Welcome to the Robin Miller Mailbag 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: Let’s face it. We all know that Chip is hardwired to never place an American shoe in his IndyCars, but have Kyle Larson or Chase Elliott ever crossed any IndyCar owners minds? If given a decent car and a good test program, with consideration to his background, Kyle can be an exceptional IndyCar fixture. Chase has a tough gig, given his father’s legacy and legend in NASCAR. Give the kid a year in either Indy Lights (the series can use a PR boost, or any PR for that matter) or in a high-powered IMSA DPi, and he can be an IndyCar frontrunner.
Both these cats have both a fan following and skill, and either would be a massive boost to the IndyCar Series come year after next. At least get these kids into a car to try it out for a day or two! Lord knows we need something solid in the wake of the Alonso hype many of us were hopeful for over the last few months that fizzled out recently. To the entire IndyCar executive and marketing teams, Penske, Andretti, Coyne and Carlin, now would be a good time to start thinking 2020 and beyond! Just saying!
Brian L, Spring, TX
RM: Obviously, Larson’s background and first love is open-wheel, and I have no doubt he would adapt quickly to IndyCars, but why would he take the pay cut? Not sure what Chip is paying him, but when you combine merchandise and prize fund I’ll bet it’s a helluva lot more than anyone in IndyCar could offer, and Kyle’s got the best of both worlds now because now he gets to run sprinters during the season. Can’t imagine Elliott even considering it, and why would he? He’s the next big deal in NASCAR. If Larson gets to run the Indy 500 we’ll all be happy, but I like the idea of him testing an IndyCar and NBC filming it.
Q: What an enjoyable year of IndyCar, and it’s only going to get better. Alonso will make his decision in November! What a bunch of B.S. He knows (you might and can’t say a word), Michael Andretti knows, and I am sure few others do to. Maybe an announcement at COTA in a few weeks? Here is my question: could we have a problem with drivers who might have a full-funded season and no team to go to? Hypothetically, if a driver went to Chip/Roger/Ed with $6 million or so, would they expand?
RM: I swear I don’t know, and I don’t think anyone else does, either. Fred says he wants to run the Daytona 500, and he told Michael he wanted to run the whole IndyCar season if he came over, but I just don’t think he knows what he wants to do yet. Zak Brown wants him in IndyCar and maybe they’ve already sealed a deal with Andretti, but then why would he be talking to Bobby Rahal? It would depend on the driver, but if you had $6 million I don’t think you’d have any trouble finding a good ride. Ganassi likes cutting back to two cars, but if the price was right, a third wouldn’t be out of the question. R.P. wants to stay at three cars, but I’m sure Ed Carpenter could make room for a third for that kind of money.
Q: The past few years it seems that IndyCar owners are getting big-name Formula 1 drivers to ventures over to the States. Yes, these guys are very talented racers. Rossi and Sato are Indianapolis 500 champs. I have no issues at all with F1 guys coming to the U.S. But, as a USAC/Ed Carpenter fan, I got a little fatigued this year hearing everyone talking F1 drivers coming to race IndyCar. My simple question is, can you confirm that USAC guys no longer have any chance to run IndyCar, let alone Indianapolis, again? Kody Swanson seems very close to maybe getting that opportunity. Any chance Ed Carpenter would hire Swanson for a future Indianapolis 500? Does Ed still follow his USAC roots? I still to this day wish BC had his full-time shot. He was a talented enough driver that I am certain he could run the road courses as good as he could run an oval. It was awesome to see the BC midget race. I hope that stays for years to come.
P.S. I’m still hoping Silver Crown cars run Gateway with IndyCar next year.
RM: Other than Rossi and Fernando, there aren’t any F1 guys wanting to come to IndyCar to my knowledge. Felix Rosenvquist had the pedigree to be in F1 but never got the call so he doesn’t really count, and Jordan King aspired to be in F1 and got a job as development driver for Manor but obviously saw the handwriting on the wall and headed to IndyCar. Swanson could run the Indy 500 if he had $1 million, it’s that simple, and that might even include a good test program with a decent team. And I’m sure if he found $500,000-700,000 that Ed would try to put something together for May, but it’s all about money if you’re a USAC driver. Hell, it’s about money if you’re somebody as good at Indy as J.R. Hildebrand. I think the midget race will be back in 2019, and Silver Crown is always a possibility at Gateway.
Q: Just had a thought triggered by Hinch’s article about the terms regarding how drivers are compensated (or not). Insurance was mentioned, and it made me wonder if Robert Wickens is covered under his contract? I guess not all of the drivers have this perk, and that seems unbelievable to me. Straighten me out, please.
RM: Most drivers at the IndyCar level have their own insurance policy, and IndyCar also has a pretty good one (I know one injured driver whose bill was $235,000 and I believe IndyCar covers $250,000). But I asked Robert the other day if he was OK or did he need a GoFundMe Page or maybe a golf outing to raise money, and fans write me every week wanting to donate money, but he said he was fine, he’s got a great insurance policy, so that’s good.
