Q: Robin, expanding on this discussion of Indy 500 traditions from the past few Mailbags, what truly should be the traditions? As an example, it all started with as many cars as wanted to enter, with the pole position determined by whoever submitted their paperwork entry first. It was that way for what, the first 20 to 30 years? I wonder if everyone was up in arms when IMS began limiting the number of starting positions to 33? You have suggested letting everyone start if only 34 or 35 cars are entered – as a practical matter, how many of the current generation of IndyCars could you fit on pit lane for the 500 given the entry/exit angles for the pit boxes?
David, Greensboro, NC
RM: Indy started with 40 cars in 1911, dropped to 21 in 1916 and fluctuated between the low 20s and 40 until 1934, when 33 became the official number. I don’t know if people bitched, but the only traditions we’ve maintained is 11 rows of three, “Back Home Again in Indiana,” the balloons and “Start your engines.” I’m sure you could get 45 cars in the pits if needed, but it’s too cold to walk out and measure right now.
Q: Whatever happened to Randy Bernard who use to run this organization (PBR) very successfully? Geez, these cowpokes have been spending big money in Las Vegas for 35 years and we could not be happier. But, as you may guess, we do get the ‘sweet smells’ of the country as a by-product. Racing question: I saw the movie ‘Ford vs. Ferrari’ and thought it was great. But, Ford-powered Eddie Sachs and Dave MacDonald had their horrible crash and death at IMS and the conflagration was enormous. Do you think Ford will never return to IMS or IndyCar for fear of having those pictures and videos shown worldwide and be some of the worst possible promotion Ford could generate (unwittingly), most likely via the ABC cameras and video tapes?
Tom Fitzgerald, Las Vegas, NV
RM: Randy Bernard is now Garth Brooks’ business manager/confidant/basketball opponent/dinner companion and having a great time. I think he remains on the board of the PBR and stays in touch with Ty Murray and the boys. As for Ford, it won Indy in 1965 with Jimmy Clark the year after that crash and competed on and off until Edsel Ford II said no more IndyCar a few years ago. But we’re hoping Mr. Penske can change his mind.
Q: I keep reading about the demise of traditional engines and the rise of electronic cars. I keep reading about hybrid being “yesterday’s power unit.” Why do we need manufacturers? Why not have a spec series and spec dampers and use, say, a 2018 Cosworth 6.5l V12 with 1,100hp at 11,000rpm? Then allow the teams to buy these engines and develop them themselves? I know this is old school, but will any “climate control” fans be watching e-racing in 2030? I believe we may as well have a racing series that car-racing fans will actually watch.
RM: Today’s teams could build their own engines, but we’d be down to about six cars because of the expense. The engine lease program from Honda and Chevy have made it affordable and ultra-competitive so that’s why we need manufacturers.
Q: With the recent announcement that Monterey County has selected a group, headed by a former hotel and spa manager, to run Laguna Seca… I not sure how well a person without any racing or motorsports experience can successfully run a race facility. My fear that Laguna Seca is set on prime real estate, and that the plan in the long run is to see Laguna Seca turned into a hotel/resort. Does the IndyCar contract extend beyond this three-year agreement with the new management group?
Frank, Phoenix, AZ
RM: Not yet. There are two years remaining and then both parties will decide if continuing is beneficial.
Q: While you have your opinion about who should give the start engine command at next years Indy 500, I have an idea. On the TV screens and P.A. system, replay a recorded video and sound from the past races of Anton “Tony” Hulman Jr. giving the command. What a wonderful tribute that would be to the Hulman family. What’s your thought on that? Love your column and reporting.
Mark A Steber, Lehighton, PA
RM: I like that suggestion, and have a Jim Nabors’ recording precede it.
Q: Tell me about the Formula E drivers. Are they just interested in F1? I think Jean-Eric Verne is really talented. Would he try Indy? Or is he just looking for an F1 seat? I only pay attention to it because “my man” (Michael Andretti) owns a team.
RM: There are a few ex-F1 drivers in Formula E and I imagine they would consider IndyCar if they weren’t making such a good living in Formula E.
Q: You say that you don’t care if they rebrand the Indy 500 as something like the Miller Lite 500 as long as they sell the rights for a bunch of money and put it all into the race purse. I won’t fight you on that one. As R.P. said, they are going to have to break some glass. My question is, for the city of Indianapolis, what is the value of the Indy 500 name (or the Indianapolis 500 Mile Race, or whatever)? If the difference between the Miller Lite 500 and the Indy 500 presented by Miller Lite is $2 million – $2.5 million (just a guess), would it be worth it to the city to pony up the difference? We may have the Colts now, and lots of NCAA championships, Pacers, etc. But the Indy 500 still has to be the most notable, identifying factor around the world for Indianapolis and the state of Indiana. What would happen if the name of the race changed and that branding for the city went away?
RM: That branding will never go away regardless of whether a title sponsor is found. It’s always going to be Indy or the Indy 500 or Indianapolis, and just adding someone else’s name isn’t going to change that. The Menards Indy 500 will get plenty of publicity and branding, but it will still be called Indy first.