Q: In a perfect world F1 and IndyCar should have the best available drivers, but as you know, we have pay drivers. Is it better to have fewer teams in these series with the best drivers, or full fields with pay drivers?
RM: IndyCar has weeded out the Milka Dunos, of the world and most of the guys who bring money today are also very competent like Marcus Ericsson or Alex Palou or Rinus Veekay. IndyCar is pretty healthy in terms of good teams, so let’s leave it where it is right now.
Q: IndyCar has been quite the landing spot for drivers that have raced in Formula 1, like Rossi, Sato, Chilton, Ericsson and Bourdais, among others. But assuming a seat is open and the financial backing was there, which of our current crop of IndyCar drivers do you think are ready to race and make a successful transition to F1 and why?
RM: Hard to pick one, so Newgarden, Rossi, Palou, Rosenqvist and Herta would be my candidates, but they could only be successful in a good car and there’s only a few of them, so the odds are stacked against them before they turn a wheel.
Q: You mentioned in the Dec. 9 Mailbag that Roger Penske doesn’t take pay drivers. I recall that Danny Ongais had a ride in a Penske car in 1987 that wound up going to Big Al due to a crash, I believe. Was Danny maybe the one exception that brought money to Roger for a one-off at Indy?
Andy R., Brighton, MI
RM: I imagine Ted Field could have paid to get Danny that ride, but I never saw any indication that’s what happened and R.P. prides himself in hiring the best available, although Ongais was on the downside of his career.
Q: After reading (not watching) that George Russell won the pole in the Mercedes and could have easily won the race, it seems to me that Mercedes could save $40 to $50 million and just hire one of the backmarker drivers at a million bucks or maybe less instead of Lewis Hamilton. Do you really think the salaries paid to the top four or five drivers in F1 are justified in that they represent true driver superiority?
Matwood Stout, Oxnard, CA
RM: They represent what a few F1 teams budget for drivers and a handful of them (Hamilton, Verstappen, Leclerc) seem to be a cut above, although Georgie Boy sure had people talking about the car vs. the driver. A teacher or a nurse makes $40-50,000 and a guy driving a race car makes $20 million? Of course it’s absurd, and it’s what the market can handle, but I imagine there are 10 guys on the F1 grid that could win in a Mercedes. Only a few drivers ever moved the dial on TV or packed the grandstands with their presence, and I’m talking A.J., Parnelli, Mario and Gurney in IndyCar and Petty, Earnhardt, Stewart and Gordon in NASCAR. Jim Clark, Jackie Stewart and Nigel Mansell had big followings, but Ayrton Senna drove the F1 show like nobody else. But most superior drivers have superior equipment.
Q: This is probably a question for Donald Davidson. I just read on RACER.com that Sato’s 2020 Indy-winning chassis is being retired. Do you know how many of the Indy 500 winning cars are still in existence and accounted for? I know a few chassis won more than once. It would be an interesting story (or short book) on the history of and the rescue or demise of each (at least for us Indy 500 geeks).
RM: Not going to bother Donald so I asked my pal Mike Lashmet, the longtime IndyCar mechanic who now runs the Vintage Indy Registry and has chased down old Indy car treasure for the past 30 years. Here’s what he says:
“I’m guessing a bit, but think just about every Indy 500 winner is accounted for save for Kelly Petillo’s 1935 winner and a few others. Obviously they’re not all in the IMS Museum. For instance Ricky Duman has Eddie Cheever’s car in his Turn 4 Restoration shop right now. But I agree it would make for a marvelous piece, or better yet, a book!”
Q: I hope you’re in good spirits and will have a Merry Christmas. I was at home reading the fantastic book ‘Second To One’ about all the past second-place Indy 500 finishers, and I was in particular reading about Peter Revson. I didn’t know much about him other than having ties to Revlon Cosmetics, but it seems he was quite a talent. Do you having any antidotes about him or the IRP road course where he won his only USAC race?
M from Michigan
RM: In my first year covering Indy for The Indianapolis Star I tracked Revson down after he’d started last and finished sixth in the Repco-Brabham. I remember asking him if he was surprised to get such a great result as a rookie, and he said: “It didn’t surprise me, but nobody thought I could make this race and I imagine nobody expected me to make it to lap 10, but I like this place and I’ll be back.” Then I saw him again in July after his IRP win and he basically said maybe now people won’t think he’s just a rich kid out there playing race driver. He was a talent, and I liked his swagger.
Q: Last week you had a question about a racer or writer who had a bar in Wyoming, NY and you weren’t sure but you were right – it was ‘The Assassin’, aka Brock Yates. He opened the Cannonball Bar in Wyoming NY (just outside Warsaw) shortly after the first Cannonball Sea to Shining Sea Trophy race. I stopped in a few times for a cold beer. It has been closed for a number of years now.
RM: Thanks Greg, I looked on Google but obviously didn’t type in the right words. Brock was such a talent and such a character, so it only made sense he’d want to tip a few with his pals and admirers at his own place.
Q: Always love reading the Mailbag! My question is, I have about 50 books from the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s about racing, Are there any racing museums or archives that might appreciate a donation? And not just to try to sell them off. My local library has a sad transportation section and won’t even put them on the shelves for people to look at or take out. They will just sell them. Any ideas will be appreciated.
RM: I don’t know of any, and I suggest bringing them to Indy in early January at Mari Hall’s memorabilia show in the Dallara plant, except there are reams of books at those shows and unless it’s really rare, nobody would be interested.