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: IndyCar is my favorite racing series, and it has been for 40+ years. In watching what’s going on, I’m a little concerned. I hate to be a Danny Downer, but it seems like it’s tougher to get promoters for tracks, oval attendance is terrible and the tracks are becoming extinct, street courses are very difficult logistically and financially and lose tons of money, many road courses that aren’t on the current schedule can’t handle Indy cars, prize money is so bad it’s not even published, TV ratings stink, and it appears the auto manufacturers are now jumping on the e-bandwagon after a slow start.
On top of it all I sense a little concern for the future in your (our biggest, best, and most knowledgeable cheerleader) responses other than confirming the racing is the best anywhere. I know we have some exciting young talent and great racing, but if nobody is watching (and therefore no incentive for sponsors or TV networks), what’s the point? There doesn’t seem to be much money to be made in the entire venture, but surely I’m missing something from an owner’s standpoint. I’ve said before that it now seems like a glorified club series, and I have no idea why owners who have to scratch and claw for sponsorships continue to do it other than because they love it and need a hobby.
As a side note, a financial advisor once told me, “never invest emotionally.” It seems like R.P. did that very thing, but I’m simply not seeing much upside and return on that investment in the near or even slightly distant future. I hope I’m wrong, but regardless, I’ll be watching every IndyCar race again this year.
Randy Mizelle, North Carolina
RM: I was most concerned that sponsors would bail after COVID, but as I wrote on Monday, the fact there will be 22-26 cars at every race tells me this is not the case. I think the owners are racers to the core, and have figured out how to stay on track in these challenging times. Obviously, they’re not making a profit, and breaking even seems like a long shot, but they’re keeping IndyCar alive. And R.P. has spent millions and lost millions but hasn’t wavered in his commitment.
Q: I understand the reasons for the late start of the 2021 IndyCar season, but assuming we get past COVID during this calendar year, I expect an earlier start date next year. Still, I have always believed now and in years past the early part of the schedule has been way too thin with events. Nearly a month between St. Pete and Barber? Seems a little tough to build momentum, as opposed to NASCAR cramming its gimmicky product down your throat week after week following Daytona.
Have you heard anyone in power express any concern for such a spaced-out introduction to the season, even in normal times? I think they have it right to not compete with the NFL, and to some degree college football, at the end of schedule. But by the time IndyCar gets in full gear, we’re already in summer with all the diversions that brings. Might be worth the effort to try and pique more interest in March and April, and try to carry it through the summer. Still believe 20 events is the right number. Your thoughts?
RM: I think all the solvent tracks on the IndyCar schedule have the date they need to try and make it, but nobody is going to move just to get the season started earlier. I’m sure Roger and his people have scouted various sites, and sure it would be great to open the season in February. But being off the map for five months instead of six really doesn’t spark much awareness, and the number of races is irrelevant because you can only go where the promoter has a fighting chance. And right now 20 is way too many.
Q: Will there be a streaming service for IndyCar similar to what F1 offers? IndyCar has such great drama it is a shame it can’t be watched with multiple video and audio feeds.
Luther Prater, Muncie, IN
RM: “Peacock Premium will provide fans in the U.S. with live coverage of practice and qualifying as well as coverage surrounding the Indy 500, Indy Lights races, race-day warm-ups and full-event replays of IndyCar races this year. The price, $4.99 a month, also gives fans access to Premier League, U.S. Open golf, Olympics and more. There are also plans to enhance video opportunities, during races, on the IndyCar App. IndyCar.com has also been offering new video ‘franchises.’” Dave Furst, VP of communications for IndyCar.
Q: I plan on heading to St. Pete for the race next month and am anxiously waiting for the tickets to go on sale. Do you know if there are going to be limited paddock passes? Do the drivers have to quarantine to their motorhomes and hotel rooms for the weekend? I’m so used to seeing the drivers out and about in the restaurants and on the street. I even remember accidentally ending up at a party in one of the restaurants and most of the drivers were there. That was always part of the excitement of the weekend! Maybe I’ll see you there if we can get in the paddock.
John from Elizaville, NY
RM: “John’s questions and updates are covered in our FAQ section of the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg website, which we posted on March 4th. Public sales for 3-Day Tickets began last Thursday, March 18th, and Single-Day Tickets will go on sale next Thursday, April 1st. Thanks.” Steve Bidlack, manager of marketing and communication for Green Savoree Racing.
Q: Just read a pretty cool story about Scott McLaughlin on IndyCar.com, and it got me to thinking about this rookie class. All the drivers have a great amount of racing experience coming in and I give them that respect, but they have none in IndyCar, so that qualifies them as an IndyCar rookie. But not all of them will get the full IndyCar experience because of their choice to not run the ovals. Looking at it in the reverse, I think about the guys that had very little road course experience as short-track oval guys, but didn’t shy away from a discipline they weren’t great at. My question is, taking away injuries that prevented them from competing, can you remember any time that a driver received a rookie of the year award for choosing not to run the full schedule?
RM: Not to my knowledge. A few big names refused to run Langhorne in the 1960s, but drivers never started picking and choosing until this past decade or so. And sometimes it was budget-driven, so a driver might choose Long Beach, Indianapolis and Mid-Ohio because of the exposure for their sponsors. Ed Carpenter got better and better on road courses, but understood he was still a second or two off and opted to just run ovals and hire a road racer. Mike Conway was badly injured at Indy and eventually decided no more ovals, while Max Chilton likes the Indianapolis 500 but passes on Texas and Gateway.