Q: Your Q&A about Lee Bentham being Ed Carpenter’s spotter triggered a question. Spotters – are they typically full-time team members in that they have other roles outside of spotting for the driver, or are they part-time and only work race weekends and possibly large preseason practice on ovals etc? Also, are most of them ex-drivers? (I know of a few big names like Rick Mears and Pancho Carter.) Anyway what’s the story about these relatively invisible roles that are crucial for ovals?
Chris, Colorado Springs, CO
RM: As the cockpits became more and more closed for safety reasons, the driver’s vision was greatly reduced other than his side mirrors so spotters became imperative at places like Texas. And they’re helpful at Indy as well with all the traffic, and guys like Helio and Ferrucci gave big props to Mears and Carter for their coaching, not just their spotting, at speed.
Q: Sprint Week is wrapping up and I’m curious to know your thoughts on something. Out of all the current USAC drivers, who are five guys who you think should get a shot at the 500? Sprints or midgets, and Larson doesn’t count! Also any insight on Kody Swanson’s Road to Indy test and what may be coming down the line?
Ben, Noblesville, IN
RM: Love to see Tyler Courtney, Justin Grant, Brady Bacon, Rico Abreu and Swanson get at least a test, and Chris Windom made it into Lights thanks to David Byrd but it looks like that project may be over. Swanson ran decent in the ARCA race at Iowa and I know Butch Meyers was trying to help him get going in the Road to Indy, but that was a while ago. I’d also want to take a serious look at Kaylee Bryson — she’s a rookie in USAC midgets and currently 11th in the standings, and I watched her muscle past three or four big names at Lawrenceburg a couple weeks ago. But it’s all about money and these kids are trying to make a living as best they can in USAC, so I think they all know IndyCar is a pipe dream.
Q: I didn’t know A.J. had won so many races in ’64 until years later. I didn’t really pay attention to the Indy 500 until probably 1970 or so, when I used to listen to available USAC races on the radio. I did know the champion had the No. 1 on their car in ’67 when Mario came to Indy with it. My model A.J. cars always had No. 1, so I just figured that was his number. The difference with A.J. winning 12 of 14 races and the Penske team winning so many races is glaring. I just think there needs to be a level field in budgets now. I doubt if A.J. had a bigger budget than any other major team back in 1964.
RM: I’m going to make this our last communication on this subject, because this is three or four weeks in a row, and I don’t think I’m getting through to you.
The Big Dog always wins over the course of time, be it IndyCar, NASCAR or F1 and even in USAC, although the driver can certainly make a difference. You aren’t going to get the rules any more even than they are right now in IndyCar, but it doesn’t matter because the most experienced and best-funded teams are going to dominate. Penske and Ganassi, with Andretti suddenly lagging behind. Sure there can be upsets, like Carlos Huertas at Houston or Jim Guthrie at Phoenix, and cool stories like Conor Daly winning the pole at Iowa for a one-car team, but in the long run the winners and champions are coming from Team Penske, Chip Ganassi, Mercedes, Ferrari, Joe Gibbs or Tony Stewart Racing. Everyone had an Offy in 1964, and A.J.’s secret weapon was his talent, brains and George Bignotti. Watch the old Langhorne videos, he was the man. But please, no more complaining about level playing fields – 20 cars within a second of each other at a four-mile road course is hard to fathom, let alone match anywhere else.
Q: I have a pretty simple question. I’m a third-generation fan but don’t know much about A.J. and Mario outside of the numbers and some stories from the old man (and his dad). What made the two of them so good? Thanks for doing this every week, and I want you to know that you’ve inspired me to go to the Workingman’s Friend next time I’m in town visiting family (or Allison and Cummins for work).
Will in Virginia (but with deep Hoosier roots)
RM: Foyt was strong (mentally and physically) and could manhandle rough dirt tracks and never slow down while his competition fell out of the seat. He was also smooth and clean and fast, and as smart about a chassis or engine as any good chief mechanic. He went from 130mph to 225mph in 35 years, so I’d say he was also pretty damn adaptable. Mario didn’t look strong enough to turn the wheel when he first showed up in USAC, but he possessed a natural talent and desire that was unparalleled. He was a little rougher than A.J. but smoothed out quite nicely, and was as comfortable on a mile dirt track as he was at Spa in an F1 car. They both hated second place, and that was part of their success. AP named them co-drivers of the 20th century, and that seems just about right.
Q: In your 7/29 Mailbag you fielded a question about purses at IMS and showed that photo of Emerson Fittipaldi when he became the first winner who was paid $1 million. I met him at the Monterey Historics in 2007 and he signed that photo in one of my books. However, the following conversation was interesting. He asked, “Do you know the story behind the photo?” I said, “Other than you were the first winner to get paid $1 million, no, I don’t.” He said, “The bank (Terre Haute Savings? I can’t remember) brought the money in an armored truck with several guards. But, they didn’t think $1 million looked like enough money as it was going to be spread around the car, so they actually brought $1.4 million or $1.5 million.” You know, you just can’t make this stuff up!
Don Hopings, Cathedral City, CA
RM: The story I heard was that it was $3 million in the photo, but regardless, what a cool story and what a great photo.