Robin Miller's Mailbag for August 12, presented by Honda Racing / HPD

Illustration by Paul Laguette

Robin Miller's Mailbag for August 12, presented by Honda Racing / HPD

Insights & Analysis

Robin Miller's Mailbag for August 12, presented by Honda Racing / HPD


Q: Due to everything being closed up, I have plenty of time to watch old Indy 500 newsreels and read old editions of the Indianapolis Star. What really stands out when reading editions (at least in the 1950s) was the constant mention of prize money, including laps led prize money. In the Bill Vukovich 1954 Indy-winning car won $74,934.84, which appears to include lap led prize money of $150 per lap. There is a mention in one news article that Vukovich in 1954 raced only one race that year, the 500, due to his winning the 1953 race. There are several mentions that Vukovich was a pay driver. Back in that era, what did drivers receive as part of the prize money? Is there even lap led prize money anymore?

Paul V.

RM: Drivers’ percentage was all over the map in the ’50s and ’60s, some got 50 percent, some 40 and some less depending on their status. But Parnelli still talks about all the lap prize money he earned in the early ’60s because that was a lot of money back then. As for now, here’s Doug Boles: “Last year was $775/lap to lead. Simon Pagenaud got $89,900 in lap prize awards. We have been working each year to drive the overall number up. Our goal this year was to be at $1,000 a lap, but I’m not sure where it will be this year yet.”

Q: I’ve mentioned USAC sprint cars coming to Toledo Speedway back in the day. Somewhere in the 1970s I recall an Offy-powered sprint car driven by Bentley Warren. It was either white or pearl white. I think it carried No. 18 in gold leaf. Warren made it to the feature, but crashed while avoiding an accident on the front straight. Toledo has a figure-8 course in the infield, but in those days it was lined with curbing. Warren hit it sideways and did one barrel roll and landed back on its wheels, but he broke his ankle. Anyway, I’m guessing that this was one of the last Offy-powered sprint cars to run in USAC, if not the actual last. The significance for me is that it is the only Offenhauser that I’ve seen run except for a few in vintage events. Does this bring up any memories for you? I’ve done some searching, but with no results so far.

Don Hopings, Cathedral City, CA

RM: I wasn’t there but Bones Bourcier’s book Wicked Fast details the accident. It was 1971 and Bentley broke both legs, both feet and spent three months in the hospital.

Leading 90 laps en route to victory contributed to a stout payday for Bill Vukovich in 1954. IMS

Q: This past weekend, I was at the FR Americas event at Barber Motorsports Park. I’ve been there several times for the IndyCar races, but this was my first visit for a non-IndyCar event.

Honestly, I was surprised by the level of participation I saw in both F4 and FR Americas; 28 cars for F4 and 13 for FR. Not bad, especially considering that these series have only been around since 2018. I immediately compared that to the Road to Indy, and I found that Indy Lights had only 10 announced entries for 2020 before the season was cancelled, while Indy Pro 2000 has been soldiering along with 17. That got me thinking. Is it wise for there to be two competing open-wheel ladder systems in North America given the current economic climate and state of motorsports? Let’s be honest, prospective owners weren’t exactly jumping over one another to get into motorsports before COVID-19; I can’t imagine that is going to change anytime soon.

Therefore, would it be wise for the SCCA and IndyCar to join forces here and create a single, unified North American open-wheel ladder system? It could provide a stable, sustainable platform for up-and-coming drivers and teams, while affording them more career options by not necessarily forcing them to choose between F1 or IndyCar early on.

Now, I know it’s not as simple as I’m making out. There would be numerous technical, regulatory, and competitive hurdles to overcame before anything like this could come to fruition. But I want to see open-wheel racing in North America survive and prosper, and I know that the Split almost killed it entirely. Rather than directly competing with one another, I think it would be best for all involved if North America’s open-wheel series to worked together whenever possible.

Garrick, Huntsville, AL

RM: I’m all for simplifying the ladder system if possible and I’m confused about all the different formulas myself, but there doesn’t seem to be much interest in anything like a universal formula at the moment. But after 2020 it may become a necessity.

Q: Back in February, Marshall Pruett reported that the boost pressure limit would be increased from the 2019 levels for Indy 500 qualifying. Does IndyCar still plan to move forward with this plan? Is there an anticipated increase of qualifying speeds from the previous five years or will it even out due to the drop in performance from the aeroscreens?


Taylor, Valencia, CA

RM: “Yes, through 2019, IndyCar let teams use 140 millibar (20.3psi) of boost in qualifying for the Indy 500 to post more impressive average speeds. For 2020, teams will have 150mb (21.7psi) in qualifying, and the change is strictly to compensate for the added weight of the aeroscreen (58 pounds). More weight slows a car, so with the extra boost, the goal is to prevent a loss in qualifying speed.” – Marshall Pruett

MX-5 Cup | Round 12 – VIR