Q: More of a personal question than an IndyCar one: have you seen a Grand Prix? I mean a real one, not the things calling themselves ‘The Grand Prix of Cleveland’ or some such. And if so, did you attend as a mere fan in the grandstand, or with full media access? What were your impressions, comparing F1 to IndyCar? I’m a fan of both disciplines, and while I see the level higher (talent, engineering, glamour) in F1, I’ve always been more entertained attending IndyCar races.
A. Jenkins, Mono, Ontario
RM: I went to the U.S. Grand Prix as a fan with Johnny Parsons and Dana Carter after the USAC dirt race at Syracuse was rained out, and I covered it for The Indianapolis Star a couple of times. I always loved The Glen and the sound of an F1 engine screaming up the hill, but I didn’t know anyone so it was fun but a different perspective. Especially down by The Bog.
Q: Enjoyed your Tough Guy series. What was the issue with USAC that led to the formation of CART? And can you do a video on it? I know my dad didn’t really care for USAC because of how they handled things at times. USAC always gave the feeling they were God and did not respect the fact that without race car owners, drivers, cars and fans, they were absolutely nothing. NASCAR kind of has the same feel today.
RM: Basically it was USAC’s overall arrogance and refusal to grow the series, and share information or be honest with the competitors. Everything Dan Gurney said in his White Paper was true, and USAC deserved to lose IndyCar and, eventually, the Indy 500. Not sure I could do a short video on this, but maybe 10 minutes.
Q: A friend of mine is looking for a book or website or DVD about the definitive history of sprint cars. Any suggestions I can offer him? FYI – the R.P. haters and 2021 schedule dissidents that seem compelled to use the Mailbag to vent are getting a little old. Thanks for calling them out. Great to hear your voice from IMS last weekend.
RM: Buy the books Full Tilt by John Mahoney, Lone Wolf by Dave Argabright, Fearless by Gene Crucean and Modern Thunder by Pat Sullivan, Mahoney and Argabright. Go to Coastal181.com and they have them all, but Modern Thunder is the history of USAC sprinters, and probably the most detailed.
Q: I was hoarse for a day after screaming during the Harvest GP race on Friday. I told my race-watching buddies that race was better than all the F1 races I have ever watched combined. It was fantastic from start to finish. Had a thought though while watching, with the camera from the air showing IMS, and the news in my head from NASCAR saying that they are going to turn Bristol into a dirt track for a race. We have a dirt track inside the Speedway. We should be racing on it.
I know: money, money, money. The owners in IndyCar spend more on lunch every year than what it would cost to add a couple midget cars to their fleet. It would be a total blast to see IndyCar drivers racing on that dirt track at the Speedway, for series points. It adds an oval to the schedule, and everybody is bitching about not enough ovals on the recently released schedule. Instead of quick excuses, serious thought needs to be given, excuses overcome, and a race happens. IndyCar absolutely needs a dirt race, for the sake of heritage if nothing else. Is it at all possible?
RM: No car owner (besides Ed Carpenter) would let their driver run a midget or sprinter unless it was some kind of staged exhibition among IndyCar drivers (which I tried but failed to put together a couple years ago prior to the inaugural BC39). Conor Daly, Santino Ferrucci and James Davison all ran the Chili Bowl this year, but that’s as close to a dirt race as you’re going to get.
Q: Even at the time of the 1971 Questor Grand Prix at Ontario Motor Speedway, some knew that the contest of F1 cars against F5000 cars would be a gross mismatch. The race results bore that out, pathetically. It could’ve been predicted easily by comparing lap times at European tracks used by both classes. F5000-mounted USAC Indy drivers were set up to fail. It was almost as farcical as the Race of Two Worlds in the ’50s.
I say the organizers of the race should’ve instead had the USAC drivers enter in their Champ Cars. The F1 cars’ agility, braking and cornering performance would’ve had them running circles around the Champ Cars in the infield road course. But the latter, running turbo Offys and Fords, would’ve rocketed away on the long straightaway. Imagine the Johnny Lightning 500 Special battling the Ferrari 312B! I seem to remember that later Bobby Unser in his Eagle-Offy drove away from Mario’s matchless F5000 Lola-Chevy at an SCCA-USAC race at Riverside, lending credence to my belief that F1 and Champ Car would perform similarly. Do you agree that Champ Car vs. F1 might’ve produced much better competition at OMS? (My guess is that too many egos on both sides wouldn’t be risked).
Anthony Valdettaro, Indianapolis (formerly Boston)
RM: Nobody was surprised F5000 cars got destroyed by F1 cars (why do you think A.J. clutched that box he was driving?) and I imagine the Indy cars would have fared better but still been no match for F1 cars on that twisting Ontario layout.
Q: I attended the Harvest Grand Prix for the second race. It was great to see the cars and hear the engines after missing the 500 and a trip to Barber. I was very impressed how Mr. Penske has cleaned up the IMS. I entered the front gate and right away I was impressed by the presentation of the grounds. Everything was neat and clean. Fresh paint and updated graphics gave it a very welcoming feeling. The screening of the eating areas, picnic tables, large screens to see on-track action while in the courtyard… the whole place reminded me of Barber Motor Sport Park. While sitting in the lower area of the paddock seats, I looked up to see that the roof was clear of birds nest and dirt. Attention to detail, just like you see in Team Penske cars and trucks. Thank you, Mr. Penske, for taking over the Speedway, it could not be in better hands. IndyCar has a bright future now thanks to Roger.
Tom Gish, Louisville, KY
RM: Thanks, Tom, for ending The Mailbag on a positive note.