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.
Questions for Robin can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org. Due to the high volume of questions received, we can’t always guarantee that your letter will be printed, but Robin will get to as many as he can. Published questions have been edited for clarity.
Q: I’m curious about one particular aspect of possibly having the Indy 500 in August, or even pushed back further to October. There doesn’t seem to be the question, as in other states, as to whether the 500 will be allowed to run by the state, county, or local governments. The Indiana plan seems to open the state fully by July 4, assuming Stage 5 of the Back on Track Plan commences as expected.
You’ve said that Roger Penske really wants to have fans at the 500, and I’m sure he does and will do what he can to make it happen. It strikes me that there are three additional factors that Penske Entertainment has to consider.
No. 1: Political pressure. President Trump awarded Roger Penske the Presidential Medal of Freedom in October and a giant gathering of pure Americana would be a massive political win heading into an election.
No. 2: Lawyers. The jury is literally and figuratively still out on the question of whether you can be sued as an employer, event promoter, etc., if you host a gathering, workplace, or event that becomes a major COVID-19 spreading event.
No. 3: Insurance. Will all of the insurers who usually overlay on top of a big event like the 500 step up and offer insurance at a rate that can be justified?
No. 4: Sponsors. Do big corporate sponsors value commercial exposure that comes with having the race, or do they wish to avoid association with an event with the potential to become a COVID-19 aerosol can?
I’m wondering if you could talk to high-level officials within Penske Entertainment and/or on the commercial side of racing about what they think of any of these factors even if the state, county, and local governments have cleared the way for 250,000 people to descend on the Speedway?
Clint, Chicago, IL
RM: Until we find out if spectators will be allowed into the Brickyard weekend it’s fruitless to try and anticipate what’s going to happen with the Indy 500. But the first line on the back of your Indy 500 ticket reads: “The ticket holder expressly assumes all risk incident to the event, whether occurring prior, to or during the actual conduct of the event and hereby releases all event participants from any and all claims arising from the event, including claims of negligence.” That lists includes IMS, IndyCar, IMS Foundation. And I’m fairly certain that R.P. and his inner circle have considered all of the scenarios and possible pitfalls. Obviously if this pandemic is still motoring in late August it could change the way a sponsor thinks about participating, but nobody can answer that right now.
Q: It’s killing me to see no F1 or IndyCar races, but NASCAR is running two races a week already! How about IndyCar adding a second race at Texas and/or adding COTA in June too? Any remote chance?
Martin, Henderson, NV
RM: No, it’s way too late to being adding a race at Texas, and I’m not sure IndyCar will ever go back to COTA. But, repeat after me, NASCAR has more races, always starts the season sooner and can afford to run several races with no spectators because of its lucrative TV contract. Texas got the nod to go without fans because R.P. made Eddie Gossage an offer he couldn’t refuse.
Q: Since Road America’s date changed to July 11 and 12 for the double-header race, the gap between Texas race and the IMS road course is around one month. Has Mark Miles considered adding another race in between them?
RM: I think Miles, Jay Frye and The Captain have had a multitude of possible scenarios to try and ensure IndyCar has 12-13 races, but what they’ve got at the moment is the best way to combat the pandemic – three doubleheaders. But television has to be figured into these discussions and NBC has a lot of hungry mouths to feed this summer, so be thankful if the current schedule holds up in the face of COVID-19.
Q: With the ink not yet dry from canceling the Richmond race, Virginia now again allows racing just in time for Martinsville. Can you un-cancel a race? Are there any ulterior motives at play here?
Shawn from Maryland
RM: Naw, nothing sinister, NASCAR will just run Martinsville with no fans and that was never an option for Richmond. Spectators may not be allowed into Virginia events until August.
Q: How about having IndyCar racing at Bristol and Martinsville? If not IndyCar, how about Indy Lights, as there doesn’t seem to be that many entries?
RM: Bristol would be insane for IndyCars and Richmond was going to provide that bullring track, but never heard Martinsville discussed. Indy Lights just threw in the towel for 2020, and that would not have been embraced by either side with only nine cars.
Q: The more this pandemic continues, the more I worry about the IndyCar Series. Do you think it will go down as a shortened championship and be thought of as a lesser accomplishment? I would hate to have it in the history books as a lame excuse for a champ. Or is there a possibility of extending the championship points into next year? Have there been other years where the points payout was shortened? Are there other options being considered?
Mark Suska, Lexington, Ohio
RM: From 1956-1964 the USAC season varied from 12-14 races, and after The Split the IRL had 3-10-11-10-9 races from its inception in 1996 through 2000. So if IndyCar at least a dozen under these circumstances it’s plenty, and doesn’t diminish the championship. Nobody wants a carryover champion and no options are being discussed at this time, but it’s way too early to guarantee the 14 races will all be run. [ED: It’s not IndyCar, but Edd Straw wrote an interesting column about how a short-format championship might be viewed in the context of F1 a few weeks ago].
Q: Texas just reopened outdoor sporting events at 25% capacity starting June 1. Please check my math. TMS has 100,000 frontstretch seats, and usually has 25,000 attendance. But Eddie Gossage said still no attendance allowed. Bummer.
RM: I think Eddie said that by the time that decision was made he wasn’t left with enough time to promote and sell tickets, so no spectators.