Welcome to the Robin Miller Mailbag presented by Honda Racing / HPD. You can follow the Santa Clarita, California-based company at: hpd.honda.com and on social media at @HondaRacing_HPD and https://www.facebook.com/HondaRacingHPD.
Your questions for Robin should be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org. We cannot guarantee we’ll publish all your questions and answers, but Robin will reply to you. And if you have a question about the technology side of racing, Robin will pass these on to Marshall Pruett and he will also answer here.
Q: Thanks for another great end-of-season contribution with your IndyCar 2019 Report Card (thanks to Mr. Glendenning for his role as well). It is a valuable reality check on our perspectives. It’s also good to hear the viewpoints from team leadership. If you could be given the gift of one change/adjustment to the May schedule at Indy for this year, what would it be? (Bigger purses for drivers/teams is a must, but doesn’t count on this question).
Secondly, if all the 2020 tracks are run as now scheduled, and you could see one track added (whether it is humanly possible, with revision or not), what track would it be?
Final question: if IndyCar could get a non-championship dirt event with a number of drivers slipped in this coming year with a great promoter, what cars (midgets, sprints, etc.) would you choose at what track? Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, and thank you for all you do for racing and we the fortunate fans.
Rick W., California
RM: I thought the latest qualifying format was damn good for NBC and the paying customers, but I’d get rid of the Monday practice session the week of the race and give the mechanics a chance to breathe. I’d try Milwaukee again, but it would entail moving it to the week after Indy, and R.P. would never let that happen as long as Detroit is on the schedule. But if the locals are ever successful in evicting IndyCar from Belle Isle, I think The Captain could make Milwaukee work. I’d have an IndyCar feature during the Chili Bowl and let NBC televise it. Thanks for being a loyal reader.
Q: Why isn’t The Captain in any of the feeder series? Seems that Penske is a team with all the resources needed to help add to the admittedly dismal car count in Indy Lights. Is it simply because Penske is all about winning at the top level, so lower series aren’t that important it?
Max Camposano, San Francisco, CA
RM: He fielded a Super Vee for his son, Roger Jr., back in the early ’80s, but my theory is that R.P. is all about competing at the top levels, be it NASCAR, Supercars, IMSA or IndyCar, and he’s fine with other people developing drivers that he can eventually hire.
Q: How much if any control does IndyCar have on the Lights series, specifically at Indy? They put on a great show there, but they need more cars. Maybe if some IndyCar drivers were to compete also it would increase the field and exposure. Do you know if this is even open for discussion? Get on that book!
RM: Well I suppose IndyCar could add a couple of cars if things got real desperate, but amazingly enough the last few Freedom 100s have been great races despite a small field, so not sure anything needs to be done. And no IndyCar vets have any interest in going back down to run a Lights car.
Q: I’m going to steal a line from Chris Medland’s article on F1 and apply it to IndyCar: “How do we make owning a new team something that is a good business proposition, not just a pursuit of passion?” Do you have anything new on how Roger Penske will address the profitability of teams that will ensure their long-term survival and also appeal to new teams? I’m also interested in how he’s going to address the same issue in Indy Lights. That series has a great car, but the fields need to grow if it is going to be taken seriously throughout the world. Pato losing Super License points because of the small fields is an example of the problem.
Rob, Ringwood, NJ
RM: I have no idea what R.P.’s checklist consists of. Obviously he’s aware the Indy 500 and IndyCar purses need fortified to try and help draw more participation, but I don’t believe Lights is real high in the pecking order. He’s repeatedly said he wants to improve the fan experience at Indianapolis so I think that’s his immediate goal, but let’s be patient and give him a year or so to get things in motion.
Q: Great article on Bill Simpson. My favorite recollection of him is when he decided to retire spontaneously on a practice day at the Speedway: “I was driving into Turn 3 and realized I was thinking about my business instead of the car, so I’m done.”
Rick K, SD, CA
RM: Good memory. I wrote that story for The Indianapolis Star in 1977 and there was another anecdote that went with it. Clay Regazzoni was Simpson’s teammate that year and the F1 veteran barrel-rolled his car during the second day of time trials. He hustled back to Gasoline Alley and pointed to Simpson’s car and wondered if that was his backup car? “If you want to drive that badly, hell yes it is,” said the guy we called Silly Bimpson. Regga made the show the next weekend, and Bill quit driving to concentrate on safety equipment.
Q: Nice article on Simpson, and good job getting it out quick! I’m an amateur racer and only wear Simpson suits (and restraints). There are more affordable suits and more popular, but none of their manufacturers will get in one and set themselves on fire! Bill made a difference in this world.
RM: He knew that would get him and his company a lot of attention, and of course it did, but the second time he set himself on fire was outside Turn 1 at Jim Bob Luebbert’s shop. Everything went fine, but Bill kept shaking his wrist until the fire was extinguished. He’d neglected to take off the gold chain around his wrist, and let’s just say it got quite warm.
Q: A great tribute to Bill Simpson. I would talk with him at IMS during the required photographed autograph sessions, and found him very outgoing and pleased to be asked racing questions.
RM: My first encounter with Simpson came in 1970. His old ****box had blown up and threw scalding water all over him on Bump Day, so he got burned pretty badly on his leg. I wrote a qualifying story for The Star and then hauled ass to the airport to fly to L.A. for the Pacers-LA Stars playoff game. As fate would have it, Simpson was in the aisle across from me and the plane was three-fourths empty, so he was able to stretch out his legs. I knew who he was and what had happened so I tried to engage him in polite conversation, and he basically ignored me. But when he landed at LAX he was having trouble getting his luggage, so I jumped up and carried it for him all the way to the curb – where a gorgeous blonde was waiting for him in a red Corvette. He thanked me and we eventually became friends, but I knew right then being a race driver might be an OK profession if a journeyman racer like Simpson had a girlfriend that looked like Barbara Eden.
Q: In all the (well deserved) comments and stories I’ve seen about Junior Johnson’s passing, there hasn’t been a single mention of how he came to be called “The Last American Hero.” It wasn’t because of the movie. Credit should be given somewhere to the late Tom Wolfe for writing the story, which I believe first appeared in Esquire about 1965. Frankly I think that moniker should’ve been reserved for someone like A.J., but I’m not writing this to argue the merits, merely to point out that credit should be given where credit is due.
Steve C., Ithaca, NY
RM: Thanks Steve, you just gave Mr. Wolfe his due, but I’ve always been curious as to why Johnson would have been given that moniker and not someone like A.J. or Parnelli or Daniel Sexton Gurney. I get the moonshiner angle, but those three all came from nothing and became worldwide heroes in all kinds of cars. I agree that Junior was an American hero – just not the last one.