars could use up all of the track. I know there was talk of bringing it back a couple of years ago, but that seemed to go away. Has it come up again, or do you know of any plans to bring it back? Also, is it just me, or is the track narrower on the front straight than it used to be? I know the cars are wider, so maybe it’s an optical illusion, but I was curious. Not to complain too much, but I also think they should go back to the number of stands they had in the 80s. They could probably fill them up, and it would look better on TV. Last year was noticeably empty.
Clinton in Indianapolis
RM: No apron talk for a few years. Supposedly it was driven by NASCAR (and it certainly could help that awful show), but haven’t heard squat about it lately. The SAFER walls narrowed the track a little bit but it’s always been tight, and way too narrow for today’s cars. There were 300,000 permanent seats at one time and less than 240,000 today, but if they can’t fill up what they’ve got (and there were lots of empty seats last year), then why build more?
Q: I have a question about Indianapolis Raceway Park. As a young boy, my Dad took me to the very first race in 1961 on the IRP oval, which at the time was dirt. I remember that Foyt won the race, and also remember seeing Roger McCluskey flip his sprint car in the practice sessions. When did IRP pave the track? After analyzing some photos of races later in 1961, it looks as if the track was asphalt at that time. Was it paved in 1961 after the first race, or was it done in a different year?
RM: IRP opened in May of 1961 as a dirt track for USAC sprints (won by A.J.), but it was paved by the next race in July (won by Parnelli) after McCluskey broke his arm in the inaugural show.
Q: Listening to local morning radio today, an old mate of mine, Chris Waddell (who back in the ’70s and ’80s was Autosport magazine’s North American Formula Atlantic and Canadian correspondent, and is now a journalism professor) was talking about one of his classes of students at Carleton University. He stated that in a class of 24, not one person had access to cable or satellite TV! This is the new world of communication, and I suspect that most sanctioning bodies still haven’t come to terms with the rapid change that has occurred. In my case, as an old timer, I see very little racing on TV nowadays here in Canada, because I am not willing to pay the extra for cable channels I will never watch other than 30 or so races a year. I bet there are a massive number of people just like me. I don’t know what the solution is, and I’m not sure the folks at IndyCar do, either.
David M-K, Ottawa, Ontario
RM: There’s no doubt that having your races on network is the best scenario from every standpoint, and hopefully IndyCar can have more opportunities with its new TV contract in 2019. But it’s a niche audience and many seem OK with paying a little extra each month. ESPN and Formula 1 are likely going to have a streaming charge to watch any and all races in a couple years so that will be a litmus test of major proportions. It’s tough enough to watch F1 for free, let alone pay for it.