Q: What is the cost to field an IndyCar team for a season and a single race? This issue comes up a lot, and no-one seems to know anything. I have read that Ganassi needed $20-$25 million per year per car, in 2013 the bids for the National Guard contract from Panther Racing was $17 million a year, and Rahal/Letterman/Lanigan offered to do it for $12 million a year. This was for one base year with four options years. What is even more shocking is the bid went out to six teams, and only four bothered to respond. For a single race, can you tell us what Conor Daly spent this year, and what Carlos Munoz spent?
RM: I’m guessing $7-8 million per car a year is the most anybody gets these days, and ABC Supply, Verizon, PNC Bank, Fuzzy’s, Gallagher and Arrow lead the pack with DHL, NTT Data, Menard’s, NAPA and Lucas all spending decent money. Bobby Rahal has GEHL, Fleet, Total, United Rentals, One Cure and Fifth Third Bank to support Graham. I’ve heard everything from $50,000 to $75,000 a race for late-season one-offs at Coyne, Harding and SPM when teams need to fill seats in a hurry, but no confirmation.
Q: The cars this year were slower than last year’s based on pole times, and passing again was almost nonexistent on road/street courses – at least from memory. Is there any evidence to indicate that passing was significantly higher this year compared to last year? I think the low amount of passing on road/street courses is more of a factor of the tight/twisty tracks than the nature of the cars. Are they going to make the cars faster next year? I’d rather see faster cars and little passing than slower cars and little passing.
RM: Not sure if you watched Road America and Mid-Ohio, but they were two of the most entertaining and racy road courses I’ve seen in the past 20 years, and Toronto had a slew of wild passes as well as St Pete. Actually, the street and road courses were much racier than the ovals in 2018. Faster in 2019? Probably a little, but I’d much rather see slower corner speeds on ovals and the ability to get close and pass than going 3-4 mph quicker.
Q: I have a question with relation to the SAFER Barrier and it’s development. My understanding is Tony George was a major part of the development from 1998 until it was installed in 2002. That timeline, oddly, lines up closely with his step-son Ed getting into serious racing (started with USAC in 1998 and IndyCar in 2003). Was part of TG’s motivation to help protect Ed? Seems a logical thing for a parent to do if they have the financial means. Maybe that’s an angle that IndyCar could use for fence safety development? There are quite a few parents/patrons out there with deep pockets who are paying for young drivers to have a chance at a long successful career in IndyCar and series throughout the world. While they all have their own interests and goals, protecting their children/investments seems like it would be a worthy cause.
RM: I think Tony’s motivation was to make IMS the safest oval in racing, and he enlisted a team of engineers led by Dean Sicking at the Midwest Roadside Safety Facility at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. It became the single greatest innovation in modern racing, and was adopted by every major oval track in the country. The fact Ed Carpenter came along as it debuted was fortuitous, but I think TG’s thrust was the overall good and not just targeted toward his stepson. I’m sure IMS monitors (with Tony Cotman’s help) the ideas of fencing around the world, but right now what the Speedway has is the best available.
Q: IndyCar had another excellent year. It’s the best racing on the planet. But I really want to comment on the truly outstanding coverage by NBCSN. You and all of your NBCSN colleagues are the best in the business, and practically every utterance informs the viewer. The coverage is broad and deep and professional. Even PT, whom I never rooted for as a driver, is a real asset in the broadcast booth. The camera operators and video production staff are clearly on their game. It’s great to know that all IndyCar races will be on NBCSN going forward.
Dale Murray, Mount Joy, PA
RM: Well thanks, but I’m a very small part of this team, and I think it’s quite obvious from our producers to directors to cameramen to graphics to inside the truck to pit reporters and the booth it’s a group that not only knows racing, but it cares about it. And just wait until you see what NBC does with next May.
Q: I have been an IndyCar fan since the mid 60s. I have never missed an IndyCar race at Road America (whatever happened to Hector Rebaque?), and have also been to many other tracks in Indy country (the Midwest). I’ve been a fan of yours for years because of your passion and insight. I can’t wait for next year when you and the entire NBC crew take over the full season. The 2016 weather delay at Texas was the most entertaining coverage I’ve ever seen, and I think offered us a preview of what’s ahead. Finally, Townsend Bell and Paul Tracy are this generation’s version of Sam Posey and Uncle Bobby. See you at Road America 2019.
Dan S., Joliet, IL
RM: Again, thanks for the kind words, and I agree that TBell and PT are exactly what race fans enjoy – a couple of former racers who truly say whatever they feel, argue about half the time, but always make sharp observations about what is coming next or what to look for before it happens. And they’re not afraid to admit when they’re wrong either, which is also refreshing, or laugh at themselves. Leigh Diffey gives them enough rope but always reels them in at the right time while staying on top of the race, and it’s a good chemistry in our booth.
