Q: Silly season talk seems to be picking up already, mostly about the Team Penske’s line-up (both IndyCar and IMSA) and Andretti with Hunter-Reay and Veach’s contracts expiring. Do you know if Dixon’s contract also expires this year? Could a stable McLaren program be more enticing to him whenever he does go back on the market? By the way, I’m rooting for R.P. to buy Iowa (presumably for a song). I’d like to see IndyCar take more control of its future schedule rather than wringing their hands waiting/hoping for a good promoter to give them a call.
RM: Power, RHR and Veach are the only drivers I know of at the end of their contracts, and I’m not sure if Pagenaud has an option year in 2021 or a contract. Dixie was offered a fortune to go with McLaren two years ago and turned it down, and I would think his last contract will keep him with Chip. IndyCar doesn’t need to be in the promoter/track owner business, but it’s a necessity in some instances.
Q: Saw a photo the other day of Emerson Fittipaldi the day after he won his first Indy 500 in 1989, standing in his winning car, and stacks of money piled on the car and on the ground around him. You probably remember the photo. The purse at Indy used to be a big deal. When Len Sutton finished second in 1962, I remember him commenting that he was set for life. Sadly, the purse has stagnated over the years, mostly due to the Leaders Circle program. With the perceived stature and long history of the event, it’s now an embarrassment. Nice to see R.P. kick in a couple of million to increase the purse to $15 million. But a lot more is needed.
Indy is the premier event of the series and draws the most eyes. It’s the best opportunity to attract fans and sponsors. As you have written before, when the purse was flush, it brought in a whole lot of drivers and owners and sponsors and manufacturers who wanted to chase the money. So, what if the 500 purse was ‘silly’ rich? Double it to $30 million – at least. And $5 million to the winner.
Title sponsor(s) are needed, sure, but R.P. has a whole lot of business connections. And let’s face it, isn’t it ridiculous that the payout for a driver finishing far down in the field doesn’t even cover the tire bill for the month. It’s the Indy 500!
Of course this is all hypothetical. But don’t you think significantly increasing the purse would be a great way to elevate the stature of the race even more, help the series overall, and bring some new blood on several levels into the sport? Love that R.P. has spent some money and given the Speedway some long overdue TLC. But I think that one of his next priorities should be increasing that paltry 500 purse. I see a whole lot of potential benefits and growth with a big pot of money to chase. Your thoughts?
RM: Here’s what we have to remember. The Indy 500 purse in the 1960s was a huge payday compared to baseball, basketball and football salaries or golf tourneys. An Indy driver could make more in one day than a lot of those guys did a year, and Sutton wasn’t exaggerating. But I wrote a column in 1978 calling out IMS for its pathetic purse and it did get better during the next 25 years, but it’s been stagnant for a decade while all the other major sports have skyrocketed in salaries and purses. And the fact IndyCar’s purses are embarrassing certainly adds to the difficulty in making ends meet for a car owner. I hope R.P. can find a $5 million title sponsor and throw it all into the purse, because Indy needs to pay at least $500,000 to start, and the larger the purse the more chance to entice one-offs from sports cars or maybe NASCAR.
Q: I have been watching IndyCar ever since I moved to the U.S. in 2009, but finally get to cheer for my countryman Rinus Veekay and couldn’t be more excited! It’s incredibly difficult to rate rookies based on the difference in age, and team they drive for. We’ve seen Askew on the podium and Palou on the podium, which are great results! For Veekay, the only tangible benchmark we have is that he’s consistently beating his teammates (on race day). Had a great result in Indy and could have been on the podium in Iowa, but there isn’t as much talk about him as with the other rookies. Considering he’s only 19, how would you rate his season so far, and where do you see his potential?
RM: I think there’s been plenty of talk about him and his potential, but he and the rest of IndyCar’s kiddie corps don’t drive like newbies. His pass in the Carousel at Road America is the highlight of the season so far, and he raced good at Indy and Iowa as well. Bright future ahead.
Q: I know the Arrow McLaren car runs McLaren colors, but I have yet to see any McLaren name on the car. Is there some reason for this?
Doug, Stafford, VA
RM: Not to my knowledge. Let’s just say Arrow is the big dog on that team, but McLaren wags its tail.
Q: I have not read or maybe missed it, but will IMS have allow fans to attend this year’s qualifying Aug 15-16?
RM: Yep. Fans will be welcome for practice, qualifying and Carb Day, and grandstands will be open in a variety of places. All corners except Turn 3, Tower Terrace, Pit Road Terrace, areas for Paddock and Paddock Penthouses for time trials.