Robin Miller's Mailbag for February 24, presented by Honda Racing / HPD

Robin Miller's Mailbag for February 24, presented by Honda Racing / HPD

Insights & Analysis

Robin Miller's Mailbag for February 24, presented by Honda Racing / HPD

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Q: I don’t think there’s much point in bashing NASCAR so I usually don’t. However, I can say that the Daytona 500 is not like a race but more like a lottery. Get lucky, be in the right place at the right time, and if all else fails, punt, (which we’ve seen many times as well). It baffles the mind. Do you know race fans that enjoy that kind of “racing?” Personally, I don’t. It reminds me of being 7 or 8 years old and looking forward to the Demolition Derby on the 4th of July. Can you give me any rational answer as to why this draws big numbers on TV? I don’t get it.

Jim Patton, Lindale, Texas

RM: It didn’t this year thanks to the long rain delay, but NASCAR’s popularity is difficult to analyze since Little E, Stewart and Gordon are all long gone. But the “fans” seem to love crashes, and they’re never disappointed at Daytona or Talladega. I remember watching a race at Dover and Joey Logano was flipping down the banks and the grandstand was standing and cheering before anyone knew if he was injured. Not all NASCAR fans are like that, but I think a big majority are drawn to all that beatin’ and bangin’, yet the road course races are damn entertaining to me because the drivers are hustling and showing their skills without 20-car pile-ups.

Q: After watching the Daytona 500, I am amazed at the lack of finesse of the drivers. Flat out, block till you crash, and NASCAR offers no penalty for anything. Formula 1 drivers have consequences for their actions. Ok, I know it is obvious, but can you tell me why American motorsport is dominated by NASCAR?

Robert Peterson, Charlotte, NC

RM: The real racers in NASCAR detest those plate races because they know it’s not racing, and they’re victims of the rules and package they’re given at Daytona and Talladega. I’m not sure when blocking became a way of life because it certainly wasn’t like that in the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s in NASCAR or IndyCar. Formula 1 (Senna, Schumacher) perfected it and it slithered into IndyCar in the ’90s. It takes no talent to block, but NASCAR encourages it. And I have no idea how people sit there for three hours and watch it, but there are five times more stock car fans than IndyCar devotees.

Q: I do enjoy your Mailbag, as it provides a glorious insight into the world of IndyCar and U.S. racing that I have admired from across the Atlantic for so long. I even traveled to California just for an IndyCar race a few years ago. It was a wonderful experience, and the Indy 500 is top of my bucket list now. So my question is: How is Phil Hill, America’s first world champion, regarded today? He seems to be a bit forgotten, even when those who followed him on the international scene such as Gurney, Andretti and Foyt are hailed as the legends they surely are. Phil never seems to get any mentions nowadays. Why is that?

PaYR, Somerset, England

RM: You’re very observant. Phil is forgotten mainly because so many of his fans are long gone, but also because Daniel Sexton Gurney was such a versatile icon — as were A.J. and Mario — and they still have legions of fans. And F1 never got much publicity in the 1950s in the USA, so Hill’s accomplishment was a pretty well-kept secret unless you were a gearhead.

It’s very rare that we pass up on opportunity to run a shot of the stunning Ferrari 156 that Hill drove to the 1961 F1 title, but Ferrari 250 TRI/61 that he shared with Olivier Gendebien to win at Le Mans that same year was pretty sweet, too. That was the second of Hill’s three Le Mans victories. Motorsport Images

Q: Which do you think are better races: dirt, street and road courses or ovals? Which of these do you like the best?

Chris Fiegler, Latham, NY

RM: AMA flat trackers on a dirt mile and USAC midgets and sprinters on any dirt track are tough to beat, but the Xfinity race and Friday IndyCar race at IMS last year were two of the best, and they were on the road course.

Q: Been going to Indy and following IndyCar since early ’70s. Faithful reader of yours for that whole time. Your mention of being in “the trenches” with a pit board next to the front straight made me wonder: when did Indy teams start using spotters? And was it one team or two trying it out, then others jumping in later? Or did everyone kind of jump in at the same time? Were any teams/owners the pioneers of having spotters?

Mark from Chicago

RM: The first spotter I ever saw was one of Tom Sneva’s best pals named Greg Bogus. He sat high in Turn 2 at Indy and was on the roof at Milwaukee talking to Tom on a two-way radio, mostly to inform him of traffic and track conditions or quick caution. I think spotters became prominent in the 90s when the seats and cockpits were built up and it was harder and harder to see around a place like Texas or Fontana. But I have no idea which team was first.

Q: Several years ago, I got excited when given my next sales call. I was given info and the name was Lee Kunzman. I was so excited and knew that while it would be tough, I had to be professional, not a fan. Things went well, and he purchased from me. I told him all his memorabilia was awesome and explained I had been to over 40 Indy 500s. Well, that opened it up, and turned a one-hour call into three. I was like a kid in a candy store, just riveted by his stories. I know you have a lot of Lee stories, and I read the Mailbag every week. Any you can share that you haven’t, or are you all out?

Kent Odom, Anderson, IN

RM: I guess my favorite is Atlanta in 1979. He’d nearly died in a test crash in 1973, and here he was leading Rutherford, Mears, Sneva, Johncock and the Unsers on one of the fastest tracks in the country with two laps to go. But his mirror had fallen off and he wasn’t sure where J.R. was, so he couldn’t defend and finished second. Toughest guy I’ve ever met, and one of most genuine.

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