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 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: All we have now is Formula E and it’s horrible, it makes the taxi races look exciting. IndyCar has to start sooner. Give us some kind of exciting news to look forward to, please. Can’t wait for St. Pete.
CAM in LA
RM: Well, you can catch the Chili Bowl on MavTV on Jan. 19 (and watch all the preliminary nights on RacinBoys.com for a nominal fee), and then a week later catch the Rolex 24 on NBC and NBCSN. The COTA spring training test follows in February, and we’ll have videos on RACER.com. I know it’s a long off-season, too long for sure, but we should be opening earlier by 2020.
Q: So after listening to Mark Miles on The Marshall Pruett Podcast, I have to say I don’t really understand his thinking behind not pushing to go back to Cleveland. I’m sure you could find a sponsor – any IndyCar event in this region always succeeds. Show them Gateway, Mid-Ohio, Detroit, and of course IMS. People have told me there’s no reason for another event in this area and that we already have enough, but in my opinion it doesn’t hurt a bit to add another successful event to the calendar, no matter where. Also, with a schedule with only 17 races, I was very surprised to hear they would look into it if a race needed to be replaced. We should be pushing to get a race at Richmond, Cleveland, and Watkins Glen, then we can add Surfers Paradise, Brazil, and another Canada race. There are some gaps in the schedule and it ends too soon, so I don’t understand his logic.
RM: I’ve preached Burke Lakefront Airport a couple times to Miles, but unless you saw that race in its heyday, you probably can’t understand what a gem it was, from sightlines, to enthusiastic crowds, to great racing. I imagine if Honda decided to switch its title sponsorship from Mid-Ohio to Cleveland then it could happen in a heartbeat, but you would still need a promoter, and I imagine Savoree-Green would be interested. A few years ago, a longtime racer and friend of mine (Gene Haskett) pitched Sherman-Williams on bringing back Cleveland, but the paint company opted to go with the 100th Indy 500 instead of Cleveland to celebrate its 150th birthday. Mike Lanigan has said repeatedly he’d be interested in promoting Cleveland again with a good title sponsor but he’s not actively seeking one, so somebody would have to bring it to him. There is a school of thought that IndyCar already has too many races in the Midwest, to which my response is: when CART was on top of the world it ran Michigan, Milwaukee, Road America, Detroit, Mid-Ohio, Cleveland and St. Louis, and packed ‘em in because that’s our fan base – the Heartland. But I do think we’ll have 20 races by 2020, and that’s perfect.
Q: In the 12/12 Mailbag, Jake from Pasadena asked where will new IndyCar fans come from. If the average age of USAC fans are 50-plus and concerts will not draw new fans, is it possible that new fans, and drivers, will come from the karting world? I don’t know the numbers in karting but it seems it might be a growing sport, and that observation is just from following the Wheldon boys, Montoya’s boy, Rubens Barrichello’s boys and the Karting championship in Vegas this year (which has, and had, some IndyCar drivers participate).
How visible is IndyCar in the karting world? More or less so than MLB in little league? NFL and Pee Wee? It also seems there are already in place a ladder system from karts to open-wheel cars, including F4, which Eduardo Barrichello has moved up to. Are they all F1 dreamers? How about Hunter McElrea winning the MRTI Shootout and participating in USF2000 next year? I know there isn’t a huge following, but each of these drivers have family and friends and appear to be using social media in a positive way.
Mike in Avon
RM: The Road to Indy doesn’t get a lot of national publicity but much more than karting, and I’m not sure if IndyCar even resonates in karting’s world. I went to Vegas for the SKUZA Nationals a decade ago and watched Michael Schumacher, Dan Wheldon and Buddy Rice compete, but other than SPEED and a story in the local Vegas paper, there wasn’t much coverage outside the karting magazines. Between midgets, sprints, super-modifieds, karting and all the formula series there are thousands and thousands of spectators, but how many of them are IndyCar fans? And how do you get an F2000 champion to keep advancing to IndyCar and earn a following? Or how does a karting star make it to cars without a big backer? It was easy in the ‘50s and ‘60s – drivers ran USAC and advanced if they had the talent (and sometimes even if they didn’t), and we followed them all the way. I have no idea how to grow IndyCar fans through grassroots because there are so many options. I do think Colton Herta and Pato O’Ward have generated some interest due to their age and abilities, but maybe IndyCar needs a scholarship tied to karting to reward a kid and move he or she up.
Q: I am hoping you can help me get my son on the right path. He just recently got into IndyCar. I’ve been a lifelong fan and I brought him to the track (Road America) for the first time two years ago, and he’s absolutely hooked. He surprised me recently by saying he’d love to be an engineer in IndyCar. He wants to be a pit wall mechanic and work on the cars (most especially a tire changer during race pit stops!), but he loves the idea of building and designing them. I thought for sure he’d want to be a racer, but no matter the route he wants to go, I’d love to see him on the path to IndyCar. He starts high school next year and I want to set him on the right path in both high school and eventually college. Did you know what courses he should look for and what colleges are best suited to take him towards his dream of working for an IndyCar team as an engineer or mechanic?
Erik S, Oswego, IL
RM: I defer to Marshall, who was a mechanic/engineer before embarking on reporting, shooting pictures, making videos and doing podcasts:
“Your son will want to focus on math and physics if engineering is the goal, and the more computer science knowledge he can gain, the better. And provided there’s some form of auto shop class (or similar) at his school, or anything that involves assembly, disassembly, and problem solving, he’d be on the fast track to his desired role. Another important thing to pursue: Formula SAE teams in the region. It’s mostly a college-level endeavor, but if he wants to add practical knowledge to the theoretic he’s receiving in school, spending time with a school-age race car design and competition program would be a huge advantage. A final recommendation that could be school-based or extracurricular for him is a journalism class or theater, or whatever else what will help him to learn the nuances of interpersonal communication. Being able to form fast bonds with drivers and listen to their needs on chassis setup, and how to ask the right questions – to interview their drivers, basically – to get the most useful feedback is often overlooked as a race engineering skill. Without the ability to connect with others, including crew chiefs and mechanics, a race engineer is fairly useless. Race car engineering, as every engineer will tell you, is less about the parts and pieces and software, and more about knowing how they all work together so you can solve the problem faster than your rivals. Race engineering is problems solving, using the car, data systems, and driver input.”