Q: I’m sick of hearing people bitch about spec cars. NASCAR Cup teams spend a fortune, and employ hundreds of people, to all make custom cars that are laser scanned to be exactly the same. Can anybody honestly tell the difference between those cars if you strip all the decals off? I don’t think so. I sincerely doubt the racing would be much different if everybody just hung a generic fiberglass body like the short track guys do. It’s not like these “stock” cars look remotely like the productions cars they supposedly emulate. Try finding a picture of a NASCAR Camaro next to a production Camaro. You’ll never find one, because they aren’t allowed anywhere near each other.
And F1 is even worse. They spend kajillions of dollars making new bespoke cars every year, and only the most hardcore fans could tell one from the next with the liveries stripped off. Heck, how many times has each IndyCar fan been asked, “So what’s the difference between an IndyCar and an F1 car?” What does all that extra money get you? It sure doesn’t buy better competition. By the way, I say this as a guy who got into racing because I liked cars. Nobody in my family was into it, I found it on my own. I should be the kind of guy who hates spec cars, but the results speak for themselves. IndyCar blows them all away (except sprint cars on dirt, nothing can top that).
Dylan Burgett, Villa Park, IL
RM: It’s pretty much how it’s going to be. I understand the old-schoolers like myself who miss the innovation and surprises and risk takers, because that helped make Indianapolis so famous and edgy and fun. But IndyCar racing is as competitive and wide open as it has ever been, so that hopefully negates the lack of free thinking and different chassis.
Q: Kudos to you and Jon for a great job in the booth! However, even bigger kudos to P.T. and Townsend. I truly enjoyed their interviews with the drivers after each qualifying attempt. Did you catch the PT hand on the shoulder (a la Robin Miller) move he put on the guys he was interviewing? You all kicked ass, and I really enjoyed the switch-up. Please do it again. My biggest wish is that the entire broadcast crew remains intact for the 2019 Indy 500. Thanks to the entire NBC/NBCSN crew for a great job this season.
Tom Patrick, Lake Arrowhead, CA
RM: Our boss, Rich O’Connor, deserves the kudos for coming up with the idea, and I loved watching the drivers interact with P.T. and T. Bell. It was loose and fun and watching Ed Carpenter haul in a 15-yard pass from Bell (not a bad spiral) and nearly steamroll Seb’s father was a YouTube moment. And the drivers gave some really good, honest answers (like Graham talking about what he wouldn’t do compared to Sato in qualifying), and I hope we a lot of things like that next year. But even if I don’t make the cut, I’m lobbying to drive Tracy to make sure we get him to the production meetings and rehearsals on time.
Q: I’ve been a big fan of IndyCar and F1 since I was a kid. My uncle used to be a sponsor of Davey Hamilton before Indy cars, and my Dad and other uncle used to race sprint cars against the old Pink Lady out of Meridian Idaho. So racing has been in my family and blood for years, but Portland will be my first IndyCar race. I’ve been to a few F1 races, one in England and one in Montreal, but I have no idea about the must-see and must-do items at an IndyCar race. What are some of things I should do or look out for while there? I’m there for all three days and have a pass for the Champions club and Paddock Pass. Are there any meet-ups of fans that I should look out for, or any teams that do any cool fan engagement events? I know there’s the autograph session going on, but I’d love to be able to hang out with people in the know. Can you help me out or point me in the right direction?
Jeff Barker, Boise, Idaho
RM: The Pink Lady! What a car, did you know it was owned by Art Sugai originally built by Grant King and made famous by Ken Hamilton and Jerry and Tom Sneva, and it’s what Davey Hamilton made his sprint-car debut in it. Ken still runs it today at age 77. But you’ve got a paddock pass and you will have total access to cars and drivers before the autograph sessions.
Q: George Bignotti and Jim McGee were the two greatest crew chiefs we have seen. In your opinion, who was the better of the two? I never heard why Bignotti retired – was it because Tom Sneva drove him so nuts that enough was enough, because like Gordon Johncock said, 10 people can get into an elevator, nine would push up and Tom Sneva would push down. Speaking of Gordon Johncock, was there ever a driver who was more uncomfortable being in the spotlight then he was?
RM: My definition of a true crew chief is Clint Brawner, A.J. Watson, Bill Finley, Grant King, Jud Phillips and Bignotti – guys that could do it all from welding to building engines to fabricating to fixing a crashed car. McGee was a decent mechanic but more of an organizer, and really the first team manager who was successful by putting the right people together. George won Indy seven times and was a great thinker but tangled with AJ Foyt, who could also be classified as a pretty fair mechanic, but they respected each other. Sneva drove everybody crazy but that’s his nature, and he was The Gas Man so you knew you were going to the front. Gordy just drove as hard as any man before him or since, and didn’t care about anything else… well, except the ladies, but that cost him all his Indy winnings. Now he’s a got a great lady (Sue) and is working 70 hours a week and making real money, so that’s so cool. But he doesn’t have one photo of his IndyCar days on the wall of his shop.