Q: I remember in a Mailbag question you answered over a week ago that you mentioned the IZOD Challenge at LVMS, and the drivers that were offered a chance to compete. Given the unfortunate result of what happened to Dan Wheldon, has there ever been any regret from Randy Bernard? You know, from agreeing to hold a sponsor challenge such as that, knowing that perhaps Dan might still be with us today if it wasn’t for a start last, make your way up, and win millions for you/a lucky fan type of challenge?
Kevin, North Carolina
RM: Randy was devastated after Vegas and blamed himself for a while until enough people convinced him that Dan was a racer and going for that big money was part of his makeup. In hindsight, some drivers were concerned about all those cars on such a fast, tight track, and if anything it might have been a better idea at Fontana. But Randy was trying to raise awareness and get IndyCar some national attention with a one-of-a-kind payday, so I don’t think Wheldon had any problem with it.
Q: I’m a longtime reader, first time writer. I grew up following road racing in the ’60s and ’70s and was a huge fan of both Roger Penske and Jim Hall. I think many people today only know about their achievements as innovators and team managers, not so much about how outstanding both were as drivers. I even got to see both drive Chaparrals at The Glen when Roger was subbing for an injured Hap Sharp.
We all know how Roger is doing these days, but I haven’t seen anything about Jim in several years. Do you know how he is doing? Every year I couldn’t wait to see what wild new innovations the latest Chaparral would spring on the racing world. Jim is one of the all-time racing greats.
Jim Pettengill, Ridgway, CO
RM: He looked good a few years ago at the RRDC in Long Beach when he was honored, but I don’t think he goes to many races. He was a damn good road racer with a fertile mind and much like R.P. – usually one step ahead of everyone else be it sports cars or Indy cars. He finished fifth in the German Grand Prix, won Sebring and flirted with the idea of running at Indy in one of his early Chaparral Can-Am cars. But winning the Triple Crown in 1978 with Al Unser and Indy in 1980 with Johnny Rutherford left his mark in open wheel.
Q: If I were a betting man like you I’d still put my money on a Kimi comeback strategy since other current F1 seat opportunities are limited, but… Vettel? IndyCar? Heard any scuttlebutt or wild rumors? He needs a change of scenery. What say you?
Scott B., Gainesville, FL
RM: I say for somebody used to making $15-20 million a year that I’ve got a better shot at driving for Chip Ganassi than Vettel does of coming to IndyCar. I don’t think he’s the least bit interested – especially in ovals.
Q: I am reading a very enjoyable little book called “The Art of Racing in the Rain” by Garth Stein. It is essentially the story of a relationship between a man-who is a race driver-and his dog who is named Enzo. Enzo’s master is a race driving instructor in Italy for Ferrari. At one point in the book Enzo talks about how driving on a dry straightaway should involve slow hands. He goes on to say that driving in the rain and/or marbles would require fast hands. Among today’s drivers, who would you say has the best fast hands? My picks would be Scott Dixon and Sebastian Bourdais.
Ron Ford, Muskego, WI
RM: Juan Pablo Montoya gets my vote. He should have crashed every other lap at Gateway back in 1999, but never hit the fence because his car control and quick hands were incredible. After the race I remember his engineer, Morris Nunn, shaking his head and saying he’d never seen anything like that in all his years of F1 and IndyCar.
Q: What was the reason Zanardi struggled so much the year he came back to CART? Was it the new team or him? On Instagram I always see the drivers workout and fitness routines. In the ’90s they had faster cars but I don’t remember fitness being a big thing. Was it and people just didn’t talk about it, or is that newer?
RM: It was Mo Nunn’s team and they weren’t new, but they weren’t the powerhouse of Ganassi, and don’t forget that Zanardi had a nice advantage with Honda and Firestone from 1996-98. He also drove hard and that Reynard fit his style, and it was a great combination. The G-forces and downforce today are so extreme compared to 25 years ago that a driver has to be in top shape. And now with this closed cockpit and limited air circulating, it’s more crucial than ever.
Q: Thanks for the much-needed challenge to cancel the whine club as Roger Penske works wonders at high speed to upgrade IndyCar and IMS. Since fans do help pay some of the bills, I suppose it is inevitable that some whiners just can’t see the reality of real-world challenges, but I hope we can see a muted group of malcontents as we count down to the 2020 Indy 500. I’ve heard a rumor that we may see more historic Indy cars on track in years ahead, albeit not necessarily at IMS. Have you heard any such news? After years attending and serving as a mechanic at the Rolex Monterey Historics at Laguna Seca, I’d love for a wider audience to see the vintage Indy roadsters run on tracks they belong on.
Where do you stand on modern accurate recreations of historic engines? With advances and spread in CNC technology, many rare vintage European engines and bits and pieces are now in use in vintage racing. If there was a modern production Offy engine to power vintage racers, would we see a field of roadsters on track?
Rick Wilson, California
RM: All I know is that Mike Lashnet’s Vintage Indy Group is running Road America and Gateway and they’re usually at Milwaukee and Pocono, so they pretty much go wherever they’re asked. The late, great John Martin was still building Offys before his death and somehow he got parts, so I’m not sure if it was CNC technology or old pieces, but it still sounded great when he fired them up. He would bring his iPad to Charlie Brown’s for lunch and turn up the volume, which always made Pancho, Kunzman, J.P. and Vuky happy.