Q: Did the majority of the contemporaries of Foyt, Jones, and Gurney also have great respect for Jim Clark? This question comes up due someone commenting on the RACER website recently (in a comment section) that “…Clark was surprisingly weak in cars of equal pace..), implying, I guess, that Clark was only good when he had a superior car, and that he was not a real “racer.” This sounds absolutely preposterous. Do you agree?
RM: Not sure what that ”expert” based his comments on, but all you have to do is look at Riverside in 1967 when JC hopped in Rolla Vollstedt’s car and staged a great duel with Dan Gurney for first place, and he took it before breaking down. Don’t think any of Rolla’s cars had led a lap prior to that. And A.J., Parnelli and Ward had nothing but admiration for the wee Scot.
Q: I’m surprised that Indy Lights, if not the whole RTI series, did not run at Long Beach. Surely they should be due to the fact that LB is a major event on the calendar and more importantly a schooling ground for drivers looking to move up within the series. I presume it’s financial but seems to be a shot in the foot.
RM: Not enough time in the day with IMSA and SST. Lights haven’t been at Long Beach in several years and, while it’s certainly the most prestigious venue on the schedule next to IMS, it’s an expensive trip so not sure it’s missed as much as we think. Plus, Jim Michaelian told RACER a few weeks ago that he prefers not to have Road to Indy at Long Beach because he wants maximum differentiation between the various categories on the weekend bill.
Q: I just read Erik Steinbrecher’s rant about not seeing any IndyCar promotions at Speedway gas stores. I was at the pump last week and an IndyCar ad came up on the video screen at the pump. I was pumped! (Pun mildly intended). So before Erik blows a head gasket, let him know all is not lost.
Greg Phelps, Director of Marketing, CAIRS Solutions
RM: Thanks for the update. It’s not like Speedway spent millions of dollars, and you figured the promotions would be subtle like you saw.
Q: Talk about big gap until the Month of May. We should definitely have another race before the Grand Prix of Indy. Man, season has me all excited and fired up, now we have to wait.
RM: Yeah, four weeks between races isn’t good for any kind of momentum, but maybe that all changes in 2020.
Q: When Fernando Alonso first raced at Indy, he did a measured and thoughtful build-up to speed and learning curve. He tested the new (to him ) car at Texas last week, and seems to be in the same, go slowly, learn, gather data mode. This seems unusual – and very smart. Is there any other storied driver, in your experience, that has come in with such a measured approach?
Anthony Jenkins, Mono, Ontario
RM: Rick Mears instantly comes to mind. He always eased into speed, from Art Sugai’s Eagle to Team Penske, and it served him well. I think Clark, Stewart and Hill took the same approach, but I was only a fan back then.
Q: Any chance we may see Alonso running other races after Indy? Would love to see him someplace like Road America or Laguna. Even Gateway or Iowa.
Pete, Milwaukee, WI
RM: I imagine a lot is contingent on how May goes, but Fred at Road America would be sweet, and he said Iowa caught his fancy after watching it.
Q: Longtime reader, first time writer. I just returned from my first trip to Barber Motorsports Park for last weekend’s race (my 114th IndyCar race) and I was a blown away. Mr. Barber has certainly created the Augusta of racetracks. I knew I was in for something special as soon as we turned into the main entrance, and the museum was absolutely spectacular. I even managed to snag a hot lap in one of the pace cars. I was amazed even at pace car speed how quickly the turns came up. I can’t even imagine what it’s like at IndyCar race speeds. My only real complaint was the lack of access to food outside the fan zone. I had to ride the tram more than half-way around the track and back just to grab something to eat. Next year I’ll be sure to bring my own food. I thought I read something about a possible return to Watkins Glen next year. Any further details? Would that be a replacement for Pocono, which I assume will not be back after this year?
RM: That’s the only complaint I’ve ever heard from fans about Barber, so I imagine they’ll rectify the situation. As for The Glen, I keep pushing for an IndyCar/IMSA double-header the weekend of the Six Hours, but I’ve learned there isn’t room because IMSA runs all its classes. I’d love to go back to The Glen, but don’t see it anytime soon.
Q: If you had to name three things that IndyCar needs to be doing to promote the series and improve TV ratings and attendance, what would they be? The product is great right now, yet the numbers don’t reflect it. The 296,000 viewers for Barber is pretty bad when you consider there are many YouTubers out there who draw millions of viewers on a single video within a few days. Perhaps it’s time for IndyCar to start thinking out of the box and stop leaving so much up the track promoters and networks.
What worked in the past may not be the answer today. The sky is the limit. Create some engineering scholarships, and do an annual campus tour with an actual IndyCar. Run a short Super Bowl ad, or a series of strategically targeted ads during other sporting events. Create more of an online presence in social media targeted at a younger demographic. Make IndyCar cool again. So what is your top three, sir?
RM: There is no magic bullet or quick fix or formula to attract new fans. I imagine a dedicated marketing plan would help so you aren’t dependent on only the promoter, and a national TV ad featuring the drivers like NASCAR did a few years ago would help, and maybe some kind of weekly show. But IndyCar is a niche sport, plain and simple, and 500,000 on cable is a good audience. Just hope our network races pull in a million and hope Indy can be a 4.0.