Q: What was Ron Dennis’ problem with Michael Andretti, and why was Danny Ongais such a tough interview? (I’ve always thought he’d make a great “Tough Guys” candidate).
RM: Ron Dennis isn’t a real warm guy to start with, and who knows if it was Michael not living in England and not being at the shop, or the fact they wanted Mika Hakkinen in that car, but they didn’t gel.
Danny just didn’t trust a lot of people, especially the media, and we would argue about how it was good for IndyCar that somebody from Lexington, Ohio or Boston was writing a story about him. His stance was that the questions were mostly repetitious, but I countered by saying he was a big name and that was part of his job — to help promote his series. I like Danny and he was a clever fellow — people who dismissed him as dumb didn’t have a clue. And he was brave. And determined.
Q: I listened to Marshall Pruett’s podcast on John Paul Jr. Good stuff. Ever since he started around 1980, I thought of JPJ as one those “shady” drivers who won so many IMSA races and titles in the early ’80s. They weren’t exactly a good image for racing. Then in 2000 at Road America, my son and I saw him outside the Dyson team awning leaning on a pole smoking a cigarette. I wasn’t going to approach him, but he caught our eyes and gave a little wave to my son, so we went over. After greetings, I mentioned that I saw him win the 500 at Road America in 1980, and what a sweet-handling car (No. 18 Porsche 935) he must have had that day. He looked at me very seriously and said, “That car was a pig!” Then he smiled and added, “But it was a damned fast pig!” We laughed and wished him good luck for the race. He thanked my son and said to me, “And thank you, Dad, for bringing your boy out with you to watch us.” Its funny how you can be so wrong about someone until you meet them. RIP and Godspeed JPJ!
RM: Glad you listened and changed your opinion. I’m not sure there was ever a nicer person than JPJ and his career was derailed because he loved his father, who was the devil. But I never heard him complain about anything and it was cool he got some good rides in sports cars. I’ll always remember him chasing Mario all over Caesars Palace (he led until near the end) and the 1978 world champion was impressed that someone with so little experience in an Indy car could be that good.
Q: I hate watching a car spin out or stall, and with no on-board starter, have to be parked or lose a lap waiting for the tow truck. To deprive a racer of a competitive race in that circumstance seems really stupid, and it hurts the show by causing yellow flags that may not have been needed. I have a battery and a starter in my car, and it still functions and handles just fine. Why hasn’t IndyCar mandated starters? I am sure with all the factory engine support, it would be doable with very modest weight added. And who cares if the lap time is 0.3 seconds slower because of the extra weight? I seem to recall they had bad luck with starters years ago, so they abandoned them after just a year or two. Any talk about bringing them back?
Marwood Stout, Camarillo, CA
RM: They weren’t reliable, they got hot and neither engine manufacturer wanted to waste any more time or money trying to save them.
Q: Paul Page recently posted a picture of himself competing in the Toyota Celebrity Race at Long Beach. It got me thinking. In this day of social media, has anyone thought of reviving it? It seems to me that having a bunch of celebrities compete and then spend a lot of time talking about it on their social media or talk shows as they promote their new projects would be a great way to attract new fans. They should make an effort to invite celebrities that have something to promote, similar to the late night talk shows. Back when this event was run, I never felt like the celebrities talked about the race enough outside of the event itself, and that would need to change. Their personal social media exposure gives it that chance.
Rob C., Ringwood, NJ
RM: I haven’t asked Jim Michaelian but between IMSA, Stadium Super Trucks, vintage cars and IndyCar there isn’t a lot of available time. I remember Gene Hackman, Clint Eastwood and Bruce Jenner competing one year and all the TV stations and Entertainment Tonight, etc., were there, but you never know if that sold one ticket. It ran from 1977 to 2016 and that seemed like enough.
Q: Ty Gibbs won the Daytona Xfinity road course race in his first ever Xfinity race. Has anybody ever won an IndyCar race in his or her first ever IndyCar Series race in their career?
Chris Fiegler, Latham, NY
RM: Nigel Mansell at Surfers Paradise in 1993, Graham Hill at Indy in 1966 and Buzz Calkins in 1996 at Orlando.
Q: The wildly popular Offy engines have always been a riddle. Well, a riddle for me and probably everyone else who have come of age in the spec engine times that we live in. They were unbreakable monobloc-cast straight-four motors that allowed for high piston compression punched out to the rules of the day. Yet it seems to be far from a spec engine. It was a popular tool for countless teams — rich, poor and everyone in between — throughout the decades. Also, I vaguely recall seeing a picture of an Offy V8 that quickly came, went and was forgotten in the dawn of the Cosworth area. So I’m left wondering: who are the forgotten masters of the Offy black magic?
RM: Sonny Meyer, Herb Porter, Travers & Coons, Jack McGrath and George Bignotti come to mind.
Q: As I type this, I am watching Kaylee Bryson racing a midget on dirt somewhere. She reminds me of Sarah Fisher: fearless and talented. I don’t feel that my week is truly started until your Mailbag arrives. Where do you see Kaylee’s future?
Ron Ford, Muskego, WI
RM: I imagine if Toyota desires it can bring up the NASCAR ladder system, and that gives her the best chance of making it.