Robin Miller's Mailbag for May 8, presented by Honda Racing / HPD

Robin Miller's Mailbag for May 8, presented by Honda Racing / HPD

Insights & Analysis

Robin Miller's Mailbag for May 8, presented by Honda Racing / HPD


As tempting as an Alesi/Canada ’95 photo was, how often do we get to run a shot of Olivier Panis in the Mailbag? Image by LAT

Q: Interesting challenge. For me, a good race is once with some decent on-track passing. Couple that with a good compelling storyline worked into the fabric by well-informed commentators, and I am riveted to my seat. A road course race where a front runner messes up qualifying and charges from back to front, an oval race wherein title protagonists trade the lead (as long as it doesn’t end under yellow), or an unexpected win by a small team or underfunded driver all make a great race for me.

In F1, I still vividly remember Alesi’s sole victory and him riding back to parc ferme on Schumi’s wing as ecstatic Montreal fans dismantled his car. Panis’s victory in Monaco was nice to see. Wilson winning for Coyne. I loved seeing Allmendinger’s dominance after being fired by RuSport and give a lifeline by Forsythe.  And hate…you have to have hate…Tracy/Bourdais, Schumi/Senna/Prost, Schumi/Villeneuve, or if not hate, at least sparks (Rossi/Wickens, Power/Franchitti). So for me, it’s not just the track, the car, the engine choice, it’s the personalities behind the visor and skill in which the commentators use to weave the story.

Trevor Bohay, Kamloops, Canada

Q: I think the complaints you hear are from bitter, jaded fans who are still hurting over the Split and have hardened their hearts against enjoying the sport for what it is because they are so focused on what it was. It’s not right, but on some level, I understand. We lost all that great momentum of the late 90s, and have not seen that spark of light until the last few years. But it’s coming back. We all need to give it time. I think some of the best racing is yet to come.

With that said, for me it’s a great race if (outside of something spectacular) a few things happen. If there is tension from a previous race or qualifying that are built up before the race, so when the race begins, I have a story of sorts to follow. Rivalry action on-track, especially if it’s with someone I follow. A few good passes on track, or at least, a few good battles. A well-earned finish. I am OK with one leader for the whole race if there was action behind him, not a parade. Bonus: A good broadcast team makes a big difference in helping a ho-hum race at least sound like a good one. I love when anyone gets animated or opinionated. I think the first two can be helped by the broadcasting team. I’m not asking you guys to start fights between drivers and/or teams, but when you find cracks and expose them, it sure helps during a broadcast.

Erik in Oswego, IL

Q: I’ve been watching motor sports as long as I can remember. While I’m too young to remember the 60s and 70s, I have seen my share of eras and formulas. I think every really good race must have one or two of the following: a great finish, close racing, historic significance, changes in strategy, and yes, some wrecks. Truly great races have it all. When you watch this stuff on YouTube, one difference you’ll notice is that in the old days the cars were much less reliable, and the skill level of drivers and especially pit crews varied a lot more than today. A two-lap lead at the halfway point could vanish in no time. The race truly wasn’t over until the checkered flag waved. I also differentiate between races I see in person, vs watching on TV. I’ve left many racetracks thoroughly entertained by something that would be considered boring from the couch. Maybe the ultimate answer to what makes a good race is like some other things I won’t mention:  “I’ll know it when I see it.”

John, Minneapolis

Q: Whether it’s passing, storylines, or drama, it’s the edge of the seat, non-stop action that I enjoy. In terms of priorities, if all are on at the same time, IndyCar ( DVR set for all televised action), F1( DVR set for all televised action), IMSA, MotoGP, NASCAR. As a spectator, I love IndyCar and IMSA! The accessibility to fans is amazing. Last year we attended the Portland GP and it was my son’s first IndyCar race. He loved it and cannot wait for this year’s race, and we are going to Laguna Seca as well.

Eric J., Hayward, CA

Q: What makes a good race? A race that keeps my interest. I want to see something happen. That “something” can be anything, though. In the 1994 Indy 500, that was watching the Beast and seeing if RP could pull it off. Are these ground effects cars really going to be faster? When Sullivan spun, I watched to see just how much of a comeback he could make from that incident. Pretty much every year Mario was on the track, the “something” was to see if the Andretti curse would ever lift. In 2017, it was to see if Fred could hang with the experts.

The great races are the ones in which multiple “somethings” happen – close finishes, incredible passes, crazy innovations, fierce rivalries.  Since the days of crazy innovations are gone, we’ve lost the “something” potential from those, and I think we’re compensating by demanding more “something” satisfaction from the other categories. If the cars are all the same, then I want a tasty rivalry, more passing, or close finishes. If there is something we are missing right now, it’s a good, old-fashioned rivalry.

Rivalries don’t require you to change the on-track product. They just require a little freedom to talk smack, bump tires, and maybe a well-timed block now and again (and of course, a couple of cameras to capture the moment). I don’t want to change the character of the paddock and how close a family everyone is, but I think we have lots of room for a few more Will Power comments like, “No one in the paddock likes racing him… He’s the most dangerous guy on the track.”

Chris in Bowdon, GA

Q: This is a very subjective question. When I was young, for me, it was the close finish. 1982 was my first Indy. As I’ve grown older, I watch so many different facets of the race. Mid-pack duals, a driver with a lesser team pounding out laps with top teams, or simply watching a master dominate the field. People say last year’s 500 was awful. I would argue, just look at Will Power’s face after he won. That said it all, and conveyed how much it meant to him. On his victory lap a fan was waving the Aussie flag, and he was all over it and gave the fan a huge thumbs-up.

Chip Stetson

Q: For me, it all begins with a great start. At some tracks, a strung-out field is inevitable, but the front three or four rows have to line up properly. If they don’t, then have a do-over, or go to standing starts. As for the race itself, a constant series of yellow flags spoils a race for me. Sure, we get a bunch of restarts, but how often does the starter get a good one? Not nearly enough times for me. A lucky dog winner due to bad luck with yellows spoils a race for me. I don’t like closed pits during yellows. Yes, I know we can’t do anything about them, but I detest that rule. There has to be a better solution. Good dicing and pressure on opponents throughout the field makes a good race, even if there are no passes. The pressure is still interesting. In short, a great race has to have a good start, close racing throughout the field, the outcome in doubt until the checker, and finally an outcome that isn’t affected by stupid rules or bad officiating. One more thing – no horrific accidents!

Doug Mayer