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: I read with some bemusement (and a whole of dismay) your commentary about the Daytona 500 versus the Indy 500 purse. It’s not the first time you’ve mentioned the disparity in purses between NASCAR and IndyCar, and you’re right on all counts, of course. I’ve sat down a couple of times to figure out the Indy 500 purse numbers and for the life of me I can’t understand how or why “the Greatest Spectacle in Racing” pays out so cheap.
In order to pay out $5 million + to the winner and drifting to $500K to dead last, the Indy 500 [purse] would have to hit a number slightly above $25 million – a number that isn’t out of reach, nor has it been unreachable for some time. Imagine the entries there’d be for the 500 if that was the minimum for the next 500?
So, here’s my question. If you’re a racing driver, even a mediocre racing driver, why would you risk your neck for a paltry amount of money in IndyCar (where you get purse of what, $1.98 to win and a nifty decoder ring for first place) when you could exist very well on finishing dead last in NASCAR (where finishing dead last would allow you to be an owner in IndyCar and still race in NASCAR events to make ends meet)? Why do IndyCar drivers stand for such meager earnings and not demand more?
Jest Jake (looking for an excuse to be an IndyCar owner but can’t find one)
RM: First off, the average ticket is at least $100 so that’s $20 million before you’ve sold a suite, $10 tenderloin or a $50 parking spot. I figure the IMS gross is a minimum $35 million for May. So let John Menard kick in $10 million as the title sponsor and suddenly we’re at $25 million. IndyCar drivers use to make their living off the 40 percent they earned at Indianapolis because there were very few salaries in those days, and the purse dwarfed anything else in motorsports. But nowadays, because of the Leaders Circle and the purse not increasing like it should have, a good full-timer makes it on his retainer – anywhere from $750,000 to $5 million, but mostly in the $1-3 million range. Why did Matt Brabham run the Indy 500 in 2016 and get paid less than $1,000 for finishing 22nd? Because it was an opportunity, and money wasn’t nearly as important as trying to get established. And demanding more money isn’t an option for most. But I should also mention that NASCAR’s big number is directly related to its monstrous TV package, which IndyCar doesn’t have. That’s how it’s $10 million larger.
Q: Could these few one-offs with Andretti lead Hinchcliffe back to the team he gained his fame with? Do Michael and Honda see value in retaining him in the series? I’m not about wanting anyone to lose their ride, but Veach has underperformed in what should be a competitive seat. What is keeping him with this team? Is he bringing the sponsorship of Gainbridge? I don’t know if Hinch could win the series outright, but he surely could place his car in the top five on any given weekend.
Ken Pulliam, Naperville, IL
RM: Michael said at the press conference maybe this could lead back to something full-time, and also hinted at some more races in 2020, so obviously it all depends on Genesys and how much they want to get involved. Veach did bring Gainbridge, which is probably Andretti’s biggest sponsor, and 2020 will be the final year of his contract. He had a tough sophomore season, but over-performed as a rookie. I wouldn’t write him off yet, and his future depends on his backer.
Q: Great news that Hinch has a part-time ride with Michael this season. It is a shame that Toronto is not in the picture at present, but his being in the run to qualify for the 500 is excellent. Do you think this means that James is now completely off the books at AMSP? I just had to share with you the mail I received on Friday. I looked at the postmark, and knew I didn’t know anyone in Charlotte. Turned it over, and it read ‘The Andretti Family’. Inside was a personal, handwritten thank-you note acknowledging my contribution to the Riley Children’s Hospital in John’s memory. I was quite touched by this lovely gesture. It is something I will keep with my special racing treasures.
RM: I think Hinch is hoping to still receive some kind of settlement from AMSP but he’s not allowed to talk about it, so ‘not sure’ is my answer.
Q: There was an article that I read at least a year ago, and I wanted to ask you if it was true. Because of the pit limitations at Exhibition Place due to the pit relocation, is it true that the pits can only handle 23 cars? I ask because right now, not including Hinchcliffe and possibly McLaughlin, we have 25 going to race in Toronto. Will we see our first DNQs outside of the Indianapolis 500 since 1998?
RM: It’s true that it’s very tight in Toronto so IndyCar is working on a solution to accommodate extra cars, but nobody is going to get sent home.
Q: The Mayor at Andretti would have a better shot at winning than Fred at McLaren!
RM: I don’t know about that, but I do know that Hinch probably has a better shot now that he’s with Andretti.
Q: Just read the letter from Paul Sturmey about the lack of Canadian drivers and if I was Canadian I would agree with everything he wrote. However, I would like to bring to his attention that Parker Thompson is still in the RTI and looking good with DEForce racing in Indy Pro 2000.
RM: Thanks Oliver, we’ll keep an eye on him. I always thought Scott Hargrove was going to be the next big thing in IndyCar from north of the border but nobody gave him a chance. We need good Canadian drivers.