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 email@example.com. 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: Primetime, Saturday night, on free network TV (NBC) with no other (sports) competition. And the Texas race garners just a tick over one million viewers. More people watched the Xfinity race earlier in the day on Fox. And while it was down, nowhere close to the NASCAR Atlanta event which drew just under four million. This was supposed to be a showcase for IndyCar and the ratings are still second-tier. How does IndyCar and R.P. attract sponsors and drivers when it’s a niche sport, and what does that say about the long-term health of a sport? I honestly expected higher ratings simply due to COVID-19 and the dearth of live sports on TV right now.
RM: I think we were all hoping that two or three million people might tune in, but one million seems to be our usual number for every network race except Indy. It’s disappointing because Jon Miller and Sam Flood got NBC to give IndyCar a primetime shot, and that rating couldn’t have helped make a case to do it again. The bottom line is that NASCAR gets four times the audience of IndyCar, and it’s been that way for a long time. The Indy 500 is the exception and main reason sponsors sign up so I’m not sure any marketing plan can turn the tide, but NBC has easily been the best TV partner that IndyCar has ever had, yet it can’t make people watch.
Q: You’ve stated a number of times that R.P.’s desire is to have the 500 run before fans this year. However, does Roger Penske have a drop dead date concerning this year’s Indy 500, as to when a decision has to be made on whether or not it will be held on August 23? Thanks for your outstanding and informative updates on IndyCar racing!
John, Milwaukee, WI
RM: I’m sure he has but he’s not going to tell anyone outside his inner circle, and The Captain is full speed ahead right now for Aug. 23 so let’s see how the next few weeks play out.
Q: I recently read a story in the Indy Star that seemed to coincide with a recent poll I took about attending big events and what would make me want to attend or stay home. The story outlined a lot of the things that seemed to be in that poll, and the two seemed to go hand in hand on what our future could be at the 500 and all events from here on out. I don’t want to be told when I can go to the bathroom, grab a beer, or where and when I have to enter and exit The Speedway. I sure don’t want to be a social science project and data gathering guinea pig under the pretense of public safety and the convenience of a 5G network with the use of temperature scanners and/or apps.
Is any of this even remotely close to happening this year or in the near future at IMS? I’ll put up with windshields on IndyCars, running races without crowds, masks in a so-called victory lane, people not putting their hands on their hearts for the national anthem, increased ticket prices, long yellows to wave around lapped cars, rain in May, and heat in August. I’d almost put up with them telling me I can’t bring a cooler of beer and food into the facility. But I’ll tell you this, the day any of these things that happen, especially the scanners and apps for crowd control, it will be the last time I walk into IMS.
RM: “That story was an interview with Eddie Gossage and was likely his thoughts on how he might manage things at TMS. We have not discussed anything like this at IMS – certainly not related to restricting the times a customer could leave his/her seat, use the restroom or purchase a concession product. We will likely remind people (but not require them to use) the best gate to enter based on their seats. And we working to find ways to use the IMS app to message gate wait times. Often – especially at Gate 1 (Turn 1) and Gate 9 (Turn 4) the waits are longer and just a short distance away we have gates with quicker access. So trying to better inform fans on quicker access is the goal.” Doug Boles, IMS president.
Q: Interesting to read negative comments about the aeroscreen’s debut in last week’s Mailbag. I think they look badass. Sort of like a fighter jet. And a nice point of difference for IndyCar from F1 and Super Formula. Given the financial impacts of COVID-19, do you think we will still see 33 cars at Indy?
Zac from Melbourne, Australia
RM: Yes. When the Indy 500 finally takes the green flag it will have 33 cars.
Q: Robin and the rest of the population, Is this America where you are free to be a citizen here? No! If you work for most of your life, do you have every right, like my father and his friends, to attend anything you enjoy? Not anymore. I have nothing against anyone, but I do when they take my rights. Same with racing and races. If you think you might catch something or if you’re sick, stay home! But if you want to attend the Indy 500 and that is what you live for, then leave me alone and let me attend it!
RM: I think (and hope) by the time we get to the end of August that people will be able to choose whether Indy is an option. If you’re aged 20-50 you’ll probably be going, and if you’re 60 or older you’ll be weighing the temperature, humidity and risk of the virus in whatever form it’s in by then. But as much as R.P. wants fans, he’s still got to work with the state and local government. I hear what you’re saying and don’t disagree, it’s your life and choice to follow what makes you happy and we can’t be shut-ins for six more months. Unless it’s deemed too dangerous. Then we go to October.