Robin Miller's Mailbag for July 11, presented by Honda Racing / HPD

Robin Miller's Mailbag for July 11, presented by Honda Racing / HPD

Insights & Analysis

Robin Miller's Mailbag for July 11, presented by Honda Racing / HPD

Teammates for a month: Marco Andretti and Fernando Alonso. Image by IndyCar

Q: If I read the schedules correctly, the IMSA race at Laguna Seca and the IndyCar race at Sonoma are just a week apart. Have IMSA and IndyCar created a situation where they are competing for the same audience? I enjoy both series equally, but the race view and the open paddock at Laguna is much more appealing. If IndyCar returns to Laguna would it allow IMSA-style paddock access?

Regarding Alonso, he is a pretty formidable competitor. Do you think it would be difficult to find a teammate for him? Any potential teammate would have recognize they re second banana from the get-go. Who knows, perhaps he might mentor some young driver like O’Ward or Herta? Will we see Mr. Miller at Laguna Seca?

Jonathan and Cleide Morris, Ventura, CA

RM: They’re always competing for the same audience and that’s why there should be as many doubleheaders as possible. IndyCar has the most open paddock in racing. Sonoma and Laguna both have great viewing areas. I’ll be there if there’s a race, of course. As for Fernando, I imagine a lot of drivers would like to be his teammate because that F1 mentality doesn’t exist in IndyCar.

Q: What do you know of the work being done to the Portland course for it to be ready for the upcoming IndyCar race? Are there any delays? How are ticket sales?

Brent from Maryland

RM: Everything is on schedule from what I’m told, and Kevin Savoree and Kim Green seem pleased with ticket sales a few weeks ago.

Q: After reading the last two Mailbags and the interview with Mark Miles regarding the 2019 schedule, it occurred to me that we seldom seem to hear much about the promoters and what they want from IndyCar. Obviously guys like George Bruggenthies at Road America and Chris Blair at Gateway Motorsports Park seem to have found the sweet spot where they can showcase their track and our sport. (And hopefully make some money, too.) But we’ve recently seen two races fall off the schedule (Phoenix & Watkins Glen) where there seemed to be initial interest from the track promoters but that didn’t turn into success.

We all know that IndyCar doesn’t want to be in the business of promoting individual races, so it’s clear that any progress will have to come from an improved partnership with the tracks and promoters. Too often the issue of “date equity” and time of year/scheduling come up as the reason for a decent race failing, like Watkins Glen or Fontana. Has IndyCar ever gotten all of the principals together during the off-season to map out what it would consider to be the best schedule from a promoter’s/promotion standpoint? That could allow it to hash out what works and what doesn’t in terms of scheduling, and to maybe propose some deals to improve the flow of the season. And, of course, any discussion of scheduling like this should now certainly include NBC, since it will be the primary purveyor of IndyCar’s product to the public.

Liberty Media and F1 seem to be struggling right now with both entertainment and audience, as is NASCAR. What IndyCar needs now is effective national promotion so that people with even a casual interest in sports know that it is around and provides a very entertaining product. I’m sure that NBC will rise to this challenge, but it needs a schedule of events that delivers on both the timing and pacing of that schedule as well as the entertainment value.

Royal Richardson, Chester, NH

RM: IndyCar pretty much leased Phoenix and The Glen and that’s not something that’s good, because the races didn’t get much promotion. The promoters were kinda like step-children before Randy Bernard came along, and he realized their importance, and so does Mark Miles and Jay Frye. There is a promoter’s meeting every year, and I think IndyCar tries to accommodate everyone as much as possible. NBC will promote the hell out of next May.

Q: How’s the arm-twisting going with regards to IndyCar drivers running the midget race at IMS? I think they need some encouragement (and possibly a target). We need an experienced driver in that race. How about the fifth-fastest qualifier from the September ’80 Hut Hundred at Terre Haute? Answer on page 261 of United States Auto Club Fifty Years of Speed and Glory. The reader question about tow rigs brought back memories of  ’68 IRP Indy 200. Many cars were still hauled in horse trailers with skinny “tow tires”; full-size station wagons used as tow vehicles. And then that Gurney guy shows up with a large enclosed truck.

David Weidler

RM: It’s kind of on hold at the moment. The Captain told me no chance Will or Josef will be allowed to hot lap a midget (something about that Gary Bettenhausen guy), but I’m hoping Michael Andretti lets Marco, RHR, Rossi and Veach get dirty. Gabby Chaves is in, and I think Hinch and Wickens are game as well. This is going to be something that probably doesn’t get done until mid-August, but we’ve got car owners like Tim Clauson willing to assist. Having the double-points race at Sonoma a week later doesn’t help. The guy who you referred to in 1980 would love to hot-lap Kokomo – by himself – in his old Stanton midget, but he’s much too old, slow and blind to be allowed on a track with others.

Q: I’m reading the July 4th Mailbag with hot dogs on the grill and a cold one in my hand. Saw one of the letters suggest moving the dirt track event to Bump Day. Then I recalled how you feel that having IndyCar drivers compete in the Chili Bowl would help draw interest. Also thinking about the lack of a draw at ovals. Let’s combine them: dirt track event on the infield between races and qualifying, with IndyCar drivers in their own race and then after the IndyCar race, the main dirt event. Thoughts?

Vincent Martinez, South Pasadena, CA

RM: When IMS announced the dirt race, I sent emails to many of the IndyCar drivers asking if they would be interested in hot-lapping a midget and then maybe staging a little heat race among themselves. Almost to a man they were game, but several figured they might have trouble participating since Sonoma was a week later with double-points and if they were still in the title hunt, no way they’d be allowed. So maybe there’s still a chance to get five or six to at least hot-lap. Tim Clauson, Craig Dori and Bundy Mitchell in Charlotte with a Honda-powered midget have all volunteered to help with cars, and USAC badass Justin Grant has agreed to be their driver coach. I think IMS would give them their own practice day as well. Lots of moving parts so still too early to say what’s going to happen, but anything next May would likely be predicated on how this September turns out.

Q: Long-time reader, I don’t believe I’ve ever written to you, though I do have your autograph. Regarding Rick Hansen’s question about the last IndyCar open trailer, I’m going to guess Roger Rager. Talk about a shoestring budget.

Marlin Meredith, Cicero, IN

RM: Radar Rager qualified with a school bus engine so you are probably correct, and that madman was still racing sprint cars last time I heard. Along with Steve Chassey (1987), Phil Krueger (1988) and Ted Prappas (1992) they were likely the last trio of bona fide shoe-stringers to make Indy before The Split.

Q: The last two weeks you had items about the naming of Canada Corner. What you printed last week is correct. John Ewert and the track are right in that it was named because of the large numbers of Canadian beer cans and miscellaneous debris in the area. The proximity to Canada and a couple other myths just will not go away. What is my reason for this note? Simple. I am the Track Historian at Road America, and when I wrote my first book on the history of the track some 20 years ago I did extensive research on its founding and construction. And yes, I found more than ample evidence that the Canadian beer can angle is the correct story.

Tom Schultz

RM: Thanks for weighing in Tom, it’s a great story that’s been told for decades and I appreciate you confirming it.

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