Q: I just read James Hinchcliffe’s article on RACER about needing some sort of drivers association. I can’t believe that some of the drivers don’t have insurance, I know some make little to no money, but there should be some sort of requirement for insurance. We have a small Cracker Box 100 mph boat race team that races in the Lucas Oil Dragon boat series, and the Cracker Box has an association that is minuscule, but still requires insurance. Can’t IndyCar itself provide some sort of a required fund from each team to support a minimum salary, or at least insurance for their drivers? These guys are racing at some of these ovals for less than 20,000 people and risking their lives for no money and no insurance. I’m already in depression because there’s no IndyCar racing, hope they start starting earlier in the next couple years.
CAM in LA
RM: IndyCar has a pretty comprehensive insurance package for its drivers (see the question above yours), and Hinch is talking more about a minimum salary for an IndyCar driver and a chance to have a retirement plan or 401K or a group insurance plan. To think guys drive for nothing or don’t have personal insurance is insane, but it shows the commitment to stay in the seat or the sport. And like Hinch wrote, everyone is afraid to piss off the car owners. Can you imagine? Please risk your life at 230 mph, but here’s a 2-for-1 coupon for Applebee’s and I’ll buy you a new set of tires for qualifying. Guys actually made more money running for 40 percent in USAC than they do today.
Q: I read where James Hinchcliffe talked about insurance and salaries. I am not sure I understand where the money would come from. The days of Marlboro and KOOL with lots of money to spread around are long gone. You have teams that can barely make the grid and depend on ride buyers. You have drivers that come and go and don’t make a salary. Tracks that can’t fill the stands and don’t make a profit. Then there is IndyCar itself: should it allocate money away from building the series? I can understand putting together a group plan for crew and drivers for insurance, but couldn’t they just do that instead of write about it?
Then, who receives the benefits? You have strange characters like Grumpy Cat – should he benefit from this? Or drivers that run one or two races? NFL has been talking about retirement and insurance plans for HOF. There was some good commentary about this situation from a HOF/NFL analyst. He talked about how the HOF from the past made very little money, and no flags or protocols to protect them. It made sense to him to protect them, but the stars that made all that money that want all of these benefits are looking both greedy and at fault for squandering their money. Listening to Anders Krohn sounds as though the smart drivers are those that invest in side businesses and not just put their eggs in one basket.
Paul, Erie, Pa.
RM: The money should come from IndyCar and Hulman & Company, naturally, since the purses are a joke and the Leader’s Circle charity doesn’t include the drivers. The drivers tried to unite in the 1970s under USAC sanction but it never happened, and CART drivers formed the CDA (Championship Drivers Association) in the 1980s to sell merchandise and make everyone rich and it didn’t amount to much, either. The drivers and mechanics in IndyCar both need to form unions, because they are both taken advantage of and really have no voice in anything regarding finances, retirement, scheduling, etc.
Of course you have a handful of drivers making a decent salary in IndyCar and everyone else either taking a percentage of their sponsorship or driving for expenses, and there is always someone willing to do it for free. To think Matthew Brabham finished 22nd in the 2016 Indianapolis 500 and made less than $500 after everything was paid is insulting on every level, yet nobody does anything. I write a story every year about what a fraud the Indy 500 purse is but nobody that matters cares, and it’s the same purse year after year, and the drivers have to get up at the banquet and thank Hulman & Company (while gritting their teeth).
The check the driver is presented is a sham, so when it’s announced Ryan Hunter-Reay earned $419,804 for finishing fifth last May, it’s total b******t because $200,000 comes right off the top for the Leader’s Circle. Does the 2014 Indy 500 winner get 40 percent of $400,000, or $200,000? Good question. Either way, it’s not nearly enough. And the one-off drivers are automatically limited in what they can make ($200,305 is the base) unless they finish fourth or higher (not likely). I wish I was smart enough to organize the drivers and mechanics, because they need representation.
Q: You mentioned on the Curt Cavin and Kevin Lee’s show about the Yankees involvement in IndyCar and what the paint scheme would be. Imagine if the cars were painted in Yankee pinstripes and the Yankees theme and popularized by Yankees in their daily baseball news feeds, playing clips of the cars and announcing results of the race every week in the Yankee network, in the Yankee stadium during the games and popularize the cars as a Yankee vehicle for the fans to follow and root for? You suddenly gain half of the North East to follow IndyCars, and that maybe 20-30 million people. It would be like one of the race formulas that was being thought about in Europe in early 2000s, where the circuit would have a European soccer league team representing the top European soccer teams, but it never took off. Perhaps you can forward this to Mr. Steinbrenner as an idea.
RM: Hank Steinbrenner has lots of good ideas about a lot of things, but when he sponsored drag racer Darrell Gywnn it had a Yankee pinstripe paint job so I’m sure it’s a possibility in 2019.
