Q: Why did Mario Andretti never drive for Penske? What was the history and relationship between the two? I think had Mario had a ride with Roger, his Indianapolis 500 resume would have been a whole lot more impressive.
Chas O., Oak Park, IL
RM: Mario did run Indy for The Captain at Indianapolis in 1976-77-78-80, with a best result of eighth in the rain-shortened ’76 race. He also ran selected races – winning Trenton in 1978 and finishing second at Pocono in 1977 behind teammate Tom Sneva to give R.P. his first-ever 1-2.
Q: Foyt, Jones, McClusky, Nelson, Al Unser, White, Hartman, Herk, et al… Fords, Dodges, Plymouths, and a Chevy or two…paved, dirt, and road… that USAC stock car division was awesome! What really happened, and why did it go away? Those were the days.
Speaking of IRP, I enjoyed the Champ Cars out there, too. Given that IndyCar has a strong fan base here, does anyone ever throw that out there? I even wondered how’d they do on IRP’s fifth-eighths oval. After all, Iowa is only 7/8. I know what you’re thinking – another old guy stuck in the past. And you’re right, can’t go home again, but I’m glad I got to see it. I enjoy your work.
RM: Not sure there is one particular reason that USAC stocks declined and finally died, but when you lost Rufus, A.J., Herk, McCluskey and the Unsers, that really hurt the box office. I’ve never understood why the Hoosier Grand Prix at IRP drew so poorly, because the access was great and it was all the stars of Indy, but I don’t think they ever had more than 10,000 people. IRP is a great midget, sprint and Silver Crown track, but I’d shudder to think of the crash damage for Indy cars. And it’s OK to be stuck in the past – it’s where I reside.
Q: With NASCAR already having a non-point event that pays a million dollars to win in the form of the All Star Race, would a concept similar in nature work in IndyCar? No points and a suitcase of dead presidents would make normal professional racers take a few crazy risks, plus it could be ratings gold for NBC if it encourages fans to tune in.
RM: The key word to your question is “pays,” because the only reason to have an all-star race is for good money and IndyCar’s regular purses suck, so I can’t imagine finding dead presidents for a non-points race. I think R.P. is going to work on getting the Indy 500 purse where it belongs (he’s already added $2 million) and hopefully boosting the other race purses. CART had the Marlboro Challenge and it was well-funded, obviously, but not sure that kind of money still exists for motorsports.
Q: I haven’t been an Indy fan for the longest time, so I don’t know the whole history. Has there ever been/why isn’t there a NASCAR style overtime/green-white-checker finish to the races just to ensure a green flag finish?
Shawn Lee, Maryland
RM: I think IndyCar looks at it as too much of a gimmick (although double points for the season finale is a joke), but there have been a couple instances in the past few years where a race was red-flagged to ensure a chance at a green-flag finish.
Q: Leading up to Vegas 2011, when IndyCar tried to up the excitement level by offering a $2.5 million bonus to a non-regular driver who started at the back and went on to win, I heard numerous rumors of drivers that may have been trying to pull something together. One of those drivers was Alex Zanardi. Any idea how close he was to being a part of that race in Vegas? And what other drivers were potentially in the mix?
Rich Whitaker, Marblehead, MA
RM: Never heard Alex mentioned, but I know Randy Bernard extended an invitation to Jimmie Johnson, Kasey Kahne, Jeff Gordon and the Busch brothers when he was at Tony Stewart’s all-star dirt race at Eldora that summer.