Robin Miller's Mailbag for May 15, presented by Honda Racing/HPD

Robin Miller's Mailbag for May 15, presented by Honda Racing/HPD

Insights & Analysis

Robin Miller's Mailbag for May 15, presented by Honda Racing/HPD

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We’ve figured out why some people keep getting confused about whether it’s IndyCar or F1 on the Indy road course: both featured Takuma Sato. (Pictured celebrating a rare podium for the BAR team in 2004). Image by Etherington/LAT

Q: I’ve come to realize over the last few days that part of the attendance problem in Indy for the GP (perceived or otherwise) is related to branding. People think the cars running in the Indy GP are Formula 1. I usually go to qualifying and race. My wife goes with me to the race. I go to qualifying by myself because it’s during the work week. This year, I decided to ask guys from the office and other friends if they’d like to go to qualifying with me. All of them thought it was an F1 event. They all said the same thing, “I thought you were an IndyCar guy! Why are you going to see F1?” I think we all know (old CART included) that you can’t compete with the Indy 500. There are some smart people at 16th and Georgetown. Are they good with 35k attending the GP? Do they not want to compete with ticket sales for the 500?

I realize that many of the people attending the 500 are only fans of the 500. Many of them don’t even realize there is an IndyCar season of racing. Doug Boles said they expected an increase of 3-5%… I think that’s code for, ticket sales are static. To me, increasing sales incrementally to say 70k is about telling the right story in the right media platforms and doing that in the right geographic areas consistently. I realize that it’s easier said than done. Just wondering out loud.

Greg Phelps

RM: First of all, the only time there was close to 35,000 was the first race back in 2014, and last Saturday was lucky to have been 10,000. And either people think it’s F1 or they have no idea there is even a race going on. People go to IMS to watch speed and the oval, not a road race. But the fact it was on NBC is worth doing it and this race was very watchable, which helped the rating. But, judging by all the ads being run in the local paper, there are plenty of seats available for May 26.

Q: Me being a hardcore racing fan got to thinking, which most of us aren’t to good at, what really does make a good race? I asked my parents, brother, girlfriend, some friends that watch racing, neighbors, classmates, co-workers, and some acquaintances that the only race they know of is the Kentucky Derby.

After thinking hard about the opinions I gathered, I think the median opinion about what makes a good race is a fair race. A race where every competitor has a fighting chance to win, no matter the starting line-up. Most said passing is a must also close racing is good. My dad and racing buddies said speed, competition, but they didn’t mind someone dominating a race. Interestingly most ladies said that crashes make a good race(!?), the story behind the racers and how cute they are, and the given weather conditions for said race.

As for myself, the competition, drivers, teams giving 110% (when you see the drivers hang it out) make a good race. That comes with passing, strategy, mechanical failure, and crashes.

Mike Doe

RM: The best thing about today’s IndyCar series is that you never know who is going to win the pole or the race (five different winners in five races so far in 2019), and that should be a key to whether people watch or not.

Q: What makes a good race? Honest drama. “Honest” in that it’s not manufactured. Example, a legitimate caution late in a race that creates drama, fine. But cautions for the sake of drama… no, thank you. (Yes, I hate stage racing in NASCAR, debris cautions, etc.) As for drama, I think that depends on the person. For me, it depends partly on the series. A NASCAR race will have lots of on-track passing, but it doesn’t mean much until almost the end (stages aside). I can watch a grand prix and be quite happy with passing in the midfield. But the ‘possibility’ of a passing opportunity due to strategy or circumstance is equally dramatic to me. I enjoyed the Baku race more than most because I felt there was enough drama throughout, particularly at the end.

But drama is reliant partly on how it is presented by the commentary and producer. Focus on the battles with the right balance of setting the stage and a race is just as good with competition further in the pack as at the front for the lead. And competition does not have to mean passes. Knowledgeable commentary plays a huge role. Even a diehard fan watching at home cannot know all the intricacies of strategy and how it’s playing out at the time. I don’t want a fluff piece on what the driver had for breakfast, I want to know the strategies and consequences in play. Is driving style or setup letting them use the tires differently than someone else? Who is trying to use a short-fill for track position, or double-stinting tires?

Commentators that engage fans with an assumption they are somewhat educated on the sport are more appealing than those assuming this is everyone’s fist race. My assessment of drama in NASCAR is different than IndyCar, which is different from F1, etc. What keeps me entertained on a Dakar event over two weeks is obviously not “on-track” action. It’s the perseverance, endurance and changing circumstances. Watching Le Mans for the better part of 24 hours means I don’t expect to be “entertained” every 10 minutes. But a “good race” means it was close, or there was the honest possibility of it being meaningful somewhere in the field.

