Q: I can’t recall ever reading why Chip Ganassi appears to not want an American driver. Why? With all else equal – driving ability and sponsorship dollars – would Ganassi always hire a foreign driver versus an American driver? Why?
Patty, Omaha, NE
RM: Chip was spoiled by Zanardi and Montoya, even though Jimmy Vasser earned that first CART crown for him, and with Target he could always hire whomever he wanted. He had Michael Andretti for a year (and got his initial CART win) and then went to Bryan Herta and Vasser before the foreign invasion began. Graham Rahal and Charlie Kimball had to bring sponsorship but were never part of the A-team. It’s just Chip’s preference to go with a foreign driver instead of an American unless it’s some kind of special circumstance.
Q: The early history of IndyCar racing found drivers from various short tracks located around country. Mario raced a midget at my home track in Danbury, Connecticut (sadly shut down in 1981) before achieving his fame in IndyCar and F1. Nowadays, the good short track sprint and midget drivers find their way to NASCAR – Gordon, Stewart, Larson and so on. Financially, of course, it would be impossible for a short tracker to find his way into a top IndyCar seat, but wouldn’t it be a wonderful boost for the sport in general? Do you think a Christopher Bell or Kody Swanson would put more rear ends in the grandstands at an oval track race?
Eddie F., Norwalk, CT
RM: Good question. When Bryan Clauson got his chance at Indy I hoped it might spark interest in the ratings and attendance during May, but I don’t think it did. I called Bell last March and asked if he was interested in running the Indy 500, and of course he was, but I don’t think Joe Gibbs would allow it. Swanson is magic on pavement in USAC Silver Crown, but obviously needs financial backing, and I’d heard he could be in line for an F2000 or Lights ride next year but that’s kinda died down. If Rico Abreu got an Indy ride he’d become the most popular driver overnight, but I’m not sure that it holds any interest for him – and he would also need a backer. If Bell, Swanson or Abreu got an IndyCar ride at Iowa it might make a difference since Knoxville is so close, and you would think it could also help Pocono with all the sprint car fans in Pennsylvania, but I’m just not sure enough people care to go buy a ticket.
Q: Since you’re not discouraging my hopes of a return to Richmond, and added that Jay Frye is open to ideas, here’s my suggestion. Run the Richmond Twin 200, one 200 (mile or lap) heat in the late afternoon while the sun is shining on the track, and one after dark under the lights. I think the short race distances would eliminate the conservative strategies that are making some of the oval races yawners. Drivers qualify for the first heat, and random draw for the second. Put a Silver Crown race in between (my nephew enjoyed that even more than the main event when IndyCar was here previously), and you’ve got three races in one day with different environmental and tire combinations for the teams to take into account. Looking forward to seeing IndyCar again regardless, but I think that format would pack ’em in.
Napalm Nick, Locust Grove, VA
RM: I like that idea, maybe twin 150s with a USAC show at intermission, and I think Jay is open to any suggestion and would consider it if it had the potential to make a difference and draw new interest (which I think it would). Hell, I’d run it on a Wednesday night and be the first on the block to try that, and I bet the TV ratings would be boffo but the box office might hurt.
Q: With much respect to Roger Penske, why is it that he can have the Detroit race after Indy when everybody wants Milwaukee? He is not the head of IndyCar. Mark Miles and Jay Frye are the leaders of IndyCar, and they need to listen to us fans, and we as fans have a right to be heard. I truly believe that with Milwaukee right after Indy, the attendance would increase big time! IndyCar should have a fan meeting at the Speedway and hear our thoughts on how things could get better. Another issue that I disagree with is not having the last oval race late September or the first weekend of October at Fontana. We need to end the last race of the year at Fontana on a Saturday night! It would be great way to end the series!
Terry Gobble/ Urbana, IL
RM: From 2004-2006, Champ Car ran Milwaukee in June and the IRL in July until it went to the week after Indy in 2007, and stayed there in 2008 and 2009. Michael Andretti tried to resurrect it in 2011 in mid-June and kept it through 2015, alternating between June, July and August, but not getting much of a turnout. I do think it could work again if it was the week after Indy, but finding a promoter won’t be easy unless Bob Sargent (who staged an ARCA race there last month) would be willing to try. Maybe IndyCar cuts him a great sanction deal like Randy Bernard gave Andretti, but he would still need a stout title sponsor (maybe ABC?) to make it work. After we go to Elkhart Lake it always make me think Milwaukee could make a comeback, and maybe there could be some kind of a 2-for-1 ticket (I believe George Bruggenthies wanted to try it once), but the longer IndyCar is away, the tougher sell it would be. But with respect to The Captain, he got a home race for Chevrolet, and that’s why he gets his way – plus he’s Roger Penske. But I think we all agree we’d like to see Texas the week after Indy and then Detroit, but that’s not going to happen in the immediate future.