The RACER Mailbag, November 3

The RACER Mailbag, November 3

Insights & Analysis

The RACER Mailbag, November 3

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Q: I’ve been an IndyCar fan for 50-plus years and enjoyed the antics of Robin for many of those years. With help of his sister, Marshall or others, maybe they could give some insight on what events in IndyCar affected Robin the most? (Good, bad, happy, sad). Here’s a pic of Robin at Mid-Ohio 2019. I think he’s cussing me out.

Rick Schutte

“You’re holding it backwards, you *******.”

MP: Hi Rick, your use of ‘antics’ to describe Robin made me chuckle. Perfect word! Our close friend Steve Shunck has some great memories to share below, and before he does, I’ll add that while Robin obviously lived for the Indy 500, and wasn’t necessarily motivated by some of the other events on the calendar, he never lost the fire to report on mundane things. Writing reports year after year on the second practice session at Track X gets old, quickly. And yet, he was always raising his hand — after having written a million of those reports — to help with penning yet another. That always stood out to me. Robin had the clout to say he’d only file big stories, but he never shied away from the boring or laborious ones, which spoke to his passion and professionalism that spanned every event of the year. And now to Shunck:

STEVE SHUNCK, long-time and close friend to Robin Miller:

“The death of Art Pollard in 1973 in the morning practice session before the first day of qualifying for the Indy 500 was his saddest moment. Robin was 23 and Art was 46 at the time. They were very close friends, and Art pretty much put Robin under his wing and looked out for him for the three years they were friends. They went to movies and concerts along with Art’s wife. Robin and Art also worked out together at Indianapolis Athletic Club, played basketball and played poker. In Robin’s words, “Art Pollard actually cared, gave a damn if you please, about a bunch of people in this world. Whether you raced against him, dined with him, laughed with him or just barely knew him, Art came across as more than an autograph, handshake or wave. He tried to become a part of your world for at least a couple minutes.” Art also helped Robin buy his Formula Ford.

“When Roger Penske bought IMS, Robin was thrilled. Not so much that RP was buying it from Tony George, but because Roger has passion and love for IMS like few others. Robin knew Roger would invest the money and time needed to make it event bigger and better. It’s hard to go back in time, but Robin knew Roger was probably the only person that could get Indianapolis 500 close to “what it once was.” I know for a fact that many times Robin and Roger would exchange emails well into the early morning, with Robin running his thoughts and ideas past Roger and receiving an almost immediate – if not immediate – response at 2:30 a.m.

Art Pollard at Indy in 1967. Robin’s presumably just out of shot and checking the newspaper to see what time the local cinema is showing Casino Royale. Image via IMS

“Moving on, Robin had nothing against foreign drivers. Robin simply wanted the best drivers to race at the Indy 500 and IndyCar. But NOTHING made him happier than when a young deserving American was given a chance, and especially when it was an American with a top-flight team. Josef Newgarden comes to mind — Robin was happy when Sarah Fisher and Ed Carpenter gave Newgarden a ride, but thrilled when Penske signed him. He was so happy when Brian Clauson was given a chance; same with Conor Daly and Sage Karam. No one was a bigger cheerleader for Graham Rahal than Robin. When Ryan Hunter-Reay was given a chance with Bobby Rahal which lead to Ryan going to Andretti Autosport with IZOD and then winning Indy in 2014, that made Robin happy. Robin was also happy to see the best international drivers race and succeed at Indy — Dario, Dixon, Sato, Helio, Montoya, Power, Pagenaud and Kanaan. And boy till the bitter end he was pushing for Kyle Larson to get a shot at Indy.

“I could write tons more, but for Robin, but nothing was better than a phone call on a random Tuesday afternoon with Dan Gurney, A.J., Mario, Mears or Uncle Bobby. He’d usually call to get just one or two quotes for a RACER magazine or RACER.com story, and instead of just a quote or two the call could sometimes last up to 90 minutes (Uncle Bobby…). None were less than 30 minutes as Robin and whoever he called took care of business first, then it was time for gossip, followed by some tales from the past and “good old days” before it wrapped with badmouthing some current situation or other and how it could be solved Robin’s or the legends way, which would then make IndyCar racing or the 500 bigger, better, stronger or faster. He loved, loved those calls!

Q: Thanks for reviving the Mailbag! Robin would be very proud, and we all appreciate it.

Many of us are familiar with the sagas of the Whittington brothers, Randy Lanier and John Paul Jr. My question is whether the fellow drivers on the grid were onto what was going on (to the extent we may know), and if so, how did it affect the trust and respect they were given (or not) on the track? If fellow drivers were angry at the disrepute they were bringing to the sport, how did this manifest itself? Any behind-the-scenes tension that came to light years later? Did A.J. smack anybody upside the head? Did Roger dress anybody down for besmirching the corporate image? As disappointing as these shenanigans were at the time, in retrospect it is a fascinating era that’s gotta be an unending gift for good storytellers.

Peter in NJ

MP: Even today, the topic is a sensitive one when I’ve broached it with some of the owners and drivers who were there in CART and IMSA, where Lanier and the Pauls and Whittingtons got their pro racing start. Not sure if you’re a fan of pro wrestling or have seen the docuseries ‘Dark Side of the Ring’ on the Vice channel, but it offers a fascinating look inside the biggest scandals and craziest characters from the WWE and regional promotions. It’s told by the main characters or those who were deeply involved, and I dream of something similar being developed for racing to tell the full stories of the aforementioned drivers, and more.

At the time, Mario was vocal about anyone doing drugs or selling drugs needing to be kicked out of the sport, and it was an important line for IndyCar’s biggest name to draw. But since our sport is driven by sponsorship dollars and thrives on a clean reputation to find and keep those corporate partners, it’s a struggle to get the bigger names who are still involved with racing back then to give honest and detailed answers. If you caught the new Netflix series ‘Bad Sport,’ there’s a good episode on Lanier, and he’s the main storyteller in it, but what won’t you find? The Penskes and Foyts anywhere near it. I’ve heard tons of great stories about the driver/smuggler times, but they’ve all come from mechanics, reporters, and folks who weren’t in the spotlight.

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