A purely well-executed race can be good regardless of the overall outcome. We tend to get spoiled and expect a fight for the lead on every lap, particularly the last one. This is not a staged reality show. Is every race exciting? Of course not. But surely there’s something to take away from most where we can say it was a “good race” somewhere in the field. I suppose it depends on expectations.

Mark, Mississauga, Ontario, Canada

RM: That’s what made last Saturday compelling. Pagenaud was closing fast, but was he going to run out of laps and could he get by Dixon?

Q: What gets me to sleep is a cup of hot chocolate with just a touch of butterscotch schnapps, especially on a cold day. While I’ve got you here, before the race yesterday NBC ran a hour long special called “Drive Like Andretti” that was about the life and race driving career of Mario. It was not a slapped-together production. It was really well done. If you missed it, it is on YouTube already and will likely be repeated before the 500. Your predictions about NBC doing an excellent job of building up the 500 are coming true. I am sure their coverage of the race will be sooooooooooooo much better than ABC. There has been NBC advertisements for the 500 during the NHL playoffs and also during the Kentucky Derby.

Ron Ford, Muskego, WI

RM: That Mario documentary was first class in every way, and a much deeper story than just racing. NBC? Now Better Coverage, just like we knew it would be.

Q: I saw that some teams are mounting an antenna on top of the advanced frontal protection device. The device itself is designed to the strength of the roll hoop, and held down by massive bolts, but a two inch or so antenna on top, held on by only two screws or bolts, seems that it could just break off right into the drivers face if it was hit by something substantial. It seems that this could create a sharp and relatively strong piece of debris inches from the driver. Has this been evaluated? Should antennas be regulated to be mounted elsewhere?

Brandon, McKinney, TX

RM: From IndyCar tech chief Bill Pappas: “First, the antenna is not a structural piece, it’s made of Kevlar, a relatively compliant material. Second, it has been mounted to the tub where the AFP is now mounted.”

Q: I really enjoyed your article on Roger Penske. I live in Kenosha, WI and was fascinated to find that a former Penske mechanic, Steve Tredup, opened up a repair shop here a number of years ago. I drive Acuras that almost never end up in the shop, but I needed brakes about three years ago and took it to his shop (Autosport by Steve). He is the nicest mechanic you will ever meet, and is a wealth of knowledge. I had just read the Beast and asked him a few questions that he gladly answered.

Anyway, the point of my email: His shop is kind of a hole in the wall, but you could sit down and eat off the floor. While we were talking about my car, he saw a spot of oil on the floor, and without missing a beat in our conversation, got some cleaner and wiped the spot clean. Obviously, the Penske way has stayed with him and has served him well! I appreciate your Mailbag and articles and hope your health continues to improve!

John Ford

RM: That’s a classic example of the power of Penske and his influence on everyone in his organization. Thanks for sharing.

Q: Appreciate the column on Penske and his legacy in motorsports, and particularly at Indy. One frustrating missing link when you look at everything else that’s he’s accomplished in a first-class manner is the 2002 Indy 500 finish – why would a man of such integrity play along with the heist of the race from Paul Tracy? I know it’s easy to hide behind the stewards, but at the end of the day the video evidence is as clear as it can be. PT was ahead of Helio before the lights went on. I’m no PT apologist, but it’s a real shame.

Tim Glass, Dallas, TX

RM: It wasn’t Roger’s first time fighting for an Indy win in court, so why would you be surprised he tried to keep it? He was the IRL’s new mouthpiece by then, and PT was part of the hated CART regime and I think The Captain knew he had good odds in kangaroo court.

Q: In regards to your excellent retrospective on Roger Penske’s IndyCar career, you mentioned that Mario drove for Roger from 1976 to 1978. You’ve omitted the years 1979 and 1980 when Mario drove the Triple Crown races for Penske. But thanks for mentioning the innovative years of the late ’70s. You’re right that the Captain and others sparked them. The Silverstone and Brands Hatch races in 1978 showed that the teams had outgrown USAC by then, especially after the plane crash that cost the lives of Dick King’s key staff member. I’d like to see you do an article on that era.

Gerry Kelly

RM: Good catch, hell I remember the Essex Specials and the world class chef they brought in to prepare lunch every day for Team Penske and the media. Mario just never had any luck driving for The Captain; I think he won one race.

Q: Loved the story on Penske. You may have undersold him, though. His approach, in my opinion, also had huge influence in F1. He showed up at ’71 Canadian GP with Sunoco, Donohue and Sunoco McLaren 19A complete with uniformed crew, and F1 adopted the practice seen today everywhere.

Mark Kidson

RM: Well you may be right, but I wasn’t around F1 back then (other than The Glen) to see if it was changing. I think Colin Chapman understood cultivating sponsorships before anyone else, but not sure when the paddock upgraded.

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