Robin Miller's Mailbag for April 24, presented by Honda Racing / HPD

Robin Miller's Mailbag for April 24, presented by Honda Racing / HPD

Insights & Analysis

Robin Miller's Mailbag for April 24, presented by Honda Racing / HPD


Money and/or family connections can help a young driver, but manufacturers tend to prioritize talent when it comes to factory seats – like Mercedes did with Robert Wickens. Image by Trienitz/LAT

Q: No one has been able to answer my question regarding drivers in their teens to early 20s getting factory rides in sports cars, NASCAR, IndyCar, etc. How do such young drivers get the attention of Audi, Porsche, Mercedes, Ford, Chevrolet, any factory team or even factory-connected teams? My assumption is that Austin Cindric, Graham Rahal, Marco Andretti, Colton Herta and their equivalent, while being talented in their own right, have an “in” via their genealogy. Their dads at least know the ropes, and therefore can direct their kids along a path whether they provide large funding or not.

However, how does a Parker Chase or Trent Hindman get exposure to top-level rides? Yes, they all start in karts or quarter midgets or some beginner class at 10, 12, or 14 years old, and yes, they likely win a championship or two. But how does an 18-year-old, as talented as he/she may be, get a full season factory IMSA ride (for example) in the GTD class and even get sufficient experience to demonstrate enough talent to be rated Gold such as Madison Snow (yes, his parents are deeply involved in racing, but you get my point)? Is it all about parent’s money? If so, how does a parent approach a major a manufacturer or team? Do they hire an agent? Do agents advertise their services? Or do manufacturers and major teams have periodic “cattle call” tryouts at which these young kids just show up?

Really, I’m curious how this works today. My guess is that for every late-teen to early-20s driver that gets noticed and subsequently hired, there are dozens more that may have also won championships at the entry level, even contemporaries to those have “made it,” that haven’t even been noticed. What is the fundamental difference between the “haves” and “have nots?”

Ron N

RM: You answered your own question. Of course a son of a racer is going to have a leg up if he choses to pursue a career. Graham Hill and Damon, Jack Brabham and Geoff and David, Jos Verstappen and Max, the Pettys, Earnhardts, Elliotts, Andrettis, Unsers, etc. Colton Herta got a head start but he’s delivering, and the best example right now of a young talent with no connections that’s going to make it is Pato O’Ward. Money is the great equalizer, find some and you can keep advancing. Or Kyle Larson and Chris Bell. They didn’t come from money, but their talent is undeniable and Ganassi and Gibbs were smart enough to snap them up.

Q: Here’s a hypothetical situation. If we were able to take the top cars (with their drivers/teams) from the 1996 Indy 500, where qualifying and race laps speeds surpassed 236 mph, and race them in this year’s 500; how do you think they would fair against the 2019 cars?

Mike M.

RM: Probably pretty good, since they had more horsepower and downforce.

Q: So, in two months, NBC has done more for IndyCar than ABC did in their history. I’ve seen cross-promotion with their soccer coverage, with NFL football, NHL, The Today Show, The Tonight Show, commercials, an actress from NBC Show Brooklyn Nine Nine in the two-seater at Long Beach! Two months! Awesome!

Vincent Martinez, South Pasadena, CA

RM: No surprise, and it’s going to get better. I think The TODAY Show will be at Indy the Thursday and Friday before the race.

Q: Why can’t the IndyCar officials do a better job of the start of the race? The cars are all strung out instead of being lined up. Maybe a standing start is the answer.

Chuck, Youngstown, Ohio

RM: Not sure which race you are referring to, but they were jammed on top of each other at Barber, got about five or six rows together at Long Beach and St. Pete was fine. Can’t recall COTA but I think the starts have been pretty decent so far in 2019.

Q: The greatest month of the year is quickly approaching – nothing is better than living in downtown Indy throughout the month of May!

While reading your Mailbag last week about tobacco money getting forced out by the FDA. I have a question: who was the last person to run a full sponsorship from a tobacco company, and the last to run a full sponsorship with a beer/alcohol company?

Michael S. Indianapolis, IN

RM: I imagine either Barry Green with KOOL or Gerald Forsythe with Player’s, and Ed Carpenter has run Fuzzy’s colors in the last few years.

Q: How many IndyCar events let kids in free?  I just ordered my tickets for Iowa, and instead of $30 grandstand seats I purchased a $50 grandstand seat since my son is free. When I pulled up to buy my three-day pass at Mid Ohio last year my son was free. Two years ago when I did the Indy Grand Prix, my son was free. I never think to look for these things, so they’re a nice and welcome surprise. It wouldn’t be a bad idea if IndyCar had a prominent link on their site promoting all the family friendly access available at their races. Weather permitting, I’ll take my son to the Grand Prix and he gets to skip school to go to the free Prix day in Detroit. This is awesome.

Ryan in West Michigan

RM: I have no idea, but I do think many tracks let kids 12 and under in free if accompanied by a ticket-holding adult, and it’s good to hear about Iowa and Mid-Ohio and the free day in Detroit. That’s how you make young fans.