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: Why does IndyCar have such a hard time keeping venues, ovals in particular? In general, the on-track product is far superior to any other series. It seems like all the balls that need to be juggled, like getting butts in the seats, to competitive packages at each track, to catering to TV ratings (which seems to get the most attention right now)… each time one is addressed, another one falls. Does ISC still own all the potential ovals that IndyCar could run on?
What happened with Pikes Peak, Nashville, Phoenix and Milwaukee are well-documented attendance disasters, as was Pocono. The bang for the entertainment buck has to be there, for casual fans and for potential fans. Something that gets folks to the track then they get hooked on the sights, sounds, speed, and competition. Losing Texas could be a disaster!
Troay Strong, Kansas City
RM: For the 10,000th time, you can’t make people go to oval races, where they usually face a long drive and then lots of sitting and waiting for the race. Gateway and Chris Blair figured out you have to give the fans an all-day experience, and that’s what he does with the Road to Indy and vintage cars and non-stop entertainment. Promoters have to spend a lot of money, and if they don’t have a big-time title sponsor, they can’t come close to breaking even. Phoenix was a great example of trying to resurrect an old stomping ground and giving up after three years because nobody cared. But Long Beach, Mid-Ohio, Road America, Detroit, Gateway, Barber and St. Pete have developed a nice following with a good format.
Q: I don’t understand all of this oval obsession. Going to TMS used to mean cringing and pucker-worthy formation racing at the Texas Death Bowl. Then PJ1 came along and everyone complained about the single-lane racing.
It’s time to give up on the failed business model of American open-wheel oval racing outside of Marion County. Instead, let’s do street ovals. Think of the mile-high corner at the old Denver street course, or Hinch out-braking Sato on the last hairpin at Sao Paulo. Two long straights with two parking lots for the turns would do it. And I can think of a certain municipal airport in Northeast Ohio where you could set up a short track oval, a high speed roval and a traditional road course all without paving another foot of tarmac. A triple-header weekend that would showcase the versatility of IndyCar. So what say you about street ovals, Robbie?
Don Davis, Chardon, Ohio
RM: Ovals are IndyCar’s heritage and keep the series the most diversified, but at what point do you just pack it in at a place like Texas because nobody shows up anymore? I’m amazed Eddie keeps scheduling a race. But a parking lot oval isn’t a bad idea. Caesars Palace (second version in 1984) was a roval in a parking lot and real racy, while Cleveland would be a natural with its width and long runways. In both cases you’re taking oval racing to the population, but unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be any movement for such an animal. BTW, in regard to last week, Texas had no say in whether qualifying was held on Saturday — that was an IndyCar call.
Q: I love oval racing and wish there were 10 on the schedule. But reality is otherwise. After the comments (valid) about Texas, we may be down to two in the future. I got to thinking: what if something happens to Gateway and we are down to only one?
Here is a hypothetical thought experiment. If teams did not have to configure cars for multiple ovals and could focus exclusively on Indy, how could the regulations, specs, aero packages, rules and procedures be modified to give the drivers and fans the ultimate Indy 500 experience? Hint: new track records would be kind of cool.
Craig Smith, Boulder, CO
RM: Well, back in 1953 there were 12 races, all dirt ovals except Indianapolis, so the schedule evolved with Trenton, Milwaukee being paved and a new paved oval at Phoenix. Would it cripple IndyCar to only have Indianapolis? Probably not, although it certainly removes that element that sets you apart from everyone else. But a new track record isn’t going to suddenly revitalize practice or qualifying crowds, and there are three months between Indy and Gateway, so it’s not a mad thrash to change cars.
Q: Just had a great chat with Linda Price at IMS (who says hi!). She reached out to let me know they’re adding a few viewing areas for the flex ticket holders (GA tickets) for Saturday’s road race, which is awesome. It worked out well, since they hadn’t sent my kids tickets and she got that fixed. IMS does have a personal touch, and so many of them don’t just work there but they are passionate about the fans and Speedway. Thanks for the assist.
RM: Good to hear, Linda and her staff work long hours and couldn’t be any friendlier or accommodating.