Q: All the recent dirt track talk has got me thinking about IndyCar/open-wheel on the dirt and USAC in general. About 10 years ago there was a lot of talk about a new USAC “Gold Crown” series. I believe it was asphalt ovals only, the car specs looked great, no downforce, 800+hp, and would run on 1.5-mile tracks. There were chassis makers lined up. What happened to it? With the “flat everywhere” IRL cars at the time, these things were going to be the polar opposite and exactly what was needed, and still is now. You know people in high places, Robin — have a word, would you?
Also on dirt tracks, Like NASCAR, IndyCar stopped on the dirt 50 years ago, I’m told. As much as I’d love to see a return, I guess there is too much of a car change required. But, back in the late ’60s up to the ’70s, were there any rear-engined Lotus-esque Indy cars that ever ran on dirt?
RM: That new Gold Crown era was a brainstorm by Bill France Jr., and he convinced USAC they’d be partners and put on the preliminary show to a NASCAR truck or Xfinity race, and they’d all live happily ever after. Well, the cars were death traps that thankfully didn’t kill anyone, the fields were slim and attendance non-existent. I recall one race started at 3:30 in the afternoon on a Friday in front of the ushers. USAC got flim-flammed. Mario ran his Brawner/Hawk at Pikes Peak and won in a rear-engine car in 1969, while Lloyd Ruby tried to qualify his rear-engine Mongoose at the Hoosier Hundred in 1968 but failed to make the show.
Q: I read the news that NASCAR executives have been in talks with cities like Chicago about a potential street race within a few years, and the possibility that the upcoming NASCAR iRacing Invitational on a Chicago street circuit design could be an indication that talks are possibly moving forward about a real-life street race for NASCAR. If that indeed did come to fruition, what odds might you give Penske that he figure out a way to add IndyCar to that weekend show?
RM: I have no idea, but obviously NASCAR is pulling out all the stops — adding road courses, dirt races and a street race would be next. I imagine if there was a way to fit both series in, R.P. would explore it.
Q: I know there is a lack of ovals on the IndyCar schedule. Is there any news or rumors of Kentucky Speedway getting back on the schedule? I think this venue would be a natural fit, and with the talent in IndyCar, it would fill up the stands with Indy 500 fans. What is hindering returning back to that venue?
RM: None. The hindrance is desire to host an IndyCar race on an oval.
Q: I’ve been waiting for a good book on the CART-IRL split. (I was hoping you’d write one). Is Indy Split going to be a good one? I was wondering if you knew anything about it.
RM: It was written by John Oreovicz and it’s a damn good read, and it brings back some really sad memories of how crazy, greedy and short-sighted people behaved and why it cut open-wheel racing to the bone. It’s available at Octane Press.com.
Q: Good to see Bill Benner being quoted reliving the upset by Duke over UNLV in the Star. In your media career, what was the biggest upset in the Indy 500 and why? And I don’t mean A.J. being upset with you.
Dave O’Brien, Greenwood, IN
RM: I guess Arie winning in 1990 since he’d never won a race before, or Buddy Rice in 2004 because he’d never won either and wasn’t real well-known outside the Formula Atlantic paddock. You could probably include Dan Wheldon in 2011 because it was a one-off effort, and Big Al in 1987 since he threw a show car in the race, started 20th and got lapped twice by Mario.
Q: I was recently watching some old footage of Murray Walker and him being interviewed about the best driver ever, and he said that while it’s almost impossible to choose because of differing circumstances, he thought it was probably Michael Schumacher or Fangio. I was also watching the multi-part YouTube series you did with Bell Helmets and Dan Gurney, where you called him one of the top four drivers ever.
So my question (and I’m sure you’ve been asked this a million times) is, who do you think some of the greatest drivers ever are, and is it even a fair question to ask? As an F1 fan my heart always says Senna, but while he was probably the best F1 driver (at least to me) it’s hard to make a comparison between a specialist like him and someone like A.J. or Mario who raced everything under the sun. How can you compare across the disciplines of open-wheel, stock car, sprint car, sports car, prototype, oval, street, off-road, road, dirt, endurance, modern, roadster, early aero, ground effects, etc.? This debate will rage on until the end of time, but I’d love to get your take on it.
Max Camposano, Bethlehem, PA
RM: Of course it’s fair and it’s one of motorsports’ longest-standing arguments, but you answered your own question. How can anyone think Schumacher or Senna or Hamilton was better than Jim Clark? Or Jackie Stewart? Or Fangio? I picked A.J., Mario, Parnelli and Gurney as my Mount Rushmore because of their diversity and successes, but who’s to say Al Unser doesn’t belong? He won in Indy cars, dirt cars, F5000 cars and USAC stock cars. AJ Watson said Troy Ruttman, Vuky and Parnelli were the three best he ever saw at Indianapolis (not in any order), but not everyone had the opportunity (or took it) to run F1, NASCAR, sports cars and USAC. How much of the success nowadays is driver compared to the ’50s or ’60s or ’70s before all the aerodynamics? There is no right or wrong answer, it’s a subjective debate, but it’s hard to argue against Mt. Rushmore.