Q: Loved your answer about them in last week’s Mailbag about A.J. and Mario. I was fortune enough to have seen them many times back in the day, but A.J. on the Indiana State Fairgrounds Mile was like watching Picasso at work. When he would throw the car sideways (stocker or dirt car) halfway down the straight and then drag the front screen on the inside fence in the corner to knock the dirt off, was a sight to behold. That was car control even JPM would be impressed with! Thanks for all you do.
John T. Feeser, Wilmington, NC
RM: Watching A.J. or Rodger Ward on a mile dirt track was a thing of beauty, and Mario and Al Unser were also quite a sight. And of course it was that diversity that grew the fan base and made the 1960s-70s so badass. The Century 100 stock car race with Foyt, Jones, McCluskey, the Unsers, Hurtubise, Don White and Norm Nelson also showed the art of sliding a big stocker sideways on the dirt.
Q: OK, it seems none of us like double points unless it is for the 500. But how about scoring Indy 500 qualifying as a race?
Dan, Lima, OH
RM: I hate that idea more than double points.
Q: I am sure you are being bombarded with commentary on no fans being allowed. It breaks my heart as well, as this was to be my 49th straight year of attending. But my question has to do with Indy car memorabilia. You mentioned in a recent Mailbag that not having the show saved you $500 and I can certainly relate. I see you there shopping every year. So my question is, what is your most treasured piece of 500 history? Mine is an original milk bottle from Victory Lane from Johnny Rutherford. The late Jack McKenzie was a dealer who also used to be in charge of delivering the Borg Warner Trophy to Victory Lane – he is in the Victory Lane photos for years holding the trophy. For years, the winner would just hand him the used milk bottles, and he would keep them to sell later. A man ahead of his time as far as collecting souvenirs go.
Michael Blades, Key West, FL
RM: I’ve got a great photo of Dan Gurney and Jim Clark after The Big Eagle ran out of fuel while leading Spa, and he signed it: “Woulda, coulda, shoulda” and it’s such a great shot of two of the best in such a memorable moment. And my Art Pollard trophy from one of his first modified victories is treasured, along with an old Firestone hat that Herk (Jim Hurtubise) gave me and Billy Foster signed.
Q: I began reading you in the Indy Star when I was 11 years old in 1968. Been reading your stuff ever since. Love ’em or hate ’em, every article you write obviously comes from your heart. I know it has to be tough on you not to be at the races. Are you planning on being at the Speedway? If you don’t want to because of your health, how about a daily blog from home? It wouldn’t be Indy without you, but I don’t want you to put your health at risk. You are too valuable to your readers and R.P. for being the person that tells it like it is. If you do go trackside, how about an article or package on R.P.’s improvements in your opinion, and with plenty of photos?
RM: It doesn’t look like we’ll be allowed in Gasoline Alley or the pits, so unless I get to help out a little in the booth for practice like I did last year, I’ll just stay home, watch practice on NBC Gold and cover it from my computer. Same for qualifying, and then Marshall, Mark and I will combine for some stories as the week goes on and trade off covering the action. I’ll probably go to the track to do an interview for NBC with A.J. the week of the race and then show up on race day for my 62nd-straight Indy 500. Thanks for your kind words.
Q: Didn’t know who to ask, so it’s fallen on you (again). Will the Star print qualifying speed charts in the paper or provide one online for fans to follow along? Will there be a race day driver’s lineup section in the paper? I’m way the hell out here in Oregon and always come home for the race. I count on the Indy Star providing those 500 inserts every year and am hoping they will or at least have them on line. Especially the timing chart.
RM: I don’t take The Star anymore but I don’t believe they do the 11 rows of three like we did for seven decades, and I’m sure there’s no timing chart but I do think there will be a line-up on race day.
Q: I’ve noticed the TV numbers continue to be not what we’d all hoped for. Given that there has been very little competition for sports viewing, there is nowhere to hide. My hope is that the powers that be will realize that the people who watch and attend events are going to no matter what, and those that don’t, same reason. It’s time to stop being so insecure about the product and craft a proper schedule. A proper schedule in my mind would be mid-March to mid-October – Columbus Day at least.
No, ‘Oh, we can’t have Iowa or Mid-Ohio in September because of college football.’ I think both of these events would be significantly better off from a weather standpoint. It’s usually a billion degrees at Mid-Ohio. And yes, Iowa usually gets in, but the chance of thunderstorms in the high humidity days of mid-summer always thwarts my plans on going.
I’m very aware Mr. Penske and crew have their hands completely full with the pandemic and support their efforts 100%, including running the 500 without fans. If those races can’t be moved for my whims or for other more practical reasons, I hope new races can be added past Labor Day. I think three or four would be great. Do you know if there’s any appetite from any corner of the sport to extend the season beyond its current ridiculous one-race-past-Labor Day iteration? Obviously next year is not possible, but maybe for 2022?
Eric Z, Lancaster, NY
RM: I think R.P. will examine the schedule closely and not necessarily follow the recommendations of the past. But obviously the schedule is a compromise between tracks, television and IndyCar, so it’s not always easy to move things.