Robin Miller's Mailbag for July 17, presented by Honda Racing / HPD

Robin Miller's Mailbag for July 17, presented by Honda Racing / HPD

Insights & Analysis

Robin Miller's Mailbag for July 17, presented by Honda Racing / HPD

By

Q: The MLB played its Mid-Summer Classic last night, which means tonight is baseball free! How awesome would it be to have a Wednesday or Thursday night race for IndyCar with nothing else in the country running against it? Picture a one day show at Richmond or Kentucky or wherever with some afternoon practices, a dinnertime qualifying and 7:00pm green flag. The networks have only to contend with the World Series of Poker and some Law and Order reruns.

Someone needs to put this deal together and provide the loyal fans a midweek race. If you can’t cajole any of the bigwigs to copy Tony Stewart and run a Wednesday race, then just remind them New Hampshire’s Fall NASCAR race was lost to Las Vegas and now there’s room for a race. It would be a nice weekend of racing now that there’s a flat track in Loudon. And for what it’s worth, I miss watching you and Despain live on Wind Tunnel.

Richard from Dudley Massachusetts

RM: NBC’s Kevin Lee suggested this several years ago and I love the idea, but getting a promoter to race in mid-week would be a challenge. However, if you got a big enough title sponsor to help with the bottom line and IndyCar waived the sanction fee, it might work. It certainly would have a captive TV audience. Thanks, I miss working with Dave and W.T. – best motorsports show ever.

Q: I read your column on race attendance with interest. As someone who spent two decades covering sports and auto racing, beginning in 1990, there is no doubt the sports landscape has changed. In truth, so has the way we all consume products these days. In the past, attending sporting events was the thing to do. Now, with technology, it is often better to sit at home and view the product on TV without having to fight traffic, pay for high-priced hotel rooms, etc. This is true for all sports, not just auto racing. What has changed is there is no longer the number of free giveaway tickets at races. How many free tickets did Marlboro provide on a regular basis, or the engine manufacturers? To be honest, the future of auto racing – IndyCar, NASCAR, NHRA, F1 – is going to depend on TV viewership. A great comparison is the saturation of college football bowl games. Are there too many? Are there too many empty seats? Without a doubt. But they also out-draw anything else on TV when they air. That is why ESPN is constantly adding them. The cost for hosting the games is outweighed by the revenue generated through advertising and TV viewership. At some point, the future of auto racing is going to depend on increasing the TV viewership, not the increasing the attendance at the track, sad to say.

John “thankfully your ex-Gannett buddy in Louisiana”

RM: Can’t disagree with your logic, John. Whether it’s fair or not, the Nielsen ratings still rule and determine the fate of your sport or show. Even though NASCAR’s attendance has plummeted during the past few years, its TV ratings are still pretty damn good compared to daily baseball or basketball games. As for freebies, Honda, Toyota and Marlboro gave away thousands of tickets in the ‘90s and 2000s.

A big crowd for CART at Fontana in 1999 – but there were probably quite a few freebies among those ticket holders. Image by Levitt/LAT

Q: In your attendance article you mentioned the “obligatory hotel room gouge” as part of the pricing discussion. But what about the camping gouge? I priced a trip to the Road America race for my wife and I this year. With weekend tickets for two, paddock pass and camping, the price tag went over $500! And the camping bill is a big chunk of that. Add travel expenses and that is way over budget for me. I could go to the Gateway race because I live close enough to go home afterward and the pricing packages are good, but I firmly believe that formula-style open-wheel cars don’t belong on ovals (fundamentally unsafe) and I won’t support it.

John Humason, Hermann, MO

RM: I haven’t heard too many complaints about camping fees at Road America, and I think a lot of people take advantage of the $100 discount that’s offered right now. I guess if you stayed three nights in a semi-nice hotel it would be at least $500, so not sure the camping fee is too out of line.

Q: Just wanted to share two thoughts from the NASCAR Xfinity Series Race at Kentucky Speedway. One – The more I watch Christopher Bell, the more I wonder, what if? This guy is good. He came in second, but as always he led a bunch of laps. You can tell he just has a pure talent for driving. What if he’d stayed open-wheel and went from USAC to Indy? I really think this kid could have been the answer us USAC guys needed for a competitive Indy 500 USAC graduate. I really think he could be a contender at Indy (Larson too). Two – I know there have been some rumblings about a IndyCar return to Kentucky Speedway. I have to say, sitting in the Turn 1 grandstand and looking into a narrow turn one corner; that to me looks very tight for IndyCars. Maybe four car-widths? I can see some wheels touching and some hard hits. Really looking forward to a possible return to Richmond if that materializes.

Andy, St. Marys, Ohio

RM: I was at the Chili Bowl a few years ago talking with Keith Kunz, who brought Kyle Larson onto our radar and into the big time. There was a fresh-faced kid standing next to one of Keith’s midgets and I asked about him. “That’s Christopher Bell,” said Kunz, “and he may be better than Larson.” That was hard to fathom back then, but today you can understand the logic, because Bell is a badass on pavement in a stock car and on dirt in a midget or sprinter. He should be in Cup right now, and I imagine Joe Gibbs just re-signed him for that purpose. I said last week in the Mailbag that I asked Chris about running the Indy 500 and that IndyCar was willing to help, and he wanted to do it but I imagine Joe would put the kibosh on it. But nobody in IndyCar or its ladder system made any move to sign him up back in 2015 and Kyle Busch did so it was off to stock cars. As for Kentucky, I recall IndyCar putting on some good races (Ed Carpenter edging Dario for Sarah Fisher’s first win), and now that it’s been repaved I think it would be fine. Looked like a decent crowd last Saturday night as well.

More RACER