Q: I’m driving down from Canada to the race at Barber in Alabama this April. Where would be the best spot to spectate from at the track? Do they get such a big crowd that once I get a spot, I should stay put, or is it possible – even preferable – to walk around? Indeed, can the whole perimeter be walked during the race? Are there support races beforehand? And how is the access before and after the race? (Though I suspect you hang around long after to meet with teams and rivers and file a report and never have to battle the exit traffic.)
RM: The general admission/paddock pass would be my suggestion. Roam the paddock every day and then sit on the sloping hills outside the first few turns. It is possible to walk around a great portion of the track, and there are trams to help move people along. The museum is a can’t-miss so plan on spending a few hours there. And go to Rusty’s BBQ in nearby Leeds for dinner. Not sure about the traffic, but it’s one of the best-organized and most friendly venues that IndyCar has ever visited.
Q: Do you know of any charities for pit crew members or mechanics that have fallen on hard times or need medical assistance? Also, I know I speak for everyone when I say we hope your time in the pits is a brief one, and you are back on track and up to speed soon.
Josh from Maine (close to Bentley’s Saloon)
RM: The USAC Benevolent Fund has always helped drivers and mechanics in hard times, and of course, IndyCar has insurance for its members if one would be injured in a pit stop. Please tell Bentley hello, and to buy you a beer. I feel fine, thank you.
Q: It looks as if Fred will be spending some time in the U.S. this summer. Maybe you could plant a seed at the Chili Bowl that he needs to experience a midget/sprint car race.
RM: I think David Byrd would make it happen if Fred wanted to try it, but I’m thinking maybe a sprint car school first to whet his appetite. Knowing Alonso’s passion for trying different things, I imagine a midget or sprinter would be appealing.
Q: Who do you believe or would like to see give the “Gentlemen Start Your Engines” command for the 2020 Indianapolis 500?
RM: Tony George and his three sisters.
Q: Following up on last week’s Mailbag question on Tom Sneva, I wanted to share with your readers that Tom will be the honored guest Midwest Racing Preservation Association annual Motorsports & Memories Banquet on February 1, 2020 at the Doubletree Hotel in Arlington Heights, IL, a Chicago suburb. Event organizer Linda Daro is well-connected in the racing community so it would not be unusual for another one or two Indianapolis 500 winners to attend the banquet as well. Further details and ticket information at www.mirpa.org in the events section.
Mike Jablo, Vernon Hills, IL
RM: The Gas Man is a good public speaker and tells a lot of funny stories (some are even true), so hopefully you’ll have a good turnout. And if he’s doing it for free, then Linda is the luckiest woman on the planet.
Q: Anyone who has watched YouTube videos of the motorcycle racing of the Isle of Man TT knows what I’m talking about. It’s extraordinary control that they have, not to mention the appendages they must have. The power to weight ratio has to be close or better than an IndyCar. With the skill they show, I wonder why some don’t make their way to four-wheel racing? I know there have been a few in the past – Joe Leonard, for example.
Wally, Eden Prairie, MN
RM: Paul Goldsmith, Mike Hailwood, John Surtees and Pelican Joe all made the transition to four wheels, and I imagine one of those TT crazies would entertain the thought of the Indy 500, but all it takes is a lot of money and somebody to put it together. But without a doubt, that’s the wildest thing you will ever watch, and those guys are the bravest.
Q: I remember years ago during the month of May, one of the TV channels would run 30-minute black and white broadcasts of previous Mays at the Speedway, including practice highlights, qualifications and the race itself within one half hour. I may be mistaken, but I think Firestone sponsored them. Also, could be wrong, but some if not all were titled “33 Men”. (Politically incorrect, and obviously inaccurate today.) Being a huge Indy fan, I loved watching those. It was like watching Donald Davidson, but with real footage and in more detail. Some went back as far as the late ’40s, I believe. Do you recall these? Who owns them now, and where do you think they might reside? Probably not a big market for these, but would love to see maybe each decade that exists put on a DVD. I’d buy.
RM: Here’s my suggestion since you live in Indianapolis. Go out to the Clarion Waterfront Hotel this Friday night from 5-8 p.m. or Saturday from 9 am-4 pm and visit Marie Hall’s Racing Collectibles Show. There may be an exhibit for a man named Doak Ewing (Rare Sports Films) and he carries many of those old documentaries like 33 Men. There also will be a table for First Turn Productions (Brad Edwards and John Darlington) and they have all the old Indy 500 films, so look them up as well.
Q: I’ve been spending the last few weeks really enjoying my old Indy Review books from the late 1990s. I know that the politics around the split messed the sport up pretty good, but man, there is so much that I like about that era! As great as road racing is, the IRL’s 100% oval format really captured my imagination (almost every series road races, but who else does ovals like IndyCar?). And even though the back of the field could be pretty weak for some of those races, I love how the IRL gave real talents like Buddy Lazier, Scott Sharp, Greg Ray, and Eddie Cheever a chance at the top when they probably wouldn’t have been able to secure a top ride in CART because of money, luck, and connections.
It was also a thrill to see teams like Panther and Kelley, and to a lesser extent Hemelgarn, Menard and Foyt fight as their series dominance began to slip in the 2000s when the IRL began the transition to big teams and fewer ovals. I know that we’ll never see an era like that ever again, but as we begin this Penske era of IndyCar racing, it makes me excited to see what this next generation looks like!
RM: The best thing about the IRL was that Tony Stewart, Steve Kinser and Jack Hewitt all got to run the Indy 500, and a little guy like Jim Guthrie shocked the big teams and won a race. But I always kid A.J. that he could have hired Stewart instead of Marco Greco the year before, and he just frowns at me. But the damage The Split did to open-wheel negated any good story from the IRL in my mind.