Q: Roger Penske is my hero and has been for years. However, I am somewhat concerned that IndyCar is now a benevolent dictatorship. Any other form or ownership of IndyCar would surely have burned and crashed in 2020 and hundreds of people would be out of jobs. My hero’s passion is 110%, but realistically he is 83 years old. Do you know how Penske’s ownership of IMS and the IndyCar series is set up for long-term success? I assume some of his kids are involved, but is there a corporate mission statement, board of directors etc., or is it just Roger and his keen interest and checkbook?
Jim Cox, Rock Island, IL
RM: With his attention to detail I’m sure R.P. has a plan in place for IMS, IndyCar and Team Penske, but I can’t imagine anyone having the same passion and commitment after he’s gone. We’re all hoping he’s around for at least another decade because IndyCar’s survival likely depends on it.
Q: The 2021 IndyCar 17-race schedule has been out for a few weeks, and the Mailbag has seen its share of complaints about the lack of ovals and the exclusion of races at places that must not be named in the Mailbag. Do I miss the CART days of the seven ovals/seven road courses/seven temporary circuits? Of course, but as you often point out, those days are gone. Ten years ago, I didn’t think that an IndyCar series would exist in 2021, so kudos to the folks in charge. My concern centers on the fact that there are only 13 venues. NASCAR works because it directly controls about half of its tracks, and with a few notable exceptions, Speedway Motorsports LLC controls the other half. It has a pretty strong grasp on its future. Can the current model of venue/promoter/sanctioning body continue to work for IndyCar in the future? If you don’t control (own) your tracks, will you have places to race?
Want an example? California has declared war on the internal combustion engine. How long will it be before California’s politicians pressure Long Beach to dump IndyCar for Formula E, thus conforming to the state’s vision of transportation in the future? That’s going to happen at some point. I hope we have a series to complain about 10 years from now.
Bill Carsey, North Olmsted, OH
RM: I think IndyCar has already had to change the template for getting or renewing partnerships with tracks. The days of the $1-2 million sanction fees are likely over, and that could immediately make IndyCar more attractive to potential promoters. Oval tracks are either going to sit empty or be torn down (NASCAR is facing both) so there are no guarantees just because you own the playing field. It’s a slippery slope for all motorsports sanctioning bodies and tracks right now, and working together is almost paramount to survival. I just hope I’m dead when they run Long Beach with electric engines.
Q: NASCAR merged with International Speedway Corp, the France’s company that owned all of their tracks. NASCAR now owns outright the tracks that are responsible for half of its schedule. It makes sense; they get to keep the TV money, the gate, the track signage… everything. Of course, they know how to promote an event and fill up the stands, too. (At least as much as they can in today’s environment.) This also gives them security in the schedule, because they control all aspects of it.
Has The Captain considered following the same path? He owns and promotes Indy, and in the past has owned California, Michigan, and Nazareth, so he should know the ins and outs. If IndyCar learned how to be a successful promoter, this would give it all of the revenue available during an event, and absolute control over its schedule. You said in the last Mailbag that IndyCar can’t rent the Gateway staff to run other events. Maybe not rent, but it could hire them full-time. Penske knows it’s all about people. If IndyCar could create an effective promoter office, it could get the most out of any race it ran by owning the track and running the event, and offer more possibilities to advertisers over the parts of the schedule that it controls. So, any chance of vertical integration in IndyCar?
Rob, Ringwood, NJ
RM: I used to argue with USAC that it needed to be more involved in promotion but the powers never agreed, and this year IndyCar had to be its own promoter at Iowa plus help out at IMS, Road America and Mid-Ohio with doubleheaders, and give Texas a sweetheart deal. Roger Penske doesn’t want to own any track except IMS, but I do like your idea of renting out Chris Blair and his staff at Gateway or forming a promotional arm of IndyCar, because too often when we go into a city nobody has a clue what IndyCar is or that there’s a race.
Q: We all know fans want old tracks to make a comeback, and I totally get it from a business standpoint. Tracks went away for a reason, and that was that there were not enough butts in the seats. Knowing how much of an impact Roger Penske has on the sport, do you think he has any pull left in him to get something going for The Milwaukee Mile or Burke Lakefront Airport? I know there is currently no sponsor or promoter out there, but we all know Roger’s pull.
Jason, Chicago, IL
RM: He promoted Cleveland at one time so I would imagine he’d consider it if the city was interested, but Milwaukee just seems littered with political potholes so I imagine Kentucky has a better chance.
Q: Assuming COVID hangs on through out the winter and into spring, how soon will IMS need to make a decision about moving the 500 to another weekend? Are there back-up weekends already penciled in on the 2021 calendar? Also, a sincere thank you to everyone at IMS and IndyCar for pulling off a miracle of a race season in 2020. I am truly grateful for every minute of IndyCar I got to see this year.
Fred Alig, Ashland, OR
RM: If I knew the answer to those questions Fred, I wouldn’t be a 30 percent picker in pro football. Hell, I’ve got no idea, and neither does anyone else right now. We’re seven months away from May, so ask me again in February.