Q: One of the big topics of conversation over the last couple of days has been Mercedes imposing team orders during the Russian GP. Has there ever been any race team in any of IndyCar’s iterations (USAC/CART/ChampCar/IRL/IndyCar) that has utilized team orders?
On a lighter note, my wife and I were in Toledo on Friday night for the Shinedown and Godsmack concert, and in a sea of black Iron Maiden, Ozzy and Godsmack t-shirts was a guy sportin’ his orange and black Eldora Speedway t-shirt. I was hoping to see him jump into one of the mosh pits, but sadly, that didn’t happen. Do any drivers listen to music before a race to get pumped? In other sports, it’s not unusual to see athletes walking off of the team bus or walking into the locker room or clubhouse wearing a pair of headphones, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen a driver listening to music before a race.
James Jackson, Livonia, MI
RM: The only instance I can think of where team orders could have been in play was 1999 at Houston when Paul Tracy was leading teammate Dario Franchitti. There were only three races to go in the season and Dario was locked in a tight battle for the title with Juan Pablo Montoya, but KOOL owner Barry Green chose not to ask P.T. to move over and they finished 1-2. Barry said afterwards he didn’t like team orders and was prepared to take criticism, but I remember a lot of us liked that racy spirit. As it turned out, Franchitti and JPM tied for the title and Montoya won on a tie-breaker, so letting Dario win would have won $1 million and the championship. But I don’t recall Green or Franchitti ever crying about it.
Q: Obviously there were team orders in Russia for Hamilton to win on Sunday. Do you think there would have been team orders at Sonoma last month by Andretti if Hunter-Reay had been leading and Rossi had been second and Dixon was running third near the end of the race?
RM: Michael Andretti said he would not ask anybody to give up a win, but would leave it up to the teammates if they wanted to make a deal. And that’s exactly what I would expect from a hard-core racer like Andretti.
Q: Thanks for your work for RACER and on TV. I like to read your opinions, however I really disagree with what you wrote in the Mailbag about the possible future of Felix Rosenqvist. Going from a series where drivers get paid (Formula E) to IndyCar where about half of the seats are open only for those who bring significant funding seems against logic, but not if you’re one of those who don’t need to pay, who races for a top team, and who knows that many of your opponents are not exactly the best drivers.
I’ve been watching IRL and IndyCar (we never had Champ Cars on TV in Czech language) since 2002, and I must say the current driver line-up is the strongest in history (even better than in the mid-1990s). On the other hand, Formula E’s line-up is simply better and was better from the beginning. Why do you think IndyCar drivers are “better and more diverse competition” than FE drivers? Being overlooked or dropped by an F1 team doesn’t mean you are a terrible driver, especially when politics and money play strong role in F1. It’s definitely unfair from you to underestimate their level. What about Alexander Rossi? Justin Wilson? Sebastien Bourdais? Alex Zanardi? Michael Andretti? Takuma Sato? IndyCar always had plenty of drivers with an F1 history, and many of them were and are racing on the top.
Is IndyCar a “scrap heap for guys who didn’t make it in F1”? No less than Formula E. And when you look at FE pilots, the vast majority of them were champions or front-runners in highly competitive European series (GP2/Formula 2, WSR 3.5). I don’t want to sound like an ignorant European, but the level of European development series was always much higher than in the U.S., and not only by the size of their fields. Look at Charles Zwolsman Jr: he was 16th in his second season of F3 Euro Series in 2004, went to the U.S. and became the champion in his first-ever season of CCWS Atlantic. Nobody remembers him. OK, and what about Simon Pagenaud: 16th in F3 Euro Series in 2005, and then champion of CCWS Atlantic the next year. Josef Newgarden? 18th in GP3 in 2010, then Indy Lights title in 2011. Santino Ferrucci? 19th out of 20 drivers in this year’s Formula 2 field before being dropped by his team, and he is able to qualify in the better half of IndyCar field.
Of course some pilots need more time to get to the top, and not everyone fits everywhere, but some of the biggest names in IndyCar were actually below average in Europe and would probably never achieve the same success as most Formula E drivers. Don’t get me wrong, you don’t need the best drivers in the world to make a good show, and watching IndyCar is almost always much more fun than Formula 1, and IndyCar has the most diverse calendar of any open-wheel series, but what really attracts Felix Rosenqvist to IndyCar is not higher level of competition but actually lower level (and maybe some vroom-vroom engine noise, too). It’s the series where he has bigger chance of becoming star. I bet if he makes it at Ganassi, he’ll be better than Scott Dixon. Anyway, I’ll continue to watch both IndyCar and Formula E, and I wish Felix good luck wherever he drives.