Q: Not so much a question as a comment. As we put the 2018 season to bed I’d like to give a shout out to you, RACER, and NBCSN. I value your passion and insight into IndyCar and admire your journalistic commitment to the story even if the story sometimes reveals warts. Pretty sure there are enough sycophants in the paddock to keep us going for quite a while. Very pleased that all races will be on NBC and NBCSN next year which should provide better continuity for 2019. Now if you could just get PT to come out of his shell and tell us what he really thinks we’ll be off to the races. Not withstanding the Wickens’ crash, 2018 was great and 2019 holds the promise of bigger and better. I hope you’ve got one more grueling year in you, because IndyCar won’t be as good when you’re not part of it. Enjoy the off-season.
RM: Appreciate those comments David, but RACER.com stays on top of IndyCar and sports cars because I’ve never met anyone who works harder than Marshall Pruett. I thought I was gung-go in the 1970s and 1980s writing 52 columns a year, covering USAC midgets, sprints and IndyCar and towing my midget all over the country, but between stories, scoops, videos, photos and podcasts, MP is a machine. I don’t think he sleeps. And we’ve got a good thing going because we always check with each other about what we’re working on so as not to duplicate. Anyway, you’ve already seen how much more promotion NBCSN has given IndyCar in the past couple months of the regular season, and it’s only going to get better in 2019 with NBC.
Q: I note that Laguna Seca Raceway has an Andretti Hairpin, a Rahal Straight, and a Rainey Curve. We need to start work now to make certain that it has a Zanardi Corkscrew in time for the 2019 IndyCar race. Thanks for the Mailbag.
David Thompson, Bellville, TX
RM: That’s a great idea, and how cool would it be to get “The Pineapple” to come over and make a dedication lap?
Q: In response to David in North Carolina’s letter in the September 19th Mailbag. I’m a lifer when it comes to open-wheel racing, but I certainly appreciated and regularly watched NASCAR stock car and modified racing in its ascendency during the CART years. I always appreciated that the drivers were true competitors, but they didn’t take themselves too seriously as “stars.” And NASCAR did an outstanding job of marketing their drivers as personalities that we were actually interested in hearing from (Gordon, Stewart, Martin, Earnhardt Sr. immediately come to mind).
Despite being an open-wheel guy, I attended every NASCAR event at my home track in Loudon and I typically tuned in to every NASCAR race as well: it was must-see TV. So, they had clearly become both a national (and international) sport, and I have never begrudged them their popularity even if later on I was jealous that it was at the expense of IndyCars ever since the CART/IRL split. But NASCAR clearly lost their way over the last 15 years and now is clearly in trouble from a racing standpoint. I have tried to watch three NASCAR Cup races and one Xfinity race (with Conor Daly and Katherine Legge) this season on different occasions without making it to the end of any of them. Even the road races, which were always hugely entertaining, have lost my interest now that they are broken into stages.
Sitting through the Las Vegas race overlap of the beginning of the IndyCar finale due to multiple crashes was sad to watch. I hope that NASCAR sorts itself out and brings in some new management/ leadership, and that NBC can overlap the NASCAR and IndyCar audiences to expose both groups to good racing and grow the overall fan base. If they do, I do think that IndyCar will compare quite favorably in the coming years with cool cars and interesting drivers. I hope, for all of us, that this strategy works.
Royal Richardson, Chester, N.H.
RM: When NBC acquired the NASCAR rights, I said it would be good for IndyCar and it has been – especially when you check the ratings when NASCAR leads into or follows an IndyCar event. The eight NBC races will certainly help IndyCar’s profile, and I will bet all the money Bobby Unser can loan me that next year’s Indy 500 ratings will go up because of the bang-up job NBC will do promoting in April and May.
Q: I appreciate the situation NBCSN was put in thanks to the NASCAR crashfest at Las Vegas, but to miss the drop of the green flag of the IndyCar race while the NASCAR race is at a red is, quite frankly, bad directing. NBCSN should have cut away from the red flag and showed the green glag at Sonoma. They could have easily gone back to catch the restart on the NASCAR race and show the finish. All of the race fans and both sanctioning bodies would have been the winners. IndyCar would have some exposure to the NASCAR fan base, and the NASCAR would have some exposure to the IndyCar fan base.
I didn’t watch the race live, but I did have my DVR set so I had no idea the IndyCar green flag was on CNBC. Bottom line, a red flag should never take precedent over a green flag in any racing series. The tin tops were parked, for goodness sake. Bail out next time NBCSN! BTW I still think NBC and NBCSN will do great things for IndyCar! Thanks to you, Marshall and Mark Glendenning for another season of great reporting.
Scott St. Clair, Erie, PA
RM: Missing most laps at Sonoma wasn’t a big deal, it just so happened that Rossi’s race was ruined at the start so that compounded the frustration of IndyCar fans and I understand. But when 2-3 million people are watching NASCAR and 500,000 are tuned in to IndyCar, it’s obvious to me we’re going to get bumped to CNBC until the Cup show is over. That’s just good business and a sporting event is going to be shown in its entirety, so it was just unfortunate that red flag came out or everything would have worked out.