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: Good call in your pre-season preview about youth stepping up this season in IndyCar. The ages of the drivers winning in 2021 goes as follows: 24, 21, 40 (Dixon), 21 and 20. Wouldn’t be surprised to see 26-year old Scott McLaughlin winning the Greatest Spectacle in Racing later this month in a Penske. My guess is that teams and car preparations is so balanced in the IndyCar field that it’s now just driving talent deciding the winners in the series? Penske being 0-5 so far in 2021 speaks volumes and helps prove this point. As usual, thanks for the info, hope you are doing well. Every time I eat turkey I think of Bobby Unser. Thanks Miller!
Todd J. Burnworth, Fort Wayne, IN
RM: The best thing about IndyCar is that if you’re a good driver with a sharp engineer and decent pit stops you can be competitive right out of the box, because the cars and engines are so even. Ask Grosjean. I’d call it a driver’s series without any limits on experience, because if you’ve got talent, you can run up front.
Q: OK, we all now know what’s happening. Let me lay it out for those who don’t.
Robin is a fan of making a wager or three from time to time. And Robin got with ol’ Cap’n Penske and drew up a scheme. They said OK, we’re gonna have all the rookies win a race (except J.J.) and before the season starts, Robin will run a story “predicting” the success of the rookie and youngster class of IndyCar. Both of them place large bets on the kids, and then Roger rigs the race. Actually, that’s a good name for a book about the Ilmor Beast motor from the ’90s that blew everyone’s proverbial doors off… Roger Rigs the Race, starring Ricky Bobby. You can pay me royalties later. Mob Boss Rog is giving out at least $10 million per team in hush money, so nobody finds out that IndyCar now has a BoP system. The more experience you have, the less boost you can run. Rinus had 7,500 lbs of boost Saturday at the Indy GP, while poor Willy P was stuck with only 25.
Roger and Robin are placing huge wagers on the young kids to make back the money they lost during the pandemic. Roger gets 95% and Robin gets five. Seriously though… you nailed it, these kids are fast, and seeing Grosjean lead a race on merit was awesome. This might go down to the last lap of the last race of the year, and then a tie-breaker. Wherever you’re hiding your crystal ball, protect it. Then give me lotto numbers. Who is next to break through?
Mike in Tampa
RM: Back in the ’80s Chris Economaki was telling people that R.P. paid off $100,000 in gambling debts for me, and that’s almost as funny as your “rigged” scenario. The Captain doesn’t gamble on things he can’t control, but Caesars Palace was so worried about a “fix” in the CART races in 1983-84 they closed the sports book early and would only take $200 wagers. I picked Pato, Palou and VeeKay to win their first race, so still got to get Jack Harvey and McLaughlin into victory lane. And still need nine more winners to get to 14.
Q: I always enjoy your writing — anyone who knows that Jim Hurtubise drove number 56 is my kind of Indy car guy. However, I was struck by your comment that oval racing is dying because “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.” I would argue that people were more than willing to do this in the past because they loved to see their favorite drivers go wheel to wheel at breathtaking speeds, whether it was at Indy or even on the dirt tracks of the 1950s-1960s. And who were their favorite drivers likely to be? Well, when you watch the Olympics, who do you cheer for?
Road and street racing can be very entertaining because, as you point out, it’s an all-day party and many of the fans go to just have fun even though they may not be familiar with half the names in the field. Which is to say that the steady decline of American drivers from the 1990s onwards doomed the oval roots of the sport and its fan base. In days gone by, I attended IndyCar races at Milwaukee, Atlanta, Riverside and Elkhart Lake, not to mention 17 Indy 500s, going all the way back to 1966. Now, the latter is about the only race I still watch, even though for a decade fewer than a half dozen Americans have had a top-notch ride.
Before anyone accuses me of being xenophobic, I should mention that I was a great fan of Clark, Stewart, Emmo, Arie, Dario and Helio. But what we have now is not simply a good mix of foreign and American drivers, but near total dominance of foreign drivers — all of whom are certainly talented and nice guys, but at the risk of repetition, when you watch the Olympics, who do you cheer for?
John Davis, Dunnellon, FL
RM: Fair point, but how do you keep car owners from hiring Palou, Pato or VeeKay when they exhibit so much talent at a young age? The ladder system caters to foreigners because it’s affordable compared to Europe, but Newgarden, Herta, Pigot and Daly used it as a springboard. The days of going to Kokomo to cheer on your favorite and follow him to Indy are long gone, and they’re not coming back. Oval racing is all but dead because nobody wants to promote it and not enough people want to go watch it. But to answer your question, Tony Kanaan and Helio Castroneves are still the two most popular drivers at Indianapolis, so what does that tell us?