Q: Hope we can get back to normal racing in 2021. I miss the open pits and the driver/team interaction at Road America. Missed being at the 500, but I spent four days camping at IRP for the U.S. Nationals. I took a couple hours break and went to the Speedway and I was talking to an older, very knowledgeable gentleman at the museum about all the old race cars, driver suits, helmets etc that are stored in the basement and all around the facility. I asked if he was ever there late at night and heard any weird sounds; he said yes, there’s definitely spirits in that building. I would love to spend a night sitting in a roadster in the basement. Have you ever heard any spooky stories from the museum or around the Speedway? Just curious. Stay safe, see you at Elkhart Lake!
RM: Spirits in the building? Hmm, maybe back in the old days when Tony Hulman hosted the media party and gave the entire state free food and booze, that’s the only kind of spirits I can imagine. Never heard anything about ghosts or spirits at IMS, just the superstitions of the ’40s and ’50s – no peanuts in the pits, No. 13 and no photos with kids.
Q: As those of us who have attended Donald Davidson’s class or his talks, the now-retired historian has many stories he will tell in more intimate settings that he has never talked about on his radio show. One example was the story of Eddie Sachs being set up at a bar for a ruse about a jealous husband. I really think Donald owes it to the history of the track and its fans to put those stories down in print. After all, as someone who actually talked to Ray Harroun, he’s only one degree from the first Indy 500. The title seems obvious: “Stories I Tell My Friends: the Characters, Pranksters and Legends of the Indianapolis 500” Then again, maybe this is a Robin Miller project, too.
RM: I passed along your request but I’m not sure DD wants to do all the research and work a book requires. I think he wants to take a step back for a few months and then see if public speaking or radio shows still appeal to him. Obviously, we’ve both got a lot of material, but racing books are tough sells.
Q: I don’t know that is so much a question, but a suggestion. As a racing fan in general and someone who doesn’t watch much if any NASCAR anymore, the one weekend that grabs my attention is the Darlington throwback weekend. I enjoy how all the teams buy into the drivers and broadcast team all get into the period they have picked. Has IndyCar ever thought about doing something like this?
RM: I imagine if IndyCar had the resources of NASCAR it might try something, but there are only three ovals in 2021 and they hardly the tradition needed for a throwback race except Indy (and nobody is going to sit their real sponsor on the side of the road to use one from 30-40 years ago). I guess the best option is Mike Lashmet’s Vintage Indy series that runs during in May (and again at Gateway) in all its old paint job splendor.
Q: I know that you ran midgets in USAC. Did you ever run the now-defunct Santa Fe Speedway outside of Hinsdale, IL? If so, what did you think of it? I was at Santa Fe a couple of times for a USAC midget event and a WoO event. One of the reasons I went to the midget event was to see Mel Kenyon, but he flipped in time trials and that was the end of his night. However, someone had a Cosworth Vega-powered midget. That thing had a wicked scream to it! I’m familiar with the production engine. Did the racing version have much of a following in the midget ranks? When you were driving, did you ever compete or test in a sprint car or a Silver Crown car?
Lastly, other than the last incarnation of Trenton, what tracks get your vote for odd layouts? Two that get my vote are the now-defunct Louisville Speedway and Bowman-Gray Stadium. Saw USAC midgets and NASCAR trucks at Louisville and pavement modifieds at The Mad House. Louisville was a true “D” shape and Bowman-Gray is built around a football field; both very odd.
Don Hopings, Cathedral City, CA
RM: Sante Fe Park and I have a very close relationship. I was hot-lapping there on Aug. 1, 1975 in my first year in a midget when I got speared and flipped into the five-foot tall wall that surrounded Turns 1-2 and tore off the cage. Got a pretty good head injury and was in the hospital for a couple weeks, but Don Brown rebuilt my car and I was back for the indoor season in 1976. They also took the wall down, so that was my contribution to racing safety. The Vegas ran good for Bob Higman with Pancho and Dana Carter and Larry Rice and they won some races. Brad Marvel let me drive his sprinter in 1981 at Whitestown Speedway, but I parked it after the heat race because the steering wheel was too close and I couldn’t drive it comfortably, so I didn’t want to wreck his pride and joy. Not sure about odd layouts, but I loved Little Springfield and Erie, Colorado (when it was dirt) and I ran my midget at Trenton to prove just how stupid I really am.
Q: Regarding Grosjean crash, I recall back in 1973, Francois Cevert crashed through the Armco barrier in his Tyrrell, splitting two segments much like Grosjean did, killing him. After that, I understood that F1 did away with such barriers and I was stunned when the same thing happened to Grosjean with near-miraculous results. My read of the crash (from the overhead view) was that Grosjean hit at about a 45-degree angle, which should not have pierced the barrier like that. A SAFER barrier or a tire wall seems a much better choice for that area, but have the powers-that-be forgotten Cevert?
Thanks for the ’70s retrospective. I was a college kid for most of the ’70s but followed IndyCar racing religiously even though you could seldom see it on TV, and I never made it to Indy until 1992. Pretty much all we had as fans was the printed word, which is rapidly vanishing from the landscape. Impossible to fathom how we became such devoted fans from reading magazines and newspapers, but we did. Hard to believe that medium is almost extinct. Looking forward to your ’60s and ’80s reviews!
RM: I have no idea what F1’s protocol is on fencing but Armco was gradually phased out of IndyCar ovals after the crashes of Merle Bettenhausen and Pancho Carter in the 1970s. As I’ve written, the Armco at Watkins Glen is tall and stout, and the one at Bahrain was a failure. Some Armco remains on road courses in IndyCar, but it has to pass an FIA standard. Glad you enjoyed the ’70s reflection, going to try and do the ’60s ASAP.
Q: Yes, there is a Santa Claus. After reading your Mailbag reference to participating in a Cannonball I asked my kids for a copy of Brock Yates’ book. My daughter found it on Amazon, and lo and behold, our beloved reporter is in Chapter 3 re-telling his adventure in a Vega. Still can’t believe that POS actually made the distance. Thanks for the mention several weeks ago, I’ve been grinning since the first chapter. Grinning is something we all need this year. In closing, what say we send 2020 off with a 21 gun salute – from a firing squad! Happy New Year, Robin. Your readers look forward to your columns in 2021.
Bob Young, Cincinnati
RM: OK, what better way to end the 2020 Mailbag than with a smiling reader. Happy New Year.