Robin Miller's Mailbag for January 6, presented by Honda Racing / HPD

Robin Miller's Mailbag for January 6, presented by Honda Racing / HPD

Insights & Analysis

Robin Miller's Mailbag for January 6, presented by Honda Racing / HPD


Q: I saw a YouTube video by some unknown who claims NBC Sports channel is about to fold? Any truth to the story? Any idea what will happen to IndyCar racing coverage?

Thomas Grimes, Waco, TX

RM: I covered this last week. Yes there is a rumor that NBCSN may go away after 2021, and no, I don’t know what’s going to happen. But I imagine NBC, IMS Productions and R.P. will find an avenue if it does.

Q: What do you think of the push-to-pass option used in road course races? It seems like a video game gimmick. Do you like it or could do without it?

Paul, Pittsburgh, PA

RM: It was introduced to try and help overtaking on road and street circuits and it’s fine, I just wish teams couldn’t see each other’s remaining time. I was really hoping IndyCar would adopt the Caution Clock like NASCAR. Sure I was.

Q: With the current COVID-19 situation keeping me at home (I’m fine and intend to stay that way) I have a lot of spare time to pore over all the IndyCar websites. I’m currently reviewing the 1970s and the name Eldon Rasmussen shows up in the race results for several years and lists him as a Canadian. So I did some research on Eldon and found out that he is in the Canadian Motorsports Hall of Fame. I also found out that he was a highly regarded fabricator and car builder. What can you tell us about him?

Doug Mayer

RM: Eldon had a shop on the west side off Minnesota Street and employed George Morris, Joe Flynn, Mad Dog Luebbert and Tim Coffeen. They didn’t have much money but they had plenty of talent and moxie, and the RasCar made the show three times at Indy. It was the perfect example of the ’70s shoestring team competing at the highest level. And the owner was a fabulous fabricator when he wasn’t talking on the telephone.

Q: I first started watching and following IndyCar (then known as USAC) in 1970. Like you Robin, I have many fond memories from the ’70s. I have a few questions about a car that made its debut in 1976 – the Lightning-Offy designed by former AAR man Roman Slobodynsky. I thought the car looked sharp, and since it was penned by the creator of Dan Gurney’s blindingly fast Eagles of 1972-75, I expected it to be more successful than it was. First of all, where was it built? Secondly, what prompted Slobodynsky to leave what appeared to be a more capable operation at AAR for Lindsey Hopkins’ team? Thirdly, how good a car was it? I always suspected that it was a potent weapon but was used by teams (Hopkins, O’Connell, Fletcher, Alex Morales) that weren’t up to the level of McLaren, Patrick, Penske, VPJ, and Foyt. Finally, was it the last IndyCar of significance that was designed around the Offy?

Steven Meckna from Long Beach, CA

RM: Let’s begin with a quote from Roman in John Zimmermann’s excellent read: ‘Dan Gurney’s Eagle Racing Cars.’ “I was already gone by the time they won the Indy 500, I left early in the year. [Why?] I think that Dan thought I was difficult. That’s a facet of Dan’s and my relationship that I can’t figure out. The GM at that point just said, ‘Well, we’re not going to be building a new car so we don’t need you.’ Dan didn’t even come back and talk to me about it.” The Lightnings were built at Don Edmunds’ Autoresearch shops and its best finish ever was second at Ontario in 1979 with Johnny Parsons while Bobby Unser qualified in the middle of Row 1 at Indy in 1977 in a Lightning. It was a good car and had big names like Mike Mosley, Pancho Carter, Roger McCluskey, Parsons and Unser, but never made it to victory lane.

Bobby Unser proved the Lightning-Offy’s potential in 1977, although the car never found its way into victory lane. Image by IMS

Q: When the IRL was formed they used USAC to officiate their races, but why was USAC so inept at officiating those races?

Ron, Portland, OR

RM: Oh Ron, don’t tease me like that. USAC has always had the best racing and worst management imaginable. Thank god it’s got Levi Jones running things today, because he’s a respected racer with a brain and common sense – two things lacking in previous USAC regimes.

Q: I think Spike Gehlhausen signed to drive for Bob Fletcher’s Cobre Tire Special and started inside Row 2 at Indy but crashed out early while running in the front pack. Probably not the best move that early in the race, and believe he was let go after Indy.

Dave Harder

RM: Good call but it was 1980, he didn’t get fired and it wasn’t yet the Cobre Tire Special. Spike ran five races for Fletcher with a best finish of fourth at Ontario and fifth at Milwaukee. Gordon Smiley ran twice that season for Fletcher as the team ran eight of the 12 CART races.

Q: What are the hottest and the coldest IndyCar Series races that you remember seeing?

Chris Fiegler, Latham, NY

RM: The first few California 500s were the hottest, and the 1992 Indy 500 was the coldest.

Q: Your response in last week’s Mailbag that “I ran my midget at Trenton to prove how stupid I really am” floored me. Did you ever run Winchester? I attended several USAC midget and sprint car races there during the ESPN “Thunder” heyday, including the fateful night in June 1991 when Don Schilling was effectively retired due to a bone-crushing crash, Ted Hines barrel-rolled down the backstretch, and Bob Cicconi’s horrific accident brought out the third red flag of the midget feature as the skies let loose with thunder, lightening, and torrential rain, prematurely but mercifully ending the evening of carnage. I remember hearing there were Indy 500 racers (who also regularly ran midgets, sprinters, and big cars, back in the day) who were unwilling to run Winchester due to the perceived danger. Any interesting insights?

Steve V., Fresno, CA

RM: I made the feature in my Winchester debut and started on the last row. I passed a couple guys in the first few laps and thought I was hauling ass until Rich Vogler and Johnny Parsons stormed past high and low to lap me and vanished. Hmmm, maybe I wasn’t going so fast. Anyway, ran Salem and Winchester a couple times and decided I had a lot better chance of running decent and not killing myself on the dirt. But there were great racers like Vuky, Rodger Ward and Bobby Grim who wanted no part of the high banks and Parnelli told me once it was the dumbest thing he’d ever done in a race car (and he won races!). Bottom, line Dayton, Salem and Winchester weren’t for everyone, but Pancho Carter was the best I ever saw on them and they say Troy Ruttman was tops in his era along with Duane Carter (Pancho’s dad).

Q: Not to be a nitpicker of your excellent column, but with regard to the answer given Jim Doyle in the December 30 column, gas turbine engines are indeed air cooled although not with fins on cylinders and heads like we think of in traditional piston engines. A substantial percentage of the air from the compressor that enters the combustor housing is used to cool the metal combustor surface to prevent it from burning up. Modern state of the art gas turbines also direct air through the turbine blades for cooling so that they can withstand extremely high turbine inlet temperatures. Overall, developing the cooling of these components is an important part of modern high performance gas turbine design.

Rich in Marion, NY

RM: Thanks Rich, I have no idea what any of that means but I appreciate your input and sharing it with us.