Q: What is the best way to train USAC/World of Outlaws stars for an IndyCar career? Do the Road to Indy teams just need to be willing to give them an opportunity (for a price), or does a special feeder series need to be created? If a new series is the answer, what variety of tracks should they race on? Should the cars be like roadsters? (See the Bentley Barnato concept car for a modern interpretation of an Indy roadster.) Considering the dollar amounts for healthy purses, paying staff, insurance policies, etc., IndyCar would be in great shape if they received about $400-500 million per year from a series sponsor and a TV broadcaster. I understand they are paid not much more than $10 million each from NTT and NBC. How far from reality are those figures?
Steve in Redding, CA
RM: When Randy Bernard brought Bryan Clauson to the Indianapolis 500 in 2011, it was an opportunity to get one of the best racers in the country a ride in the biggest race in the world. But B.C. knew Indy would be the only race he ever ran, because he wasn’t a road racer and he didn’t have the time or money to stop USAC racing and run Indy Lights cars. Kyle Larson and Chris Bell made their names in USAC and then went to NASCAR because they were hired to drive and it’s primarily ovals (although Larson has become a good road racer). There is no path or opportunities for midget or sprint car drivers without millions of dollars, so a star like Tyler Courtney might be able to get a one-off at Indy with Clauson/Marshall but he knows IndyCar has no future for him. B.C. was content to know he could make a decent living racing midgets and sprinters as long as he kept winning, and Indy was simply a perk. Your last numbers are much closer to reality than the first ones you listed.
Q: The way you write about these guys like Bubby Jones (most I’ve never heard of unfortunately) makes me feel like I do know them, and that story about the coke is hysterical. Thanks for writing them, and making these guys more than just a stat or a trivia question answer – feels like to me you’re giving them a good send-off.
RM: Jones was one of the best to ever strap on a sprinter and, like Clauson, knew that getting to drive at Indianapolis once was an unexpected bonus because USAC stars were starting to be phased out in the late ’70s. But he had fans all over the country, and was probably a bigger name than most IndyCar drivers. He was also a great character and a man with great character.
Q: I am hearing news (if not rumors) about Penske potentially lighting IMS in the future. This talk also has opinionated racing commentators and fans alike coming up with ideas for what could potentially happen, including maybe an IndyCar/NASCAR doubleheader in Indy. My question would be, do you in your opinion see a potential – let’s say, several years down the road – that IndyCar could have two dates at the IMS oval? The 500 in its traditional mid-day Sunday Memorial Day slot, and maybe a couple months later in July or August, a potential night IndyCar race on the oval?
RM: Mark Miles told me once it would cost $20 million to light IMS, and that was an expense they didn’t need. I understand R.P. had the same reaction when he learned the price tag. Lights are not going to save the Brickyard 400, because it would still be a bad race. But the road course could help it if NASCAR was smart enough to adopt it for Cup. Watkins Glen and Sonoma are two of the best Cup shows because it’s good, hard racing and IMS could offer the same. Hopefully the Xfinity race this summer will help prove that point, although there aren’t many good road racers in that series compared to the big boys. And one oval track race a year is all IMS ever needs. Indy is special because it’s once a year, and Mr. Hulman understood that better than anyone.
Q: This year I plan to hit up all three weekends at the Speedway during the month of May. I’ve been including the grand prix the last three years with my annual pilgrimage to the 500. What suggestions would you have for a first timer to Fast Friday and qualifications, and is that weekend alone worth the price for a bronze badge?
Alan Bandi, Sarver, PA
RM: I would think so, because you can wander Gasoline Alley and get up close to the cars and drivers in the pits, and probably get lots of cool photos with your phone.
Q: Perhaps a significant purpose of the IndyCar series could be to facilitate having enough entrants to make a good/thrilling Indy 500 show? After the significant trouble some teams had in 2019 getting their cars to work properly on the Speedway, improving Indy 500 qualifying is probably a serious IMS goal for 2020. I’m suggesting that IndyCar squeeze in an oval race before the 500 this year! A noteworthy and sad example that money doesn’t buy everything was the embarrassing struggle that McLaren went through, to not qualify for the 2019 race with a two-time world champion. An early oval race, between the west coast swing and the Indy-500 could make it easier on team and transporter logistics. If anyone can schedule that, it would be The Captain. Possible locations could be Phoenix or Fontana.
Bill in CA
RM: Add an oval race prior to Indy for 2020 right now? You got a better chance of getting Bobby Unser and Johnny Rutherford to fight over a dinner check. No chance. Phoenix was a bust and Fontana has NASCAR, and no track is going to add a race with zero time to promote it. Indy qualifying was just fine last year, and so was the race. An oval before Indy would have certainly saved McLaren, but it’s tough to find a venue willing to take a risk because ovals are a tough sell and IndyCar learned its lesson about renting its own track at Phoenix.
Q: Please ask RP & IMS to bring back the Purdue Marching Band to play Taps at the 500 – I hope you will agree!
Bill Harper, Canton, GA
RM: You just did Bill, thanks.