Q: I am wondering if you can provide insight on Dan Gurney. When I look at his career, it seems to me if he focused on F1 he’d have won several world championships. However, from the outside there seems to have been a lack of focus. He was in Indy, F1, and Le Mans. Can you provide some insight into his psychology to his career?
Steve, Rockford, MI
RM: If Dan had a reliable engine he would have been F1 champ in his Eagle, and he won for Porsche and Brabham before scoring his historic win at Spa. He was driven by experimenting and trying to get an edge with his cars and engines, be it F1, IndyCar, Can-Am or IMSA. That was the essence of racing, and why he became such a hero to American fans. He didn’t have a lack of focus, he just loved doing his own thing in all those categories back when racing was all about ideas and taking a chance.
Q: I’ve noticed more advertisements from companies large and small concerning efforts to improve the environment and reduce their carbon footprint. As an industry player engaged in motorsports, new automotive technologies — and entertainment — it may be timely to ask IndyCar what it is doing, or planning to do, in this regard. New types of fuel and tires quickly come to mind. What does Firestone do with all the used racing tires? Can they be recycled in some fashion? Couldn’t they develop race tires that would last 250 to 500 miles, saving teams $$$ in tire bills?
Some karting and formula car series have a cap on the number of tires a racer can buy per event, typically a max of six: three fronts and three rear tires. Perhaps this concept could carry over to IndyCar, significantly reducing costs, plus the expense of trucking large volumes of tires to/from the race venues. Will racing speeds suffer from harder, longer-lasting tires? Of course, but consider the positive aspects. Fewer tires for Firestone to manufacture and bring to the tracks, teams’ tire bills are drastically reduced, plus less tires to dispose of/recycle. Lastly, Firestone can promote their tires’ performance and durability over a full race distance.
RM: I’m told that used tires are chopped up and incinerated because it’s environmentally the best way to dispose of them. As for recycling them or making them last 500 miles, I’m no engineer but performance means a lot to Bridgestone/Firestone and the load put on those tires in an IndyCar race (especially an oval) is massive so I can’t see anything changing.
Q: Thank you for your always-insightful coverage of IndyCar. Much appreciated! In your response to Duncan in Ottawa last week, you noted that “USAC sprints have always been looked at as stepladder to the Indy 500 (1940-80) and then NASCAR in the ’90s.” It seems to me that a large part of the reason why USAC sprint car success does not translate to Indy cars as it once did is that they are front-engine cars.
The shift to a rear-engine IndyCar requires a completely different driving style, whereas shifting to a front-engine “stock” car is less of a leap for a sprint car driver. USAC lacked vision in the late 1960s when it was clear that the rear-engine evolution at Indy was a permanent shift and not just a fad. It should have mandated (or at least allowed) a shift to rear-engine sprint cars, which would have helped the sprint car series continue to be a steppingstone to IndyCar. Instead, it outlawed rear-engine sprint cars, which later contributed to guys like Jeff Gordon and Kyle Larson ending up in NASCAR. Your thoughts?
Steve Summers, Jasper, TN
RM: No doubt the cars changing to rear engines didn’t benefit the USAC driver, but as long as dirt tracks were part of the USAC Championship Trail there was always going to be a place for a midget or sprint driver and most would adapt. Banning rear-engine sprinters after Tom Sneva won some races in 1974 was the final nail in the USAC coffin in terms of advancing. Steve Chassey, Larry Rice and Rich Vogler were the last bastion of USACers to make it to Indianapolis without bringing money.
Q: There was a question in last week’s Mailbag about pit lane speed limits. They came about in 1996 and 1997 after the 1996 Rolex 24 Hours sports car race. Near the end of the race, Max Papis in a Ferrari prototype was in second place and chasing the leader. He needed a late splash-and-dash pit stop. He came flying down the racing down the pit lane at 190 mph. This woke up the track owners and sanctioning bodies about the potential dangers to pit personnel and others if a car went out of control. The IRL and CART probably implemented this along with NASCAR and others in 1997 or thereabouts.
RM: My pal Tim Coffeen remembers the pit speed limit being 100 mph at Michigan in 1993 when he was working for Nigel Mansell, and Wally Dallenbach (chief steward at the time) says it was the early ’90s.
Q: With the new Indy Split book coming out soon I wanted to look into the history of the IRL and found that they had raced at Disney World Speedway. I watched a little of the 1996 race there on YouTube and it seems like a very short oval for an IndyCar race. I also saw that it closed before I was even old enough to pay attention. Could you provide a little perspective on what it was like to see a race there, and why everyone gave up on keeping it only a few years after it opened?
Matthew, Columbus, OH
RM: The rumor was that the whole house was papered, and I can’t recall who paid for the track but I assume it was the IRL. It was just another short oval, nothing special.