Robin Miller's Mailbag for April 10, presented by Honda Racing / HPD

Robin Miller's Mailbag for April 10, presented by Honda Racing / HPD

Insights & Analysis

Robin Miller's Mailbag for April 10, presented by Honda Racing / HPD

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Don Branson on pole in a dirt car at Langhorne in 1966 with Roger McCluskey alongside. Image by Gene Crucean

Q: Come on, horses? Are you kidding me, Miller? When the 100th running of the Indy 500 rolled around, I really wanted to take it all in, and took a few extra days off. Heading over to the Fairgrounds on Thursday evening in 2016 was one of the best ideas, probably based on something you said in the Mailbag. What a sight, that golden sunset as a backdrop and all these “old fashioned” dirt cars in front of an enthusiastic crowd! And how unique to see them on such a big track! Once the checkers flew, I wandered to the infield. It was so good to be able to get up close to these cars that I admittedly didn’t know much about. And as I wandered around, I found myself right there on track, milling about the drivers, getting up close to Kody Swanson as all the flash bulbs were going off. I stuck around quite a bit, taking photos of everything. Hell, once the crowds cleared out, I even took a cruise around the track myself! What a delight! Then to see them all again the next night at Raceway Park, plus all the Road to Indy guys running an oval… great way to get ready for Sunday!

Listen, I didn’t grow up watching sprint car races. Sure, I knew what they were and they looked interesting, but I never cared to drive two hours out of my way to see them live. I’m 30 years old, not your typical USAC demographic, and last year I took a dear friend of mine, a young lady in her mid-20s… Robin, a female millennial, and dare I say she enjoyed it – standing off the guardrail at the end of the backstraight, getting dust in her eyes, watching the flames belch out of the exhaust as they threw the cars into Turn 3.

But to see the roots of Indianapolis car racing right before our eyes was a must-see experience. I had plans of talking my dad into coming down for Thursday this year. He’s been a 500 regular since 1980 but I don’t think he’s ever seen the Hoosier Hundred. Yeah, USAC screwed up taking dirt tracks out of the series back in ’71. But just how crazy is it to think we could go back? Hell, a sponsor like NTT, Speedway convenience stores, or NBC puts up some money and what’s the cost of a sprint car chassis? That’s a drop in the bucket for teams compared to a spare Dallara set aside for ovals. I mean, how crazy would it sound five years ago to say Doug Boles is going to built a dirt track at IMS? We all love to beat up on FTG, but give him credit; he tried to rebuild that bridge to the short track racers.

You once said 1968 was the best schedule in the history of the series. And really, if IndyCar wants to truly be the most diverse series, it needs dirt too. Alright, maybe I’m stretching… but it sure seems like things were on the up and up. Everybody loved that “Hoosier Thunder” display at the IMS Museum. Isn’t there anything we can do? Surely with only three of these tracks left in the entire county we aren’t stupid enough to let this one go… right here in the racing capital of the world.

Gabe in Northwest Indiana

RM: The horse people at the Fairgrounds have been trying to get rid of auto racing for 25 years, and they finally succeeded. But there’s no going back, we’re going to be down to DuQuoin and Springfield, and today’s owners could care less about dirt cars and dirt tracks and re-establishing the past. IndyCar is the most diverse series in the world today and as much as I love the thought of putting a couple dirt shows on the schedule, it’s not practical and it’s not going to happen. Just go buy some Dick Wallen videos and enjoy the 1960s, then take your dad out to the ISF on May 23rd and enjoy the last Hoosier Hundred.

Q: NASCAR Trucks with the IndyCars at Gateway. Oh, boy… not. Silver Crown cars, you idiots!

David Weidler, Mascoutah, Il.

RM: Gateway’s Chris Blair owns a Silver Crown car driven by his son and he’s a big advocate of USAC, and he’ll bring them back some day. But he’s also trying to draw crowds and make enough money to keep this oval going, and NASCAR’s Trucks are easily the best racing they’ve got.

Q: I’ll try to keep this to the point. First, when you get multiple rants for the same topic, can you please just summarize these letters into one? I was two pages in and tired of reading the same thing over and over again, with the same response over and over again. And I’m sure there were a ton more you didn’t publish (thankfully!). I love your Mailbag, it’s an original concept and such a great forum, but I like it for the variety. If that’s just me, then I guess I’ll deal.

Second, I am a huge fan of Speedway gas stations. My son is, too. We both have a Speedy card, and I buy my gas there almost all the time. When I heard they would be a new sponsor for IndyCar I was thrilled. I couldn’t wait to see what kind of promotions they would have. What better company for IndyCar than one named Speedway, right? What do I see since they started their partnership? Nothing! Not one little shred of promotion. No posters, no ads, nothing. What gives? I know you don’t have the answer, but you’re really good about asking the right people or at least letting them know how us fans feel. Gas stations and racing are a no-brainer easy marketing connection. I want to see IndyCar promoted!

Third and last, in Marshall’s article about Barber Talking Points, he writes “As Bahrain’s number (TV ratings) illustrates, there’s a vibrant audience in America that enjoys open-wheel racing. Unlocking the code necessary to pull that group over to IndyCar is a clear priority.” Agreed! But why do they not watch both? As a fan of both, I thought about why I like F1. I know the passing, if any, is lackluster in comparison to IndyCar. but if it’s not just the racing, then why do I love it. It’s simple. I am a die-hard Ferrari fan. Peter Windsor once said that Formula 1 is unique in that fans don’t follow the drivers as much as they follow a team. I thought, that’s funny, but it’s true. Sure, we all like Alonso but I will always cheer for a Ferrari driver first. I used to frown at Vettel, now I cheer him on from any position. It’s hard to follow a team in IndyCar no matter how reputable they are because they are ultimately not the manufacturer. They are just the owner. I do not want IndyCar to switch to the F1 way of doing things. I love it just the way it is. But they absolutely must get more manufacturers involved. It’s the last true difference we have in a very spec series. And it can’t be Kia or Hyundai, it needs to be a brand that means performance and speed. I know they are trying, but I really feel this is key. It needs to be the ultimate priority.

Erik Steinbrecher

RM: Obviously, Formula E is where it’s at right now in terms of manufacturers jumping on board and Jay Frye has been working diligently for two years trying to land a third OEM, but it’s a huge investment and IndyCar doesn’t have the worldwide appeal of F1 or technical lure of Formula E so it’s not an easy sell. When Indy was all about innovation and ideas, everyone gave it a shot from Novis to turbines to turbocharged Ramblers to the twin-engine Porsche, but those days aren’t coming back. I’m not sure if Indy opened the rules it would make any difference, and I’ve always said we should be very thankful for Honda and General Motors because there’s not a waiting list for IndyCar. I have no idea how many crossover fans there are but, clearly, F1 diehards seem to enjoy the cars, innovation and traditional teams whereas IndyCar fans are more about competition and passing. Can you enjoy both? Sure but many times after the first turn it’s hard to stay engaged in F1. Really I think it’s two distinctive tastes. As for Speedway, it’s an associate sponsor so don’t expect too much.

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