Matěj, Prague, Czech Republic
RM: No question there are some talented drivers in Formula E (I never said they were terrible drivers) that didn’t get the right situation in F1 (maybe like Rossi), and the cars look good and manufacturers are lined up to support them. But don’t tell me FE is more challenging than road courses, street courses, short ovals and superspeedways at 230 mph. I think Felix wants to be challenged and probably took less money to run for Chip, but tell me who considers FE a major series? At least in terms of fans, media coverage and prestige. And IndyCar is spec so it’s a lot more about the driver than the car or the engine. Personally, I wouldn’t watch an FE race if it was across the street – race cars need to make noise – but it’s nice that some good drivers have an outlet to race and a chance to make a good living. I will say that FE drivers likely make a lot more money than half the IndyCar drivers, but it’s the minor leagues.
And FYI, Zwolsman raced against Mickey & Minnie Mouse in that fractured Atlantic campaign while Newgarden won the Formula Ford Festival, so don’t tell me he was cannon fodder all the time over there. And JPM did a pretty good job in F1 after winning the CART title because he was a badass and his cars were good – unlike most of the guys you named. But who are the best drivers in the world? Bottas is better than all those guys who qualify five seconds behind him every race? Or is it his car and engine and team? Dixon had an impressive F1 test back in 2003, and I’d put him up against anybody on four wheels. But I appreciate your passion.
Q: Usually when we hear about a race being discontinued, it’s because of low attendance or that the promoter/track couldn’t make the finances work anymore. But after reading in one of the recent Mailbags about the successful former IndyCar race in Vancouver being discontinued by construction for the Winter Olympics, I’m curious: Have there been any other races in recent memory that were discontinued despite healthy attendance and financials?
Alexander S., Cincinnati, OH
RM: Baltimore had massive crowds the first two years, and unfortunately also had massive debts, but IndyCar always said it couldn’t work out a suitable date so that’s why it went away. Edmonton started out like gangbusters with a packed house but gradually attendance fell off and the bottom line was a disaster, so the plug was pulled. Kentucky, Charlotte, Chicago and Kansas opened with good crowds in the IRL days before being shuttered (Charlotte because of three fan fatalities) after attendance sagged.
Q: Though not a weekly Mailbag reader, I’m fairly well read from various news sources about IndyCar and F1 and I’m surprised to not yet have seen anyone mention the comparison of Scott Dixon to Lewis Hamilton and where they are in the writing of history in their respective record books. (I could have missed it, obviously). Dixie has won his fifth championship and Hamilton may well win his before this season is out. With their ages, current level of driving success and connection to powerhouse teams, the respective pinnacles and legends of their series – Foyt with seven championships and most wins – Schumacher with seven championships and most wins – are potentially within reach for both of them. It’s an exciting time to be watching two legends in the making right now. Though you might have a hard time finding two more different drivers/persons in their personal life, it would be interesting to see how/where their careers matched up in other ways.
RM: Good suggestion. I know we’ve written a lot about Scott, as we should, and he’s got a shot at catching Super Tex in the next four or five years. Don’t know much about Hamilton other than his Ron Dennis/McLaren connection as a karter, but their careers are forming an interesting parallel.
Q: Amid all the talk of new teams and drivers this week, I haven’t seen any recent mention of Oriol Servia and the Scuderia Corsa team with which he had been associated. Is he still in line for a drive, at least for the 500? If so, could there be addition races for him? Take a bow for being in the know about Felix going to Ganassi several weeks ago. I don’t recall a recent Swedish driver in IndyCar. He seems very excited about coming to the series. I do feel bad that there is not a place for Ed Jones next year, though.
RM: Talked to Servia at Sonoma and he’s working on a couple things for 2019 and Scuderia is one of them, but not sure if it would be full season or Indy-only. My Felix source was impeccable, but I had to act like it was still uncertain for the past couple weeks and that made it more fun. I think Ed may land a ride before all is said and done.
Q: After the season finished I expected to hear a lot of talk about who next year’s title sponsor will be for IndyCar. Based on your last Mailbag, I guess I’m the only one! Have you heard any scuttlebutt?
Bob, Mound, MN
RM: I have, but not allowed to write anything just yet. There are a couple of decent leads is best I can tell you, but it’s getting late for 2019.
Q: I don’t like going to these natural terrain road courses and not having a morning warm-up. Now Marshall and The Viking think it’s a good idea and believe that it improves the racing. That’s fine for them; they get paid to be at the race. On the other hand, fans are paying to be at the race. And many of us fans have to show up for work on Monday morning. At Mid-Ohio, the population of fans in the camping area is about the same as Mansfield, the largest city in Richland County. Same can be said about Road America and Sheboygan County, Wisconsin. If IndyCar doesn’t want to have a morning warm-up, how about just starting those races at about 10:30am? The time slot would slide in nicely between F1 and NASCAR coverage, and the on-site fans could get home at a decent hour.
RM: I think Jay Frye has been listening to you road race fans, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see morning warm-ups reinstated for Road America and Mid-Ohio in 2019. Can’t start the races that early, so the smart thing to do is give you folks a little 30-minute hot lap session.
