Q: As a life-long Hoosier and Indy resident, I’ve always wished for Smoke to come back to open-wheel racing (IndyCar) as driver or owner. As he’s still in ownership with Gene Haas in NASCAR, and Gene’s F1 team is mediocre at best, do you think Gene would ever pull the plug on the F1 program and move to IndyCar? The reason I ask is, Tony and Gene could be co-owners in NASCAR and IndyCar. Also, Indy is looking at adding another engine manufacturer and Ford is their suppler in NASCAR, so maybe that’s a natural fit.
Jeremy Davis, New Palestine, IN
RM: Just not sure Haas has any interest in IndyCar or the Indy 500. Obviously he could do both on his F1 budget, but he seems pretty content being in F1. I do think Ford is on Roger Penske’s radar, and Stewart and Foyt would be a nice team since the Blue Oval loves them both.
Q: I am 37 and have been reading your articles since I was old enough to read. And I once called into Miller and Barber when I was 12 (I think) and won free Pacers tickets! So, a longtime fan! Will you please let me know when you decide to stop publishing letters from angry Democrats about the prospect of Trump coming to Indy 500? You have turned your mailbag into the DNC Convention. And while the crowd at IMS might not be as “red” as the crowd at “DIS”, it’s fairly darn red.
RM: Consider this the final letter, pro or con, about Trump coming to the Indy 500. I should have never run any of them because this is a racing feature, not politics. So thanks for your prodding.
Q: You mentioned last week that Tom Sneva and Paul Tracy would be low on Roger Penske’ list of favourite drivers who had raced for him. Why? They both were relentless, fast and winners. I can see that they were, perhaps, not ‘Penske Perfect’ spokespersons. Was he not able to make them fit the mold?
Big Joe Mufferaw, Ottawa, Ontario
RM: Tom was a helluva racer whom the fans and media loved, but he could be a little, shall we say, difficult to work with, because he was always changing the car and that didn’t always sit well with the mechanics. He was a tad stubborn (Gordon Johncock once said if 10 people got on an elevator, nine would hit the up button and Sneva would want to go down). He was fired after clinching his second-straight USAC national title for The Captain, but they never saw eye-to-eye about certain things. P.T. was a bit of a loose cannon for Team Penske and probably crashed a little bit too much to offset his monstrous talent, but he lasted longer than the odds-makers predicted.
Q: Erik Steinbrecher’s question in the 2/26 Mailbag about Michael Andretti and Roger Penske got me thinking. Did Michael ever have an offer to drive for R.P.? Love the column and keep up the great work. Your tribute to John Andretti was just perfect – an excellent tribute to his life and legacy that will live on. #checkit4andretti
RM: Thanks Andrew, John was an amazing person. I texted Michael about being offered a ride with The Captain. He response: “A couple of times.” But I don’t think R.P. was willing to pay like Newman/Haas, and I wrote a story back in 1997 that his retainer was $6-7 million a year.
Q: We both know A.J. Foyt has the bit between his teeth when it comes to this year for his team. However my question isn’t about that. I was touched by his press release over John Andretti passing. I didn’t know he was his Godfather. I think it speaks how close that A.J. is towards the Andretti family and how much respect he has towards them. True?
RM: Absolutely. There was a celebration of life for John and a buffet the night of his funeral, and it was at the Foyt Wine Vault in Speedway and A.J. paid for everything. He also called Mario last week on his 80th birthday. Just remember this: for all the fire and brimstone that comes out of Super Tex when somebody brings up Mario, they have great respect for each other and a real friendship. A.J. will get mad at me for saying that, but it’s true.
Q: I hope Mr. Penske realizes how important ovals are to us fans. I know they’re hard to sell, but they’re IndyCar’s heritage. Hopefully he and his team have a long-term strategy to have more ovals, especially superspeedways. IndyCars at 230mph on an oval is the most thrilling show I can think of. Growing up, we heard about the speed, and saw the numbers and that, along with the roar and the fearless drivers, is what hooked us.
I must argue with you about the lap record at Indy, however. I do feel it would draw a lot of attention, because that is what I hear from other fans, former fans, and potential fans all the time. Why don’t they break the record, why don’t they have a lot of horsepower anymore? We love big horsepower (happy we’re getting more soon) and big speeds, and that’s what IndyCar should always be. A couple years back there was a discussion about trap speeds. Townsend Bell went 243 on his pole run while F1 was hitting 230s somewhere. I thought big deal. Didn’t the ’94 Penskes go 255 mph at Indy into Turn 1? Anyway, let’s post a huge number, break the lap record, and get some nice press so I can stick it to F1 fans.
RM: Well remember that R.P. once owned three ovals (MIS, Nazareth and Fontana) and of course they’re a big part of his heritage and success. I think if a promoter shows interest, he would certainly entertain going to an oval, but it’s a tough sell nowadays. As for Indy speeds, they’re still going way too fast through the corners and I’d rather see 260 mph down the straightaway and then a big lift with a little braking. But I truly don’t think a new track record is going to have any affect on the attendance. And right now IndyCar’s hook is the racing.