Q: I thoroughly enjoy your coverage of IndyCar, and your commentary on all things racing. I continue to miss your past appearances on “Wind Tunnel” with the great Dave Despain. My question to you is about the two legends of racing: A.J. and Mario.
What, if any, is considered their defining head-to-head classic battle in IndyCar or any other series? YouTube is full of classic duels of generational greats like Petty v Pearson, Senna v Prost, and Earnhardt v everybody, but no Foyt v Andretti. I understand that races from the early days were not all filmed like they are today, but maybe there is one race that comes to mind. Robin, I know you can answer this!
In that terrific photo of all of the Indy greats joining you in receiving the “Robin Miller award,” I noticed that A.J. is holding your T-shirt upside down. A hidden message perhaps?
John Pawlicki, Chatham, NJ
RM: I don’t recall any definitive battle in Indy cars, stockers, midgets or sprints. They were dueling at Phoenix in 1968 when they crashed, and they had some good battles in dirt car races, although nothing that ever came down to the finish (except in 1966 when A.J. lost his brakes after leading every lap and Mario won). It’s hard to imagine, considering they raced together for 25 years but nothing stands out. A.J. used to call me “Poison Pen” and now its just “assh*le,” which I prefer, and how he addressed me last May in that cool photo shoot. He turns 85 on Thursday and I’m glad he’s still with us and as feisty as ever. He’s an American treasure.
Q: I wanted to comment on the folks who have complained about the aeroscreens. Yes they look different, but so what? If they save one life, it is worth having the difference. I can remember when the drivers sat straight up in their cars with the motor in front of them. And they didn’t wear seatbelts, either. Then we had the rear-engine trauma that people were up in arms against, and so on. Times change, and we must change with them. All the people who complain will never sit or race an IndyCar, so it’s easy to complain when they will never face the danger.
Mike Latino, Fontana, CA
RM: Good point, Mike. They don’t look very good coming at you, but they serve a valuable purpose and we’ll get use to them – just like we did rear-engine cars replacing roadsters. Racers are slow to change, but in this case I hope they all grudgingly admit it’s necessary.
Q: I know people have been emailing about the looks of the aeroscreen. I feel it’s not the prettiest thing in the world. Let’s face it, when the universal aero kit was introduced, that is one sexy-looking car. But I propose the following: a truce. No more complaining about the looks of the aeroscreen. We know it doesn’t look the best from multiple angles. But if it keeps us from writing in to memorialize a life and career cut short, I’m all for it. So, a truce until the new car comes along in a couple of years or so.
John Balestrieri, Milwaukee
RM: I like it, and let’s include Michigan, Milwaukee and Cleveland with it.
Q: Long-time 500 ticket-holder (1981), long time reader and occasional correspondent when you were at The Star. Two questions: 1) I have wondered for a long time why Pat Patrick seemed to have more animosity for USAC than any of the other prime movers (i.e., Gurney & Penske) involved in the formation of CART. His comments late in the broadcast of the 1988 500 when he was informed that Race Control was considering penalizing Emmo for passing under yellow (“Typical USAC sanctioning body”) were rather contemptuous, as though he expected them to penalize his team unfairly. What’s your perspective on this?
2) In the run-up to the 1996 split, I recall reading a short piece in Sports Illustrated that indicated that early in 1996 Penske had reached an informal agreement with Tony George to expand the field for the 500 to 42 cars, making “25/8” into “25/17” and allowing all of the full-time CART teams a chance to participate. The story indicated that rumors of the agreement leaked out before R.P. had a chance to present it to the CART owners, and that Chip Ganassi was the most upset at the concept (primarily that R.P. had no right to negotiate with T.G. on behalf of the other owners). Ever heard of that one? I’ve looked through SI’s “Vault” for the story and can’t find it, but I’m certain that I read it. No criticism intended of any of the principals on my part if any of it were true; if I were in Ganassi’s position I’d probably have felt the same way. Hope your health is good and that you’ll be writing your stories for a long while.
Mike Matisko, Newburgh, IN
RM: I don’t think Pat had any more disdain for the way USAC operated than Dan or R.P. It was Gurney’s White Paper that exposed USAC for the clown act it was, and Patrick and Penske then helped fund CART’s early days. But after the 1979 pop-off valve fiasco and federal court hearing where six CART teams were banned from Indy, you can’t blame Patrick, Penske, Gurney, Jim Hall, Bob Fletcher or Jerry O’Connell for carrying a grudge against USAC. Never heard of the 42 proposal, and it might be like the “story” that CART teams planned to boycott Indy – it never happened.
Q: With more and more talk about a new engine manufacturer with Penske taking over IndyCar and the switch to hybrid engines, which manufacturer do you see as the best fit to enter the series? Personally, I see Toyota as a no-brainer as they are big on hybrid technology, and it gives them a chance to compete with Honda.
RM: I think Ford or Toyota might be the best options, given R.P.’s history with them.