Q: You’ve mentioned IndyCar can’t go to Road Atlanta to race. But IMSA goes there, and has for years with the Petit Le Mans season-ending event. I watched Formula 5000 races there ages ago, and the place’s big event for years was the original CanAm series’ fire-breathing machines. Perhaps I just don’t understand physics, but if you can tip-toe around Birmingham and have rocketed among the Armco barriers at Watkins Glen, isn’t there a way to race at Road Atlanta? They’ve had a couple of kinks break up that wonderful long back straightaway
Morris Wynn, Mt Pleasant, S.C.
RM: I think we would all like to see Road Atlanta on the schedule, but all anyone ever says is that Indy Cars are too fast and there aren’t enough runoff areas. To which Bob Rahal always says: “How much run-off area is there at Indianapolis?”
Q: I grew up a NASCAR fan in the 90s, and while I refuse to watch the series now for a variety of reasons, it still seems drivers are known as just as much for the badge on the front of their car than the sponsor on the side of it. At least when I was growing up (and I’m assuming it was like this long before I was born), many fans were known for cheering or jeering a driver or team simply because they drove a Chevy, Ford, or Pontiac. I’ve been watching open-wheel racing since I went to my first IndyCar race (the 2004 Indy 500) for the spectacle rather than the politics behind the scenes, but recently I’ve been paying more attention to it in IndyCar and F1. So I ask my question as someone “new” to the behind-the-scenes activity and decision-making.
The politics of F1 pretty much dictate that if your badge is on the car, you’re going to have a decent amount of say on who is sitting behind the wheel. Even though IndyCar has had multiple suppliers for some time, there’s only two of them, which obviously severely limits what a team can use. For that reason, how much sway does Chevy or Honda have in a team’s driver lineup? For example (and I mention him only because he’s all the talk recently), if Team X is set to run a Honda unit and Honda were to go to that team and say “Hey, we would kinda like you to take a look at Fred,” would they have any sway in making that a reality? I would assume not, because I would assume most people think NAPA before Honda when someone mentions Rossi, for instance. But which supplier a team ends up with – especially for new teams – has been just as much a part of silly seasons as anything else, and one would think the limit on available suppliers would give at least a little bit of an upper hand to Chevy or Honda. Or am I giving them too much credit?
Matt, Peoria, IL
P.S. Shout out to the folks at Gateway for another awesome race. My brother, who has never been a racing fan and doesn’t know anyone other than Will Power (only because his name), went to both races with me and loved it so much I was able to convince him to go to the Indy 500 next year. If that’s not a good endorsement, I don’t know what is.
RM: Both have their favorites and their say, and back in the CART days (when there were four engines) the manufacturers would help pay driver’s salaries. But let’s say that a Chevy team went after Scott Dixon, would Honda step in to help keep him? Hell yes, and I’m sure Alex Rossi also is very high on Honda’s keeper list. As long as The Captain is competing, General Motors is happy with whomever he choses. And I’m fairly certain both would lend a hand to get Fernando Alonso in the series. Glad your brother has seen the light.
Q: I always love your perspicacious observations and somewhat sardonic humor. Since I became enthralled with racing at 12 years old in 1967 it’s been quite a ride, however something is absent for me in IndyCar. I loved the CART years – the variety was compelling, rivaling F1, but given the great racing we’ve witnessed in recent seasons and the better-looking new cars, something is missing in my mind. Spec cars, perhaps? Still not quite measuring up to the heyday of different chassi, tire, engines… your thoughts?
RM: OK Alex, I started writing the Mailbag back in 2001, continued at SPEED, and I’m in my sixth year with RACER.com and it’s the first time I’ve ever seen the word perspicacious. Of course I looked it up (I flunked out of Ball State) and was flattered to find out it meant “having insight and understanding” instead of something sinister, so I thank you for the education. As for your question, there is no doubt Indy lost a chunk of its luster and tradition when innovation went away, but it’s not likely to come back. Dallara seems to be the only manufacturer interested in building cars, so good, close, competitive racing should be the byproduct of a spec car with two engines very similar in performance. Would we get 100,000 people back at Pole Day if IndyCar opened up the rulebook? I don’t think so. It might drive up interest with the Car & Driver set and some old-schoolers, but it’s been so long that I don’t think it matters anymore. Just be glad we saw the turbine, the sidecar, the twin-engine Porsche, the Novi, Eagle, Lotus, McLaren, Wildcat, Penske, pushrod Mercedes, turbo Ford, Offy, Kingfish and Fleagle. The drivers, characters like Andy G. and Smokey Yunick, cars, engines and new track records made May must-see, and now it’s just the race – but it’s still a helluva race.
Q: Regarding your response to Hunter in Ottawa in the September 26th Mailbag (“How about an IndyCar/NASCAR doubleheader at COTA? I think that would create a lot of interest and be good races”) – that sounds like an absolutely genius idea! First off, NASCAR is looking for ideas on how to generate some buzz, and running at the true home of (current) F1 would certainly do that. These guys race well on road courses, and COTA has both long straights to let them stretch out, and plenty of run-off space for off-course excursions without writing off a car.
