Q: Miller, what if we put a “rehabilitated” Kyle Larson in an IndyCar?
RM: I called A.J. several weeks ago and told him to hire Larson, but he seemed to think Tony Stewart was going to do it. I asked Stew a couple weeks ago and he said he’d like to, but nothing to report yet. Larson belongs in the Indy 500.
Q: Are there any concerns about the IndyCar race at Laguna Seca being hosted by a guy with no motorsports experience? I just read the article saying that new Laguna Seca Volunteer Association group has announced termination of contracts negotiations. It seems like Laguna Seca is now in the hands of a corrupt and inexperienced group that will ultimately fail. With all of the other challenges facing motorsports and IndyCar, we don’t need corrupt politics killing an IndyCar race.
RM: If Marshall is concerned, then we should all be concerned because he knows those people and that territory, and as we’ve all said, volunteers are the backbone of any race – they are a must.
Q: As August 23rd gets closer, I’m having increased doubts that Indy will happen. Good for RP in putting that October placeholder, because I think more and more that that’s what’s happening. So since my Indy May and Richmond June races didn’t happen, I’m heading to Mid-Ohio in August, bringing the tent, paddock passes, and a weekend’s worth of grill meat and beverages. I don’t imagine social distancing will be an issue that weekend. I fully intend to spend two days wandering the track deciding on where I’ll set up for the IndyCar race, but before I even do that, what do you recommend for a first-time visitor? Any can’t-miss-this sights, sounds, smells, and/or tastes?
Henry, Richmond, VA
RM: Not sure what’s happened lately to give you that impression, but we’re still two months away and I don’t think anyone can say definitively what will be allowed in terms of public gatherings in Indiana. As for MO, Rocky’s has good steaks in downtown Mansfield and the little drive-in on the outskirts of town has great sloppy Joes (ask A.J.) so those are two places. Just roam and I imagine you’ll want to get on the hill just past Turn 4 to watch the start.
Q: Could I get a quick history lesson on why open-wheel stopped visiting Homestead-Miami after 2010? Would IndyCar ever consider returning? No NASCAR traction compound to avoid!
RM: I think lack of interest would be my answer. After the first few CART races (well attended with Honda, Toyota and Marlboro tickets), it gradually became a non-event and was never promoted from what I saw. IndyCar talked about going back a couple years ago but thankfully came to its senses.
Q: Do you think that Kurt Busch could do the doubleheader at Indianapolis on July 4?
RM: I imagine if he had good opportunities in both, but I think a return to the Indy 500 would be more appealing to him. Jimmie Johnson was thought to be in line for a car at the Indy GP but obviously that all fell apart.
Q: It does seem that the 500 is moving towards going green with fans. We received a call to relocate our seats (we were going to try pit out) but it seems they are removing them. Does this reflect only a smaller COVID crowd, or is the intent to bring back the apron?
Skip Ranfone, Summerfield, FL
RM: From IMS President Doug Boles: “We are not installing the southern third of the Pit Road Terrace seats this year. The Pit Road Terrace seats are the temporary bleachers that we install behind the pit road fence on the south side of the Pagoda. It would not impact a decision to bring back the apron or not. A couple of reasons for the change: (1) With IndyCar using the Gasoline Alley garages on July 4 weekend, it helps us with our install time by not putting up as many seats between the race and Aug 12, and (2) in a typical year, we only sell about 50% of these seats, so a third reduction in more appropriate related to demand. And, not the reason why, Skip is correct that it would be a benefit in a COVID year in the sense that it is less people in the area. Ticketing customers in the impacted seats are being relocated inside the remaining Pit Road Terrace seats or given an option for another seat without having to pay the seat price difference.”
Q: You have frequently mentioned the ’70s and USAC’s role in IndyCar losing ground to NASCAR. Would you please write a longer piece on the subject, which I agree was a pivotal period for IndyCar, but is not as well-remembered as the CART breakaway and The Split? To me, the ’70s were about an influx of top-rank new teams into Indy racing, many of them migrating from the defunct Can-Am and (original) Trans-Am series. Among them, McLaren, Jim Hall, and, of course, Penske. These teams had bigger aspirations than the parochial USAC leadership, which makes the CART breakaway inevitable in retrospect. In the meantime, perhaps in response to this message, you could please give more details about the Marlboro fiasco? I confess that I have no memory whatsoever of that debacle. Curiously, I do remember the VPJ team with Viceroy sponsorship, which maybe says something about the failures involved.
Al Gordon, Watertown, MA
RM: IndyCar didn’t really lose ground to NASCAR until ESPN came along in the early ’80s and then The Split in 1996. USAC’s wounds were self-inflicted – taking the dirt cars out of the national championship, losing Marlboro as the title sponsor, banning rear-engine sprinters and refusing to listen to the pleas of the car owners. Marlboro simply wanted exclusivity and when Viceroy came in a year later, that was it and they were gone. And it was a year before R.J. Reynolds began backing NASCAR. USAC billed itself as the “sport of the ‘70s” and it should have been, but too many shallow thinkers and clueless leaders.
Q: I know you have mentioned a few times about how back in the day nobody worried about races where a driver would run away with it. Today it’s all about how close the competition is, because that’s all we have today! Back in the day it was about, “What are they going to bring this year?” Front engine to rear engine, turbine, turbo charge? Then they started to add wings, then you had the aerodynamic greatness of downforce, always something new and innovative every year. Everybody was so interested in the technology, if one of them turned out to be vastly superior, we were just like, “Wow they kicked ass!” and we didn’t care if they won by two laps.
To me, that is the difference. We have cookie-cutter cars, three major teams that make up most of the field and wins, so all we have is competition and upsets. To me they would be better off putting a cap on the budget and let everyone come with whatever they want. If I can bring in a modified Dodge 440 engine and compete with these guys, let it happen. Open the field to anyone who can compete within a certain budget. I guess it will never happen, but I think it would be pretty freaking wonderful.
RM: There is no doubt the lack of innovation and surprises greatly diminished the interest in Indy 500 practice and qualifying, as well as the race itself, and the overall interest of national mainstream magazines. But throwing away today’s template and starting from scratch with “run whatcha brung” wouldn’t seem to guarantee participation from teams or manufacturers. Spec racing should be tight and IndyCar’s best selling card is the competition, but I just don’t see a return to the old days.