Q: I’ve got the answer to save ovals: Pack racing. It has been avoided in the past due to the obvious dangers of it. But now we have the hideous aeroscreens which, according to NBC race coverage, are responsible for saving a life at every other race. Might as well put them to the test. The 2015 Fontana race was no doubt one of the most exciting I’ve ever seen. Of course nobody showed up or watched it on TV, but nobody anticipated such a race to happen in the first place. But if IndyCar announced that from now on all oval races were going to look like that and stuck with it, in a season or two ovals would be packed again. Or maybe they’ll still be in the same position they are today, but then at least IndyCar can say it tried it all before letting them die for good.
Blake from Alabama
RM: Fontana was more of a drafting race than a pack race because drivers could make moves and get away from each other. Twenty cars droning around in formation, two-by-two, at Texas wasn’t good racing in my mind. But because the cars are safer we should revert to pack racing? Ain’t gonna happen, and it wouldn’t make one iota of difference at the box office or on TV. We saw what happened in the IRL’s closing years.
Q: I’m only a couple of years younger than you, so I, too, remember back in the ’60s when short ovals like Milwaukee, Trenton, Langhorne and Phoenix were one-day affairs. Has IndyCar considered going back to that format? Practice early Saturday afternoon, qualify late afternoon, race Saturday evening. Wouldn’t that be cheaper for the teams and promoters? And the fans would get a full day of action. Do you think that would help revitalize ovals?
Peter, Gainesville, VA
RM: Gateway needs two days because of all the racing it hosts, but Texas would be perfect as a one-day show and I think that’s where IndyCar is headed: two days for road courses and a late Friday practice for street circuits. It saves teams and promoters money, and doesn’t hurt the show.
Q: I just read the interview with John Menard on NBC Sports, but to this day I ask the question: “Why did the CART team owners sell them their old cars?” If they didn’t do that, what cars would have ran? That could have been a gut punch to the IRL. I mean, how much money did the CART owners get? Seems like a very short-sighted move.
RM: Arrogance. CART never dreamed Tony George would spend millions and millions trying to prove his point, and they didn’t think the IRL would last a year.
Q: In the last 30 years has any previous Indy 500 winner never hit the wall at the Brickyard? I can remember most of them having accidents either before or after winning the Indy 500. Any winner lucky enough to have never hit the wall?
RM: Gil de Ferran, Kenny Brack, Eddie Cheever, Will Power and Simon Pagenaud never crashed after winning Indy.
Q: I have been following F1 since 2012 (well before Mercedes dominated F1). Before Hass F1 began. Before Liberty Media bought F1. And before Drive To Survive. When F1 CEO Stefano Domenicali said in that call to Wall Street analysts during Spanish GP weekend that F1 would talk to teams about hiring an American driver, how could that work? Like a Red Bull driver search that led to Scott Speed into a F1 seat at what is now AlphaTauri, or in NASCAR when what is now Roush Fenway racing did that Driver X show on the Discovery Channel in the mid 2000s?
RM: I think it’s all B.S.. F1 doesn’t want or need an American unless he brings $20 million, and I refuse to even acknowledge there’s a one percent chance.
Q: You have come into possession of a time machine. After taking the infant versions of Tony George and Bernie Ecclestone from their respective cribs and placing them up for adoption in Charlotte, NC so that they will grow up to be NASCAR’s problem, what do you do?
RM: I don’t know, but I’d have been worried if Bernie ran NASCAR. It might be even bigger than it was 15 years ago.
Q: Two shout-outs and one question. First shout-out is to IndyCar for creating the drama of pole day and bump day with a 35-car field. Yes, I’m old enough to miss the full Month of May, but I think IndyCar’s current qualifying procedure is a great compromise. My second shout-out is to you for your outstanding article on the 1971 McLaren, my all-time favorite Indy car. It’s the most clean, simple design ever. As a kid I repainted all my Matchbox, Hot Wheels, Johnny Lightning etc., cars every year to match that season’s cars. I probably spent a couple hours mixing up my Testors model car paint to get that papaya orange color just right.
I was amazed to learn they only built three and then sold one to Penske. You would think they would keep it as a backup rather than selling it to your prime competitor. That got me thinking about backup cars in general. I was in Turn 1 at Milwaukee in 1975 when, in Sunday pre-race practice, Johnny Rutherford plowed his Gatorade McLaren into the wall. J.R. always had the last pit stall there so I had a clear view of his hauler behind the pit wall. I swear before he came to a full stop there were crew members headed for the hauler, and they were lowering the backup car at the same time they were hauling away the wrecked primary.
When did backup cars start appearing, and were they “T-cars” identical to the primary, or last year’s model? (Mario’s Brawner Hawk in 1969 being the prime example). I wish you the best of health. The open-wheel community needs you.
JZ, Cedarburg, WI
RM: Thanks JZ, I think some teams had backups by the late ’60s and early ’70s but they would be older models (Mario’s Brawner/Hawk in 1969), and I’m not really sure when an identical T-car first emerged – probably via The Captain.
Q: Any word on the memorabilia show this weekend?
RM: It will be at the Embassy Suites event center in Plainfield from 4-8 p.m. on Friday and 9-4 on Saturday. Admission is $5 and good for both days.