Second, if you did have a weekend double-header with NASCAR and IndyCar, you have the perfect opportunity for some of the drivers to “do a double.” Even if they only did some practice sessions in the other series’ cars, you know that the fans would turn out in droves to see a set of “no pressure” Friday practice session for both series with driver crossover. Sure, there would be logistics to work out regarding necessary track time, but the benefit would far outweigh the effort. Needless to say, COTA is an ideal track for IndyCar – I think that they will put on a much better show than F1 at this venue. (And I have been to every COTA F1 race thus far, including sitting through the monsoon weekend.)
Seeing some of the NASCAR stars showing off their skill in an IndyCar would be a fun experience for the drivers as well as generating buzz for IndyCar. Likewise for the IndyCar guys lapping in a stocker for the first time: you know there would be bragging rights up for grabs. And COTA definitely has the paddock facilities to host both series on the same weekend, and as a road-course with plenty of seating options. This would be an amazing promotional opportunity for both series if both series could declare a one weekend “truce” and do something for their fans rather put aside their rivalry. Just sayin’… could be genius, man!
Royal Richardson, Chester, N.H.
RM: Because Jay Frye has such a good history and relationship with Jim France and the NASCAR crowd, something like this is possible down the road. I always watch NASCAR on the road courses because it’s their best shows, and I like your idea of an open practice period with drivers swapping cars. People are concerned that IndyCar might have trouble drawing at COTA, but you stage a double-header with NASCAR and see what happens. IMSA doesn’t seem to want to team up with IndyCar, so why not NASCAR? Both are on NBC, and I think it would be a big hit.
Q: Not to beat a dead horse, but I’m sick of the season being decided on a double-points road course race where passing is at a premium, and I’m tired of the season ending before fall begins. I know IndyCar and the sponsors don’t want to compete for TV ratings with the NFL, so why not run a Saturday night oval to end the season? Make it a 500-miler at Fontana, and we’d have a Triple Crown again, too.
Tom, Marion, NY
RM: Absolutely, I beat that drum all summer about ending the season at Gateway, but it would have to be a Sunday afternoon show to be on NBC and we need the season finale on network. But Fontana wouldn’t want to run until October because of the heat, and I want the race to be in the Midwest where we would get a good crowd and some atmosphere. That’s why Gateway is perfect.
Q: I’m reading the Mailbag, and as usual there’s talk about the finale. You’ve written that the old Marlboro 500 races attendance benefited from getting a ‘goose’ from Marlboro in the form of free tickets through various channels. Why can’t the series go to a potential new entitlement partner with the proposal to sponsor a season-ending 500-mile race at Fontana on Columbus Day weekend as part of the series deal? On top of some traditional sponsor money for the event, maybe give free tickets out via promotions. Or maybe just help blitz the LA area promoting the event. The race would be on NBC. It will lead into Sunday Night Football, so there will be a ratings boost. It’ll be high drama on an oval. I agree the season should end with an oval, but maybe not Gateway. Sponsor guests can be wined and dined in and around the LA area. I know it still is pretty hot in early October. That fact notwithstanding, it’s hard to imagine not being able to draw 15-20,000 people out of the 15,000,000 or so that live within 3-4 hours of the track with the right effort. What am I missing?
Eric Z, Lancaster, NY
P.S. I know Mark Miles keeps saying they want to start earlier, but February has Speedweeks and that little football game the NFL has is in early February too. Running a couple races past Labor Day is the way to go. Even if it’s only two. Three or four would be better in my mind but I’m not in power… yet.
RM: If you ran Fontana in October, I think Dave Allen (prez of Auto Club Speedway) would be game, and make it a 300-miler so you lead directly into Sunday Night Football. Papering the house isn’t new, and it’s a good idea because you want the place to look good for national television, and make it jump instead of what we’ve seen the past several years at the Sonoma tire test. How about the King Taco 300? Buy two tacos and get two free tickets to the race? When you take over IndyCar, save me a job getting parimutuel wagering into our tracks.
Q: You mentioned Tulsa in the previous Mailbag as a potential race for IndyCar. As a resident I’m excited about this possibility, but also a bit confused as to where it would be held. I don’t know if downtown has a suitable place to race? I could see a scenario where an Iowa-clone is built out in Catoosa or Pryor (perhaps near Salinas Highbanks) but I sort of struggle to see who’d invest in such a thing. There’s also Hallett, which hosted IMSA in 1977, 1978, 1979, CanAm in 1987 and SCCA TransAm in 1977 and 1980. But it feels like that venue is too small for the series (1.8 miles in length) and would need some upgrades to hold an event. I think it would be a great market, though. The short track community seems to be well supported here, and of course, the Chili Bowl. Have you any more information about what this potential event would be?
Gus in Broken Arrow, OK.
