Q: Your answer to Breen’s June 17 letter was insightful. But your last (*asterisk*) sentence was BS. It showed a lack of understanding of the importance of the Indy 500. You flunked out on that one. Indy is not about who isn’t there, it’s about who is there on that particular day. It’s a race full of ifs, ands, and buts every year. In 1996 CART should have taken those eight remaining spots on the grid. One of their teams probably could have won. But CART was too arrogant. CART had all the drivers, teams, sponsors… but they didn’t have Indy. Their arrogance blinded them to the importance of the Indy 500. CART was dead after they didn’t show up for the 1996 500. It just took 11 more years for that dead man walking to fall over!
Many drivers have had great careers without winning the Indy 500. But all drivers who have won the 500 have had great careers! Little Al in 1992, with the wreath around his neck, wet eyes looking skyward, saying, “You just don’t know what it means to win Indy!” Or Bobby Rahal saying, “When I go out on the chicken dinner circuit in the winter, they don’t introduce me as the three-time CART National Champion, they introduce me as the 1986 Indy 500 Champion.” And so it is with any Indy 500 winner. There are no asterisks needed for an Indy 500 champion.
The saddest case is Michael Andretti. He missed five prime years of his Indy career. I wonder if he ever lies in his bed at night, stares at the dark ceiling, and thinks, “Eddie Cheever won the Indy 500 and I didn’t.”
RM: That’s why The Mailbag exists, Bill, we can agree to disagree. I covered those Indy 500s just like any other, and Buddy Lazier fighting through his injuries or Cheever winning with his own little team were both good stories, and that’s how I wrote it. Arie and Brack did what they had to do – beat who was at IMS – and Luyendyk’s consolation is that he did beat everyone in 1990. By the time all the CART guys had defected you only had a couple ‘names’ missing at Indy, and none of those guys on the Borg-Warner Trophy have anything to regret because they drank the milk and went in the history books. But would they have won against Michael, Emmo, Unser, Rahal, Tracy, Moore, Zanardi and Vasser? I think not. The late, great Jim Murray said coming to Indy in 1996 was like going to the World Series and finding out it was the Toledo Mud Hens instead of the Yankees. Cruel? Maybe, but certainly honest. And it’s not a knock on the drivers and teams that took advantage of the situation, but it allowed NASCAR to take over IMS for a decade.
Q: There will never be agreement or consensus on The Split, and not interested in another debate here. I have tons of respect for you Robin, but your answer to Brian Breen last week was not fair and it was biased, specifically the last line about the Indy 500 in the years 1996-99 should have an asterisk because CART drivers weren’t participating. Were they not allowed to enter or did they choose not to? Should last year’s winner have an asterisk because Lewis Hamilton or Kyle Busch wasn’t entered? CART and the IRL were separate series, the same as NASCAR and F1 are separate series. Those IRL years produced winners just the same as any other year, and every year will always have the best drivers who choose to enter and qualify for the race. That is fact, not opinion.
Mike Bray, Flower Mound, TX
RM: The Split was never about the drivers, they merely went where they had opportunities or contracts. And Kyle Busch is a helluva talent but not one of the best open-wheel drivers, while it would be great to see Hamilton follow Fernando’s footsteps some day. But many of the best open-wheel drivers of the ’90s didn’t compete at Indy for many years and that’s not an opinion – it’s a fact.
Q: I attended my first IndyCar race at the old Langhorne Speedway way back in 1967, so as one of our older IndyCar fans, I have experienced a lot of changes over the years and seen a lot of cars, some beautiful and some ugly. And while I was apprehensive about the new look of the aeroscreen, I must say the cars looked much better than I anticipated.
On another note, I read recently where Ferrari was giving consideration to entering IndyCar and had spoken directly with RP about the possibilities. I know there are millions of Ferrari fans around the world who might love the idea, but I’m concerned about the financial impact they might have on the other teams. There are no cost caps in IndyCar (not that we ever needed them) and Ferrari could spend multiple times that of even our best-funded teams. This isn’t the first time Ferrari has discussed entering IndyCar and they never pulled the trigger, so maybe I’m worried about nothing. Thoughts?
RM: I said I couldn’t imagine Ferrari coming when that story first surfaced, but Roger Penske evidently has made contact so maybe there’s a chance. Would they be allowed to build their own car and engine? I would think that might be their only interest, but can’t imagine The Captain letting the balance of competition get steamrolled by a Prancing Horse.
Q: Going a little stir crazy with the lack of social interaction. Was wondering if you had a book(s) you could recommend on the Indy 500 and/or Speedway. Hope you’re well. Love your work!
CART fan Brian
RM: Black Noon, Vukovich, Second to One, Beast, Hard Luck Lloyd, Tony Bettenhausen & Sons and The Official History of the Indianapolis 500. Coast181.com should have all of these except the history book, and that should be at IMS gift stores.