Q: JR Hildebrand teaches at Stanford? I had no idea. This leads me to ask a question I have always wondered about. What do IndyCar drivers do for a living in the off-season? I’m sure that the highest-paid drivers can live off of their salaries, promotions and speaking engagements, but maybe not. Didn’t A.J. Foyt own some funeral parlors, and Emmo Fittipaldi owned orange groves in Brazil? So what about drivers like Charlie Kimble, Conor Daly, Colton Herta, Dalton Kellett, Pato O’Ward and the others? Drivers like Simona and Juan Pablo and Sebastien drive in other series, but what are some of the more unusual or interesting careers that some of the second-tier and part-time drivers have? I’m not so much interested in hearing about their speaking engagements, but their non-racing professions.
RM: They work out, go skiing, take their wives and girlfriends on vacation and a few do public appearances for their sponsor.
Q: Is IndyCar aware of just how bad its website is? I expected it to get better when Penske bought the series, but clearly it has not. I logged on trying to find qualifying results for Barber. Hours after qualifying ends, and I can’t find a starting grid anywhere. Also, the three drivers showing up on the homepage: Marco Andretti, Sebastien Bourdais, and Ed Carpenter. I get it, alphabetically they come first of drivers that will be competing this season. But wouldn’t it be a good idea to have more than one driver show up on the site that will actually be in the upcoming race?
I love the product on the track. I love the drivers when you get to see their personalities. I have questioned the leadership for at least 20 years. They are the best-looking, fastest closed-circuit cars in the world. It’s frustrating that it has been 30 years since anyone has known how to present and market them.
RM: It’s pretty lame, especially getting results on race weekends, but I would implore Roger Penske to get Dave Furst (director of PR) some quality help because he’s woefully under-staffed. NASCAR’s website posts its qualifying immediately after the session ends, and I looked Saturday and there was nothing on IndyCar’s site an hour after Pato won the pole.
Q: In 1973 I had a pit pass for all of May at the Indianapolis Speedway. On pole day, I recognized Ronnie Peterson walking about in the pits wearing a brown leather jacket. Years later, I saw a photo of him interacting with the Penske team that day. Would you know whether he ever came close to talking with anyone about racing in the 500 in any year?
I once got to ask Tim Schenken about racing in the 500, and he answered that both he and Peterson became interested and bought automatic-transmission cars to practice left-foot braking, but eventually decided that the Indy speeds were too dangerous. Peterson would’ve been awesome; I’m sure of that because in 1975 I saw him, in what had to be his first high-banked oval appearance and in a Chevy Camaro, beat A.J. Foyt to pole position at the Michigan IROC. Later that year, I saw him take the lead with a breathtaking pass during the Daytona IROC. So, did the Super Swede ever look like considering a bid for the milk?
Anthony V., Indianapolis
RM: I never heard that, but Indy 500 author Rick Shaffer found Howden Ganley and Frank Williams sitting on the pit wall that month and Jackie Stewart was also a visitor. The rumor was that Mario wanted Gunner Nilsson to run with him at Indianapolis when they were teammates, but sadly, cancer claimed him.
Q: While looking for your latest Mailbag on Google, I unexpectedly came across an obituary you wrote for Art Pollard in 1973 that appeared in the Indianapolis Star. As a longtime fan that gets into the history of the sport, what you wrote as a 23-year old was not only a great tribute to your friend, but I honestly feel like I knew who Art Pollard was (personality-wise) and what exactly killed him, something that I didn’t know for 48 years. Do you recall that day? You’ve been writing great stuff for a long time and I’ve always enjoyed your articles and insight. Thanks for your contributions over the years!
Todd J. Burnworth, Fort Wayne, IN
RM: I was sitting on the pit wall talking to him before he went out that final time and I asked why, because he was in the top six speeds at the time. He said he wanted to try one more thing. But Art was a prince of a person and a damn good racer who got a late start on his career.
Q: Love the Mailbag. Always something interesting. You mentioned your Mt. Rushmore of drivers in a recent Mailbag. In reading it, it made me think of Lloyd Ruby. While maybe not a Rushmore driver, definitely someone who had success in many forms of racing. Your thoughts on the man, the driver, and any books on his life?
Matt Townsend, Buhl, ID
RM: I was lucky enough to work on Rube’s team in 1974, and nobody drove harder or had more fun than he did. He had no luck at Indy but he was always fast and up front, and his road racing skills were greatly under-appreciated. Buy his book “Hard Luck Lloyd” at Coastal181.com or Amazon.
Q: I’m definitely reading the “Indy Split” book when it’s released next month. Have you read an advance copy? If yes, are you going to do a proper review? If you’re not doing a proper review, then can you do a quick review in this forum? Also, are there any revelations in the book that we didn’t know about the Split?
Ron, Portland, OR
RM: I wrote the intro and it’s a damn good read, and there are several things that might surprise you but I’m not going to share them here. I’ll review it in May.
Q: As a Brownsburg native, the Lucas Oil Raceway Park is very near and dear to my heart. I’m crossing my fingers that NASCAR brings some races back in the next few years. The absolute dream would be for them to restore the 2.5-mile road course and get some Road to Indy races on that in lieu of the oval. I was wondering if you could share a good memory or two that you had at the track in its heyday, and if you had any insight on the future of the track.
RM: I loved the Indy Grand Prix in the 1960s (Mario’s first win) and IRP has always hosted some great midget, sprint and Silver Crowns shows. NASCAR’s Busch series was one of its best races, but they pulled the plug because IRP wouldn’t pave or repave parking and the area behind the grandstands (at least, that was story).
Don Dakin was the promoter and a wonderful guy who use to let us practice on the road course and oval for free. I was practicing in my Formula Ford one day and noticed a truck and trailer parked on the main straightaway, but didn’t hear any noise. I drove around the first turn and there was a Formula B car crunched again the wall with the engine still running and the driver unconscious. I turned off the engine, ran into the office and we called 911. The driver broke his left leg and arm, but no head injury except a concussion. That was the end of free testing on the road course, but we still got to hot lap on the oval with Gary Bettenhausen until Mr. Liability stepped in and pulled the plug. Not sure about the future, but USAC seems to have found its footing there again.