I think this is the first time since I started doing the Mailbag that I’ve had to take a break. The thing that amazes me the most, in all the years that I’ve done it, is how connected the fans stay during the off-season. You think, ‘OK, we’ll have a Mailbag for seven months and then turn it off until the racing starts again because nobody cares,’ but that couldn’t be further from the truth. IndyCar might not have as many fans as it did in the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s, but the ones we have are as passionate as ever, and absolutely dedicated.
And they are switched on – I get some pretty cool questions. OK, we have a few that are a little repetitious, like the questions about Milwaukee and Michigan, and I thought it was pretty funny when Mark [Glendenning, RACER.com’s Editor] touched on those a couple of weeks ago. But those people care – they just want to go back to tracks that were good, and watch some IndyCar racing.
As for me… I’m done with the chemo – that only took two days. Now, I’m in the recovery phase. They give you such a massive dose, and it’s such killer stuff, that it has a lasting impact. It’s weird to be completely devoid of energy. I get nauseous. I get dizzy sitting at the computer. When I went into hospital I told the guys at RACER, ‘Oh, I’ll be back doing the Mailbag in a week,’ but right now I’m having trouble concentrating and summoning the energy to even do that. And that’s my next goal in my recovery: to feel well enough to do the Mailbag. They tell me it takes a few weeks to recover from chemo, so we’ll just play it by ear.
What has been really great is all of the support from everybody. Race fans are so passionate, and so opinionated. They can be funny, they can be cruel, they can be mean, but deep down they have the same passion for IndyCar racing, and the same love for the sport, that I do. And it seems like a lot of people really do have a place in their weekly routine for the Mailbag. That’s pretty cool, knowing that they care about it, and that they don’t want some old geezer like me to die.
So I’ll be back with you soon. Until then, Marshall Pruett will help to keep the Mailbag engine running by answering a few letters each week, starting today, until I’m ready to get back into the seat. Keep the letters coming to the usual address, and thank you again for your support.
Q: Conor Daly tweeted, “There are no full time rides available anymore.” Have all of the full time rides been announced? It seems to me like we are missing one or two announcements. I know Colin Braun is still working to be a third RLL car for whatever they can put together. What about Juncos and Carlin?
Ryan in West Michigan
MP: We’re still waiting for Coyne to confirm its line-up, which was meant to happen three weeks ago, then two weeks ago, then… At least Dale hasn’t lost his knack for making things interesting. Everything I know says it’s Bourdais and Ferrucci, as we’ve reported. Max Chilton will be back at Carlin, and we’re waiting to learn if it will be for the full calendar. It’s been suggested he might go for the old ‘Mike Conway Plan’ and drop the ovals, but I’ve had others tell me it was just a thought Max had, and nothing more.
Carlin’s planning on at least two full-time cars, if not three, so the number jumps to 23-24 right there. Juncos Racing will be back again, but it’s too early to say how many races will be on its schedule. At least for what I think we’ll have at St. Pete, 25-26 is where my expectations fall.
Q: I’m from St. Louis and have been going to the Indy 500 since 1995 with my own tickets. My dad and uncles took me to my first Indy 500 in 1986. I was hooked after seeing Bobby Rahal win in the Budweiser car that day. When Gateway opened back in the ’90s, I went to all of the IndyCar and NASCAR events. Meeting Mario, Greg Moore and all of the other IndyCar stars at my hometown track was amazing. I’m really excited for what Curtis has done for the track, and the last two IndyCar events have been outstanding! I’ve brought friends with me for my seven tickets and the race has made them IndyCar fans.
My current Gateway tickets are in the top row which are $55 adult and the junior tickets are $25. I called the first day that tickets went on sale to secure the top row in a great section for the 2017 race, and renewed those seats for 2018. Our seats are fantastic, and you can stand up the whole race if you want to and not bother anyone. However, Gateway has made changes to the seating structure for 2019 in an effort to improve the experience. They are widening the seats and going from 19 seats in a row to 14 in the middle sections of the track. My seven seats in my row are 13-19, and now I’m getting bumped from my top row spot to another section further towards Turn 1 and am now four or five rows from the top. For me to renew, I’m not able to get the seats I had, and if I want the same section my tickets are now $100 which include a program, soda and hot dog that I do not want. Furthermore, the junior price seat also cannot be used in this section anymore.
I get why they are trying to improve, but this decision has negatively impacted some loyal supporters of this track and we’re getting a bad deal. My friend’s tickets are in a different section and he’s not returning either due to the price increase. I’m afraid this will hurt the crowd for next year’s race and beyond.
MP: You aren’t alone. Between similar emails that landed in the Mailbag on price hikes and other fans who’ve told me about the higher-than-anticipated ticket prices at the two new races for 2019 (COTA and Monterey), it’s clearly a concern to raise.
The best I could ask in the case of you and your friends, in knowing how Curtis Francois and his team at Gateway are genuinely trying to, as you wrote, improve the fan experience, is give the track a ring and see if there’s something similar that might be offered. It might sound hokey, but sometimes picking up the phone, kindly expressing your disappointment, and asking how they can help get you back to a similar place of happiness can deliver positive results. I visit some tracks each year where I know for a fact that they wouldn’t give a fart about your situation. Fortunately, Gateway isn’t one of them.
On the COTA and Monterey side, and maybe this will be something Robin or I write about in a separate column, it looks like the costs of paying the sanction fee to the series has been passed on — by an uncomfortable amount — to the paying customer. We want every track to make a profit and keep IndyCar coming back, but if the price to spectate is too high, it’s hard to see how some venues will stay on the calendar beyond the terms of their existing contracts.