Welcome to the Robin Miller Mailbag presented by Honda Racing / HPD. You can follow the Santa Clarita, California-based company at: hpd.honda.com and on social media at @HondaRacing_HPD and https://www.facebook.com/HondaRacingHPD.
Questions for Robin can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org. Due to the high volume of questions received, we can’t always guarantee that your letter will be printed, but Robin will get to as many as he can. Published questions have been edited for clarity. Views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of RACER or Honda/HPD.
Q: Had to chime in on the many criticisms of Johnson, Grosjean, et al. and their reluctance to run the 500 or ovals. First, I’m an Indy guy. Have been for 55 years. Yes, I follow sports cars and F1, but IndyCar is my main love, and the Indy 500 gets the party in my house, not the Super Bowl. For both these guys, and others past or to come, I think we all need to be fair. These are multi-millionaires with families. They have nothing to prove (at least, not Johnson) except maybe to themselves, and that makes this a very personal decision. There is no discounting the risk — just ask Seabass or The Mayor. And with age comes reduced time and ability to heal should something go wrong. I doubt either of these guys are really willing to risk ending up like Wickens.
Comparing them to the brawny heroes of our past is apples and oranges, too. Gurney, Jones, Foyt, Bettenhausen and just about everyone else never buckled the helmets as multi-millionaires with young families. Do I wish these guys would sponsor a young American driver or start their own team with one? Yes. Would it be better to see Wayne Taylor’s boys or Conor Daly get a good seat? Yes. Will I critique their personal risk limit? Nope. Both NASCAR and F1 “hide” a driver’s talent. It’s just a function of those cars and those series. Look at JPM, Rossi, Sato and Hornish. It’ll be good for everyone to see how these guys stack up. That’s enough for me to welcome the drama without adding to it.
Paul DeClercq, Phoenix, AZ
RM: I don’t think I’ve had five letters questioning anyone’s bravery, but it’s been more of a case that fans are bummed that J.J. has chosen not to run in the biggest race. Trust me, he wants to run and it would be his best chance to be competitive, but unless his wife has a change of heart, it probably won’t happen. And when you’ve got millions and a family, it’s certainly a consideration to lessen your risk factor. But Branson, Bettenhausen, Foyt, Andretti, Vukovich, etc., all had children and Indy accounted for much of their salary, so skipping Langhorne was an option but never IMS. IndyCar racing has never been safer, but you’re still going into Turn 1 at 225 mph and that’s a commitment not everyone is willing to make. But I think the general feeling from the fans is disappointment — not mocking.
Q: I’m excited for the start of the IndyCar season. Just booked flights and room for St. Pete. Any news on how many fans? When will tickets be available? Paddock access? Pit access? General admission?
Jim Hoffman, Seymour, IN
RM: Tickets for St. Pete will go on sale early next month, that’s all I know for sure.
Q: I would like to write this week to give advice to fans wondering, “How could I get Indianapolis 500 tickets pending the amount of fans that are allowed?” I was in attendance at the 63rd running of the Daytona 500 this year, and my family had gotten tickets a week and a half before the race. We were looking at going to Daytona anyway, even if it was only for the beach. Being past ticket holders, we just called our account rep and asked what are the odds we could get tickets for the 500! At first, our account rep talked like it would be near impossible. Then we asked, what are the odds we could still get tickets for the Cup Duel races, and for the Truck, ARCA, and Xfinity races? He not only got us tickets for the Duels and the support races, but he also went and found three tickets for my family and I for the 500!
My advice to fans that question odds of tickets to this year’s Indy 500 is to ask about tickets to everything leading up to the big day! And never know, you might be able to find a few extra tickets for the Indy 500 for being supportive and being there for everything leading up to the race! What have you heard?
RM: Here’s comment from IMS President Doug Boles: “Tickets for the Indy 500 are available now via the website or calling the ticketing office, and some people are still purchasing. We aren’t promoting that at this point, but have remained on-sale for those that want to purchase. Since we still do not know what protocols will be implemented related to seating and attendance on race day, we can’t give much clarity on what to expect yet. And, with the infection rate numbers decreasing and vaccinations more and more available, we believe time is on our side. We anticipate a more detailed update as the next few weeks play out and we have a clearer picture for May.”
Q: Chances are there will be some level of crash damage that will need fixed after Texas before practice for the Indy 500 starts. Since it seems as if the top teams massage their 500 cars like a piece of Kobe beef all winter and spring, will the top teams hold their 500 cars back and not run them there? I’m sure the smaller teams don’t have that luxury, but I would think the bigger teams may not to put their 500 cars at risk.
RM: All depends on a team’s inventory but there’s plenty of time to repair most Texas crashes and, as you stated, it would affect a smaller team more than one of the Big 4.
Q: With all the talk about which drivers bring money for their rides, which teams have partners, and who owns or co-owns individual cars or teams, it’s complicated to understand who makes (or loses) money racing. If a driver brings $3 million to a team and it costs more than that to repair their crash damage, who pays the difference? Does the sponsorship money pay for that car and driver only, or does it go to the team? Do the sponsors of the top teams exercise control over the money they give to the teams? Which car owners take their money right off the top? It would seem like the most important people on a race team would be the accountants. If only they could talk!
Michael Oliver, Miami Beach
RM: You’re asking questions nobody can answer except a select few, and they’re not inclined to share that information. Some drivers take a percentage of their sponsorship off the top and that pays their salary. Some sponsors dictate the driver. I don’t think sponsorship is large enough anymore that owners take much of anything off the top, and crash damage is likely part of the package.