RM: It was actually a question, and I replied I’d never heard Tulsa mentioned as a possible IndyCar venue, and it turns out Oklahoma City showed some interest a couple years ago – not Tulsa – so sorry about that. But you reside in the town that gave us Brady Bacon, so see you at the Chili Bowl.
Q: I attended the midget races at the Speedway and thoroughly enjoyed them. I believe the Speedway should not only host the race during Brickyard week next year, but host three other dates next year. It would be good if a couple of dates would be during the period most school-aged kids are on summer break so young kids could attend. I also think that IndyCar should end their season at IMS in September with a 300 or 400-mile championship race. It would be much more exposure than a road course race in California. Have there ever been discussions on such a race?
Jim Osborn, Fishers, IN
RM: There could be another USAC midget race at IMS in addition to the one honoring Bryan Clauson but no more than that, and there likely won’t be a sprint-car race because the track is just too small. As for ending the season at IMS, fans have clamored to end it on the road course, but I don’t want to see any oval racing except the one in May. It’s the last tradition still standing, and adding another race would be diluting things further.
Q: For everyone who complained about the lack of passing this year at Sonoma: we may have been watching different races. Yes, the lead was a foregone conclusion, and yes, Dixon could coast to a championship, but the mid-pack battle was awesome all race. From the top of Turn 7, we saw more passes than in the past three years combined. The drag race down to Turn 7 was great as ever, but for the first time we also saw a lot of crazy moves into Turn 4. It was a joy watching Rossi carve through the field, especially since we could hear that he was saving fuel for most of that first post-shunt stint. And listening to Ferrucci learn how to downshift was fun, too. The racing was so good this year that I was almost regretting losing the race to Laguna Seca, but if this aero kit could make Sonoma look that good, I’m not worried.
Chris, San Francisco
RM: Thanks for the report Chris, glad to hear there was some action behind the leaders.
Q: In the last Mailbag I read this: “And FYI, as we were arguing about where to end the season, one team owner told me: “Miller it’s not the quantity of fans that counts, it’s the quality.” How do you argue with something that asinine?” I have a good mind to bail on everything IndyCar if that is the attitude that carried around in the paddock. Why should I spend any money on an organization that could care less if I show up? I know I shouldn’t let one bad apple spoil the whole bunch, but that comment really pissed me off. I have my tickets for the Indy 500 already paid for next year, but that doesn’t mean I have to go. I know you won’t tell us what owner owns that quote, but I would love to know so I could just punish them instead of the whole series monetarily. Who knows, maybe all the owners feel like that – maybe I don’t care anymore, either.
RM: It’s not the attitude of most of the owners or the paddock, so don’t give up hope and don’t get rid of your Indy tickets. That was just an off-handed, stupid comment by one guy who doesn’t get it.
Q: I had the opportunity to meet Tony Stewart at a sponsor function a few weeks ago out on the East coast. Given it wasn’t at the track there weren’t a whole lot of true race fans in attendance. Therefore, as I had the chance to talk to him for a few minutes, I mentioned that I was not a tintop fan, but an IndyCar fan from the Midwest. You could tell that got his attention, and we began to speak open-wheel. During the conversation, I mentioned I had heard he was going to try and come back to Indy a year-and-a-half from now. He then became even further engaging, and discussed the fact he wanted to do it the right way and has had multiple discussions with a certain prominent owner about running Pocono and another oval next year to get himself comfortable in the new car. He told me his clock was ticking and needed to do it before he got too old.
We also discussed his running A.J.’s roadster and wearing the red and white checkered team shirt from the 70s prior to Indy a few years ago, and he stated it was one of the most exciting things he’s ever done, to be able to drive his hero’s car on race day. We all know this, but he’s truly an old-school driver and has a passion like drivers of yesteryear. I honestly believe this guy’s love is in open-wheel and would have stayed if the money in NASCAR didn’t come calling. I was a big Tony Stewart fan before and an even bigger one now, because he held nothing back and was quite frank with me during our conversation. I was expecting generic responses and some “coach speak” if you will, and got none of that. He spoke to me like we knew each other, and I really appreciated that. Yeah, Tony is getting long in the tooth and probably needs to get into race shape, so it’s a “I’ll believe it when I see it”, but can you imagine a 500 with both Stewart and Fred? Almost surreal. However, it’s those types of scenarios that makes Indy special to me. Whether they come to fruition or not, it keeps us thinking about that race.
Rod, West Chester, OH
RM: I was lucky enough to be at IMS when Tony took A.J.’s roadster around for the first time (we made a video for RACER.com), and it was cool because Stewart was wowed and Foyt loved seeing the modern version himself make a couple laps. They are the same person, you know. Stew always said he wouldn’t show up for one-off at Indy because it was too tough to be competitive so I didn’t put any stock in him saying he might be back in 2019, but if he were to test at Pocono, or even race there, at least he’d have an idea of whether he could be in the ballpark and get comfortable. I don’t want to see him show up and run 17th. He’s an old-school badass and one of open-wheel racing’s best allies, but he doesn’t need to prove anything so I think he’ll be smart about his decision (he recently said he wasn’t going to try 2019) and hopefully stay a spectator. As for his career, had John Menard or IndyCar offered him comparable money, he’d have never left for NASCAR. Stock cars made him rich, but open-wheel cars make him happy.
