Q: I have always wanted to make the pilgrimage to Elkhart Lake and do the IndyCar race weekend camping. I recall one time seeing an article about Mario Andretti having a group of fans gathered on Turn 3 with some sort of sign welcoming Mario Andretti and having him show up for lunch, reminiscence, and photos. Do they still have that group there, and does Mario still show up? If so, I would like to reach out to those folks and arrange to join them. I’ve always been a big proponent of Mario being the greatest motorsports driver of all-time, not just because he was so good – there were many who have been good – but he was such a pioneer in promoting himself in a day before self-promotion became mandatory in the sport. Your thoughts?
William “Colonel” Sanders, Olathe, KS
RM: As I recall, that was a one-time deal when Mario was helping to save Elkhart Lake on the Champ Car schedule, and those fans were so grateful. I don’t know of it ever happening again, but if someone knows anything please let me know.
Q: So your old buddy Dave Despain signed up for iRacing. You need to get signed up too! Talk to Todd Bettenhausen if you want to get a chance to go wheel-to-wheel with Dave. He can set you up with hardware. He built most of mine.
RM: Yes, the old windbag is now a member of the online racing community, and here’s his email to me after I asked if he was really an iRacer:
True, I signed up, but I haven’t decided on hardware, and unless Todd wants to make a house call in rural Georgia the odds are 50/50 I can hook everything up and make it work. If I do get that far, the next obstacle will be my painfully slow (but only thing available) internet connection. I’m guessing I’ll end up running laps by myself for lack of bandwidth, but I’m just hoping to have fun, sharpen my reflexes and improve my hand/eye coordination without breaking any bones.”
My reply was that it’s still a helluva lot safer than riding motorcycles – Dave’s first love.
Q: So what do you think Roger should do to save open wheel yet not go the same route? How about a double-file restart?
RM: Save open wheel from what? IndyCar has only had a couple of multi-car accidents in the past 50 years, so it’s not really a concern. And last I looked, drivers don’t crash on the straightaway at 70mph.
Q: Do you have to be an insider to get the inevitable report on Ryan Newman’s wreck? It absolutely fascinates me that all that technology – seat, helmet, car structure – allowed that guy to walk out of the hospital two days later. Good news for Hinch eh? Not a full season, but who knows? I have my NBC Gold all ready to go; hope you’re back on the air.
Jon Jones, Oologah, OK
RM: Ryan said he suffered a head injury, but we still don’t know if it was a severe concussion or brain bruise or what. There’s been a cloak of secrecy about his injuries, but that may just be the family’s wishes. The great thing is that he’s walking, talking and nothing was broken. NBC Gold is good to go for 2020, so thanks for re-upping.
Q: With all the gimmicks NASCAR has created to improve the on-track interest, why not create rules against blocking? IndyCar/Champ Car both did it, and it improved the product. I would argue that open-wheel races have been better the moment Race Control made Helio pull over for Justin Wilson at Detroit. Heck, if NASCAR does this, they can talk about how they are leading safety improvements in motorsports by implementing it, much like they do when they discuss helmets with visors, HANS devices, SAFER Barriers, and the latest I heard on this week, having a team of trauma doctors travel with the series at each race.
Bob from Michigan
RM: Blocking isn’t racing and requires no talent, but that’s exactly how the Cup drivers are made to behave at Daytona and Talladega. And their fans love it, so I imagine it’s going to continue. And, if someone finally gets killed, well then maybe they’ll outlaw it. But I doubt it.
Q: In the wake of Ryan Newman’s crash, NASCAR surrogates heralded the series, proclaiming Earnhardt’s death was “a watershed moment.” Was it? Sure, they got drivers to wear HANS devices, moved the seat inboard, beefed up safety structures in the cars, etc. Did that save Ryan’s life? Yes. All good stuff. But these were overdue evolutionary steps in safety with no real change to business as usual. Let’s not mistake luck for wisdom. Ryan is lucky to be alive, or at least not becoming PT mates with Robert Wickens. NASCAR fans inexplicably love these high-speed demolition derbies (aka “plate racing”). If Earnhardt was truly a watershed for the series, they would have addressed this root case.
To put on “a show” for the crowds eager to see “the Big One,” they’ve refused to take measures that would get the throttle off the firewall at some point during the lap to create spacing between the cars. Pack racing not only unnecessarily endangers the drivers, but fans have paid the price too (such as when an engine made it past the fence in roughly same spot Ryan flipped). For the foreseeable future, racing at 200mph will carry significant risks to drivers and the likelihood of cars getting airborne.
As an IndyCar fan, I want to praise our series for also addressing the pack racing issue to reduce that likelihood. To me, tracks like Texas are more exciting now that drivers are driving than when IRL ran flat-out for 499 miles before jumping the leader on the last lap. Will NASCAR take note, or will they wait for someone else to die?
Aron Meyer, Tucson, AZ
RM: Had it not been their biggest star, not sure NASCAR would have initiated the HANS device or safe seats. I guess the thing that always makes me laugh is when the announcers spent 450 miles predicting “The Big One,” and then act surprised when it happens. It’s part of the show and they need it to keep people watching. But it’s not racing. Las Vegas, Bristol, Charlotte, The Glen and Sonoma are racing – but not Daytona or Talladega.