Q: About two years ago there was an up and coming hotshoe. I think his name was Enerson. Whatever happened to him? He has dropped off the radar.
RM: R.C. Enerson drove a few Lights races and then jumped into an IndyCar at Mid-Ohio and Watkins Glen in 2016, and turned a bunch of heads with his speed. But he didn’t have funding for a full program so he tried sports cars until a one-off IndyCar appearance in 2019. He was the driver mentioned for the on again, off again Top Gun Racing team and drove their “car” in the iRacing Indy 500 this spring. Haven’t heard his name lately.
Q: “… why would any of the big teams want a 34-year-old driver that has never won a race and is squeamish about ovals?” That was your response to a question last week, and my response is that the reigning series championship team owner just hired a 45-year-old driver who has never driven an open-wheel car in competition and currently refuses to drive ovals. Why? Is his presence at Mid-Ohio going to sell more tickets? Or get an additional 100K viewers on NBC? Or even sell $5K of Johnson merch? It’s an intriguing and inspired hire, for sure. But I don’t know if Ganassi or the series gets rich off of this deal, especially without the 500 as part of the package. The same way I don’t think anyone would get rich off of hiring Romain Grosjean, who to be fair, I’m not even a fan of. Your question in the Mailbag was probably rhetorical and if so, I apologize for wasting your time. This was just my thought when I read your response.
RM: No, it’s a very fair question and good observation. Johnson will garner a lot of media at first, and the key will be for him to be competitive at some point because it’s going to be tough sledding. I wish he were driving the ovals because he would stand a much better chance of being competitive, but I do think he will run the Indy 500 next May. He can draw more fans and interest, but not if he’s running 22nd every weekend.
Q: Three ovals on the 2021 IndyCar season is not enough, but I believe it will not get any worse than that. I think it is safe to say that the Indy 500 will not go away unless Indiana gets hit by an asteroid. Texas has been a part of the IndyCar schedule since the earliest IRL days, and looks like it’s here to stay. Gateway is the most vulnerable of the three because it’s a fairly new re-addition to the calendar, but the promoters have been doing a stellar job, and the racing is good as well, so I’d call it a success. Therefore, I believe IndyCar will not lose any oval races in the near future. It would be interesting to know your thoughts on this subject.
RM: I imagine as long as Eddie Gossage can get title sponsorship and a reasonable sanction fee, IndyCar will continue at Texas. And as long as Bommarito Automotive Group backs Curtis Francois at WWTR and he gets treated fairly by IndyCar, it will get better and better.
Q: First, what do you think the chances are of the 2021 Indy 500 running on Memorial Day weekend with full attendance? Given the renewed global lockdowns, it feels like the world is stuck in a holding pattern. And while Indy is still seven months away, I have to believe that IndyCar management is already discussing contingency plans. What have you heard?
Second, what’s the possibility doubleheader race weekends will become more commonplace, even after COVID-19 subsides? I ask because we camped at Road America for the IndyCar event, and having two races really made the weekend worthwhile, even after factoring in the lack of support races and paddock access. I wouldn’t think Road America would struggle to sell tickets for both Saturday and Sunday, so it seems like a win-win for both the facility and fans.
Ben Malec, Buffalo Grove, IL
RM: Got no idea on your first question — we’re six months away and there’s all this talk of a vaccine so I don’t know how anyone can make a prediction yet. I’m sure R.P. has backup plans in place. As for doubleheaders, Texas is hosting a twin bill next year but I think most promoters like to focus on one main event because it’s pretty pricey. Doubleheaders became a necessity in 2020 and they were a hit with the fans, and if 2021 has the same restraints as 2020, I believe Road America, Gateway and Mid-Ohio would step up again.
Q: Can you please let me know just why does NASCAR get better ratings than IndyCar except for the Indy 500? I watch every IndyCar race on TV and then might try — ‘try’ being the key word — to watch a NASCAR race, and it is almost impossible. A good example would be a “normal Memorial Day weekend. I watch the Greatest Spectacle In Racing and then try to watch that six-hour marathon from Charlotte, and by about the fourth or fifth yawn I can’t take it any longer. So please Robin, fill me in on why NASCAR gets better ratings?
Don, Grand Rapids
RM: I guess the only explanation is that after NASCAR blew past open-wheel racing during The Split and posted incredible ratings, a lot of those stock car fans have stuck around. Granted, the numbers are much lower than they were in the 2000s, but they still swamp IndyCar and do quite nicely up against a daily baseball or basketball game. NASCAR has tried every gimmick known to man to make things more interesting, but the races are still way too long for a lot of people — and obviously just right for the three or four million that tune in each weekend.