Q: I open the RACER.com TV listings page and search eagerly through the listings. Formula 1 practice Friday, quali Saturday, check. Where’s the IndyCar practice and quali? Oh yeah, season’s over. (Withdrawal symptoms.) Guess I’ll have to watch football. Or maybe the Rolex Monterey Reunion or the Blancpain GT series. How long until St. Pete?
Curt, Clearwater, FL
RM: St. Pete is 155 days away, but it does seem like way too long between races because it is, and I’d love to see a New Zealand/Australia doubleheader early in the year to take advantage of Dixon’s and Power’s pull. The New Zealand journalists at Sonoma said a race in their country with the five-time champion would be off the chart in terms of attendance. I know, I know, don’t open the season outside the USA, but this would be a special case while both drivers are still on top of their game.
Q: The Roval was NASCAR at its best and worst. I’ve always liked the NASCAR guys on any road coarse. This one was a snoozer, too many crashes. Who thinks Hamilton won on his own merit last weekend? Thank God for IndyCar. Have a great off-season.
Denny from Portland
RM: I watched a lot of the Roval and was entertained because I’m a Kyle Larson fan, but it was better than a lot of the ovals. Read Michael Andretti’s response about team orders early in this Mailbag, that’s how I’d feel, but with all the money at stake in F1 for constructors, I get it. Chris Medland of RACER.com had a good commentary on Hamilton this week.
Q: I read comments on a lot of IndyCar sites, as well as some NASCAR sites, and it seems like the fans are either for or against one series or the other. I was born and raised just 90 minutes from many of the NASCAR teams, and am still an avid NASCAR fan, however I’ve been watching the Indianapolis 500 since first grade, and have been following the entire IndyCar schedule since the fourth grade. I enjoy both NASCAR and IndyCar, and have been to both series races, and have had a blast at both. Why is it that NASCAR fans seem to not be fond of IndyCar and IndyCar fans are not fond of NASCAR? Also, what tracks around the Southeast, or the east coast, that IndyCar races on would you suggest I visit for a race? I’m talking about maybe one to two IndyCar races a year to see in person in that region.
Kevin from North Carolina
RM: I guess there’s been a natural rivalry since ESPN helped NASCAR reach the mainstream and surpass IndyCar’s status as “the” series in North America. And in my case, there is some jealousy that NASCAR’s ratings dwarf IndyCar’s because the racing is better in open-wheel. But because both are now on NBC I think there’s been more of a crossover, and fans from both are tuning in or checking out the other series. I do know that NASCAR has been good for IndyCar in terms of getting people to watch, and I enjoy watching Christopher Bell and Larson drive anything so I’ll always tune in. You should go to Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, and Pocono. You can walk around Barber and see lots of different angles (and be sure to spend a couple hours in the museum), and Pocono offers very reasonably-priced seats up high so you can see all the way around. But come to Indianapolis some day for the race and try to sit up high in one of the corners – you’ll be entertained.
Q: I went to my first IndyCar race in 10 years when I went to Gateway at Madison Ill. I enjoyed the event and the atmosphere surrounding the entire St. Louis area. Anyway I wanted to mention a race car driver who could have been the Jackie Robinson of IndyCar back in the late 70s. Before there was George Mack and Willy T. Ribbs, Tommy Thompson was a rising open-wheel driver who hoped to race in the IndyCars and the Indy 500 but was sadly killed at Trenton during a Super Vee race in 1978. Did you get the chance to meet him?
Alistair Springfield, MO.
RM: I interviewed Tommy at Phoenix that year, but didn’t really get to know him. He was 35 and running Super Vees and was pretty competitive, but getting pretty old to try Indy cars. Benny Scott was another black racer that ran Formula 5000 in the ‘70s and might have been better before running out of money.
Q: How big of a check would I need to write NBC to stop incessantly playing that horrific rendition of Tom Petty’s “Runnin’ Down a Dream” every five seconds during their NASCAR coverage? I mean, this is more grating than the scene in Jaws with Quint scratching his fingernails on the chalkboard. They took a pretty good song by a rock icon and neutered it with a country twang that literally makes me want to turn the TV off. And did I mention they play it all the time? I bet if you looked at the correlation between the drop in television ratings for NASCAR and the slathering of this ‘song’ during the broadcast, you’d easily figure it out. I mean, this actually makes me long for Fox’s “Digger” character again, and I never thought I’d say that. Please assure me that NBC won’t ruin next year’s IndyCar broadcasts with similar shenanigans.
Brad from Seattle
RM: You could make the check out to “Townsend Bell Le Mans Fund” and I will request we put Paul Tracy in charge of all IndyCar theme music in 2019, so bring your earplugs.