Welcome to the Robin Miller Mailbag presented by Honda Racing / HPD. You can follow the Santa Clarita, California-based company at: hpd.honda.com and on social media at @HondaRacing_HPD and https://www.facebook.com/HondaRacingHPD.
Questions for Robin can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org. Due to the high volume of questions received, we can’t always guarantee that your letter will be printed, but Robin will get to as many as he can. Published questions have been edited for clarity. Views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of RACER or Honda/HPD.
Q: Back in March, I wrote that as a person for whom the Indy 500 is the high spot of my year, I had nonetheless come to be accepting of its cancellation for 2020 if that became necessary. You responded, “Why would you think it’s going to be cancelled?” I didn’t say that I thought it was going to be cancelled, but I did think that cancellation was a very real possibility as the pandemic took hold.
Since that time, we have seen the 500 moved to August, crowd capacity cut to 50 percent, then to 25 percent, and then to zero. The purse has been halved. With the race just days away, there is legitimate concern about having a full field of 33. I now say, although far too late, that this horse should have been shot. Cancellation for 2020, and coming back for 2021 with the May traditions intact, with fans in the stands, with a full purse and with a full field, would have been the better option.
Bob in NJ
RM: Just read what Bobby Rahal had to say in my Monday column about sponsorships and what cancellation would have meant. Not having Indy cripples IndyCar. And there are 33 cars.
Q: I would not have been surprised if they had cancelled the Indy 500. We are going through a global crisis with this pandemic. We went through a world crisis in World War I and World War II. They cancelled the races through the war years. This pandemic is not the Speedway’s fault. But what I don’t understand is running the 500 without fans? What’s the point? TV ratings? Sponsorship contracts? What? I think running races without fans is absurd. Sorry, but I’m a little put off about it. The coronavirus is not the Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s fault, but if you can’t have people there safely then cancel it.
RM: It’s painful to think about Indy and no fans, but what’s more painful is to think about no IndyCar series and losing teams if Indy isn’t run this month. As Bobby Rahal said, it would have required teams to give back a lot of money so yes, it’s about trying to keep sponsors placated because nobody can afford to lose one right now.
Q: I need to shout because of what the Indy Star is writing about the 500. Roger Penske probably did the right thing on the no fan decision, but the Star has attacked the 500 again and again for even trying to open, and then said this: “People are dying from the coronavirus, but at least the 2020 Indianapolis 500 won’t be the thing that killed them” – Gregg Doyel. Really! Of all the things to say about such a great organization and the cornerstone of Indy (the city). Everyone from the past owners and now owner R.P., has done everything they could to make it happen, but the Star has pounded and pounded them like they were criminals. I just don’t get it. The 500 is everything to Indianapolis. I have been going to the race since high school in 1971, and I missed in 2004 because I was in Iraq. I served for my country, but not for this rhetoric.
Michael Yarber, Smyrna, TN
RM: Thankfully I quit taking The Star a couple years ago because it’s not the Indianapolis paper anymore – it’s a melting pot of opinions from people with no connection to or passion for the city. I was critical of IMS at times during my 33 years at The Star but I knew what it meant to the city and what it did for the overall economic development and profile. Roger Penske did everything he was asked to try and pull it off and deserves praise, but instead got cheap shots.
Q: If you can hazard a guess on revenue lost at this point between limited crowds, no crowds and cancellations, what do you figure it would be? The Indy 500 is a good example of a race that would make wheelbarrows of money, especially at 300,000 paying customers on Sunday.
Matthew, Jackson, Ohio
RM: If you are conservative and take $100 per ticket times 200,000 seats, that’s $20 million with leasing a suite or selling a hot dog, a beer or a program. I think it was a $30 million hit for The Captain.
Q: Do you see a scenario where Roger Penske throws in the towel on the 2020 IndyCar Season after the 500 is run? Gateway looks iffy with potential restrictions due to COVID-19, with no races until October after that. It’s like boxing, where you have a great champion in Penske, but on this particular night your opponent has your number. Should you allow yourself to continue to get battered relentlessly, or throw the towel in so you can survive and fight another day? That’s what COVID-19 is doing is doing to IndyCar.
Nobody really wants to see two more IMS road course races because that track provides some pretty dull racing, and we’ve already been there earlier in the season. When it comes to St. Pete, that race depends on Green-Savoree’s situation and where COVID-19 sits with Florida come October. I really can’t see them constructing a track again and promoting it, and hitting even more unforeseen and expensive issues. I know Penske has to hit the magic number 14 for races because of NTT Data and team’s sponsors and other contractual commitments, but it’s looking more and more that it’s an extremely tall order.
Geoff Roberts, Unionville
RM: Not at all. I see him doing whatever it takes to get to 14 races and trying to keep IndyCar relevant in its roughest season ever. The Captain is a racer, a fighter and a force of nature, and has already shown us he’s in it for the long haul.