Q: I think after God-knows-how-many years of mediocrity, Indy Lights reached their summit over the weekend. Or is that bottom. Every year we are told how great it is gonna be next year. New cars, new engines, new organizations, new this and that. Robin, even you, at the intro of new car, declared how we have reached a watershed moment. It needs to be destroyed. It is a joke financially and competitively. How many years of mediocrity and insane finances does it take? Honestly, has this series ever had more than 20 cars? The people running it should have been gotten rid of long ago. I mean, who organizes this? They may be fine people, but in the business world they would have been gone long ago.
I don’t know the alternative, but maybe building 20 or so less expensive cars and making the business model like the series below it would be a start. Please don’t say that 20 or so of the current IndyCar grid is made up of Lights graduates. Who cares? Just by winning a race or two in a sad series like this does not mean you are a IndyCar candidate. If I want an IndyCar driver today, I would look to the [Pro] Mazda series as far as talent goes. Then I would look at what he could bring. Wink, wink. Your opinions wise sage. If given magic wand, what would you do? This does not include assembling a super team of Dave Darland, Chris Windom, Kevin Thomas Jr., Justin Grant and Tyler Courtney. Let me dream.
RM: No doubt the small Lights’ field is troubling this season, but there are some good young racers (Colton Herta, Pato O’Ward, Aaron Telitz, Santi Urrutia) who put on a damn good show up front over the weekend. If it wasn’t for Dan Andersen and Mazda there wouldn’t be a feeder system, and I think Josef Newgarden, James Hinchcliffe, Conor Daly, Jack Harvey, Zach Veach and Matheus Leist all benefitted from it. Starting over isn’t the answer, what needs to happen is that other IndyCar owners need to follow Michael Andretti’s lead and field a Lights’ team. Hell, it should be mandatory to get your Leader’s Circle, that’s how you can strengthen the series. Windom is going to get a shot in the Freedom 100, and if I had the money I’d run Justin Grant and Kody Swanson. There’s plenty of talent in short-trackers and road racers, but they all need funding and blowing up Lights isn’t going to change that.
Q: I was born in 1973 and, just for the heck of it, decided to look up what happened at the Indy 500 that season. It became apparent, very quickly, that 1973 was a tragic year for motorsport; covering it must have been challenging, to say the least. Have you written a piece about that race? If so, how might I access that? I’d be interested in reading about it, from your perspective.
Josh Shimizu, Salt Lake City, UT
RM: I imagine if you could go to The Indianapolis Star’s archives you could find some stories I wrote maybe in 1983 or 1993. Art Pollard was a good friend who really got me into racing, and I went to the hospital with his wife and we were sitting in a little room when they came in and said they hadn’t been able to save him. I wrote his obit sitting in the back of my van and it was the first time I’d ever lost someone close to me, so it was a challenging day to say the least.
Q: I’m glad to see Chris Windom and Davey Hamilton Jr. are looking at Indy Lights as a way to make it to Indy/Indy Car someday. If a short-track racer is to have even a half a chance at doing well – even if it’s just at the 500 – Indy Lights is the perfect place to get experience. I’ve never understood why Johnny Short-track insisted on going straight to the 500 instead of trying the Lights route first.
Before I ask my question, a short lament is in order. I’m very aware the money isn’t there for this, but it’s too bad there is no ‘Short-Track Road to Indy’ driver search. Get a few deserving short-trackers together, maybe three or four a year, and do a week- or two-week-long shootout at an accredited school where the winner gets a two-year deal. Year one would be Lights. If certain performance criteria are met, year two is a four-race Indy Car deal – one on each type of track, including the 500. I’m certain after a few years that one or two might find their way to full-season drives, or at least consistent Indy 500 drives. The steady stream of short-trackers would help IndyCar reconnect to a sorely missed and needed fan base. Do you think Windom and Hamilton’s efforts might be the start of a trend where short-trackers look to Lights as a stepping-stone to IndyCar?
Eric Z, Lancaster, NY
RM: I remember when Randy Bernard decided he was going to make sure the USAC champion got to run Indianapolis after watching his first USAC sprint race at Kokomo and meeting Bryan Clauson and Levi Jones. Randy made it happen, and Clauson was the overall USAC champ and got a ride in the 2012 Indy 500 with Sarah Fisher. As soon as Randy got run out of town, that program was dropped. It’s great that Windom (last year’s USAC sprint champ) and young Hamilton (a third generation driver) are going to run the Freedom 100, but it’s all about finding money or having someone like David Byrd (who is helping Windom) put a deal together. There have been various attempts to help the short-tracker get to Indy but just showing up once a year isn’t really fair – a midget or sprint racer needs miles, and that takes sponsorship. Lights is a great way to get comfortable in a rear-engined car, but it’s an expensive proposition and as we’ve seen this season, not many people can afford it. And I love your idea of a shootout, but it still requires someone to step up and fund it. USAC doesn’t care, so why should anyone else?