Q: My wife and I just finished reading Dorie Sweikert’s book. We were impressed with the quality of her work considering it was the only book she ever wrote. The book gives the perspective of racing from the wife’s point of view. The period was the mid 1950s, which was probably the most dangerous era in racing. Dorie lived in constant fear of her husband being killed (which of course happened ) She was very brave and supported her husband while raising a family. We would highly recommend this book. It reads like a very good non-fiction novel. Enjoy the Mailbag every week.
Gary Huguenard, Fremont, IN
RM: I think most wives harbored the same fears every time their husband went out of the front door to the racetrack because it was a deadly era. I didn’t know Dorie, but her book is definitely an emotional ride.
Q: It was very interesting reading your article about racing in the ’60s. I can’t believe how many guys died driving in those years. In the pictures it always cracks me up about that little chicken !@#$ roll bar behind the driver’s heads — did those even do anything? Is that how most of them died, or was there something else? Appreciate all your input in the Mailbag over all these years, can’t wait to see you in Nashville!
CAM in LA
RM: I think when the roll hoops were raised higher than the driver’s head it certainly helped in certain rollovers, but in a violent accident like to many of them were, it did little to protect.
Q: There is a film called Open Wheel Tribute by Dick Wallen. The film captures what it was like for these larger-than-life dirt track danger racers. In a word, it is superb! Please take the time to tell us of Mr. Wallen, the lesser-known racers, the tracks and their machines.
Phil, Central Indiana
RM: Parnelli brought Dick back to the Midwest in the early ’60s and he proceeded to film everything on dirt and pavement for the next 30 years, and Hollywood used his footage countless times in movies. He put out several books about the brave men of the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s before selling his collection. Go to Coastal181.com and check out Wallen’s racing classics.
Q: How much do you think a tier 2 or 3 team would charge for a sponsorship sticker on a helmet or a small area on the front of a racing suit for the 500?
RM: Depends on how much sponsorship they do or don’t have, I would imagine. But I would guess $10,000 might get you a decent display.
Q: You mentioned in last week’s Mailbag that you participated in the Cannonball Run race. Could you tell us a little more about this experience? What kind of car were you driving? Who were your co-drivers? Anything funny or unusual along the way? Was it anything like the 1981 movie Cannonball Run?
Bob Gray Woodland Hills, CA
RM: There were two, true Cannonball Baker Sea-to-Shining-Sea Memorial Trophy Dashes – one in 1971 won by Dan Gurney and race originator Brock Yates — and the one I raced in in 1972. I drove a brand-new Vega (for a pal’s mother-in-law) with a part-time stock car driver from LA who was also a makeup artist in Hollywood, and we finished fifth in 37 hours (after getting lost in Ohio when I was taking a nap). We got six tickets but never went to jail (except Wes my co-driver had to serve three weekends because we failed to show up for our court appearances). After ’72 the race became a rally and lost all its charm, but I was lucky enough to participate with all those crazy fools in 1972. The Cannonball Run sucked and it would have been fine had they just stuck to the facts and characters in the race.
Q: Do faithful Mailbag readers need to put together a team to sit with you on October 23rd to protect you from self-harm as driverless cars race around your beloved Speedway? Or are you good with that?
RM: I may start drinking that week, so keep firearms away from me.
Q: Just finished the Mailbag where the young man in downtown Indy had to look up who Graham Rahal was. This is fresh off news by the Speedway of the autonomous race this fall. Loved how in that article the Speedway bragged about years of innovation while its marquee race is now part of a “spec series.” Think of the Chiefs and Patrick Mahomes and the Warriors and Steph Curry — teams who innovate and play more successfully than other teams draw eyeballs to their sport. Think Penske’s pushrod in ’94 for a racing example. Spec series in the short-term may bring costs down, but in the long haul may cost money because of lack of those eyeballs. I don’t agree with driverless cars, but innovation has proven to bring interest to our sport in the past, so why couldn’t it in the future?
RM: I hope the day that driverless cars start the Indianapolis 500 that my ashes are in a coffee can to be sprinkled over the Action Track in Terre Haute.
Q: I was reading about the IndyCar autonomous car program and noticed a preliminary competition date of May 27, then the finale is in October. Did the Autobots take the Indy Lights Freedom 100 spot? Given your love for sim racing, what are your thoughts on the autonomous program?
Troay Strong, Kansas City
RM: It would appear that is the case, and my thoughts cannot be printed here at this time.