The RACER Mailbag, November 17

The RACER Mailbag, November 17

Insights & Analysis

The RACER Mailbag, November 17

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Welcome to the RACER Mailbag. Questions for Marshall Pruett or any of RACER’s other writers can be sent to mailbag@racer.com. Due to the high volume of questions received, we can’t guarantee that every letter will be published, but we’ll answer as many as we can. Published questions may be edited for style or clarity.

Q: With the hype of having a U.S. hopeful in the Formula 1 grid, everyone is still talking about Michael Andretti’s failed attempt to have a team that he can call his own. It was very sad that Michael and Sauber could not come to terms. But on the brighter side, the legendary Williams name obtained Logan Sargeant for its development program. I consider Logan as one of the lucky ones in that he was that close to competing in sports cars and IndyCar. But with the presence of a US GP, U.S. fans wanted a U.S. representative to compete in Formula 1. Sargeant managed to have a Formula 3 ride with a perennial backmarker like Charouz Racing, which scored only 20 points in its existence in the series before Sargeant amassed 102 while leading the team to a top five finish.

I still recall a driver who almost had a chance to drive with Sir Frank back in the day. What would Al Unser Jr. would say about this signing of Logan to the Williams Driver Academy?

JLS, Chicago, Ill

MARSHALL PRUETT: Well, if Little Al used his testing experience with Williams in the early 1990s as a guide, he’d tell Logan to run like hell and get as far away from the team as possible. The legends who made the team what it is – Sir Frank, Patrick Head, etc – are no longer in charge, and therefore, unable to make Logan as miserable as they made Little Al.

Outside of that old yarn, I do like the opportunity that’s come along for the Floridian, but sweet baby Jesus, he’s a loooooong way from being ready for F1. It’s like Penske signing a kid out of Indy Pro 2000 who’s shown strong potential, but not title-winning potential of a Kyle Kirkwood or Christian Rasmussen, in the hope they grow into something fierce. There’s a ton to learn and lots to show in the coming years for Logan before a Williams F1 race seat seems remotely possible. Count me among those who are rooting for him to beat the odds and make it to the top.

Q: In a recent radio interview, Ron Fellows, co-owner of CTMP (Mosport), said his track could not host a NASCAR Truck Series race in 2022 because there was no guarantee that all of the people involved would be able to meet the requirement of proving full vaccination status, which is currently needed to cross the border. The SRO GT World Challenge will also not visit CTMP, but IMSA, IndyCar, F1, and Formula E all presently have events scheduled in Canada for 2022. Have IMSA and IndyCar already determined that this will not be a problem for them, or have they just not looked into the situation yet?

Keith Baxter, Toronto

MP: I’d assume the extremely pragmatic Mr. Fellows was simply reviewing all the problems he’s experienced at Canadian Tire Motorsports Park with COVID-related border crossing issues and event cancellations and shifts, and projecting forward. Overstating the obvious, but it’s not like they can predict the future, much less know how presidents or prime ministers will direct immigration services to open or close travel based on where the virus is at months from now. Those are all decisions to come in due time.

After two seasons away, the IndyCar paddock needs its poutine fix. Scott LePage / Motorsport Images

Q: I loved when Robin would tell stories about our heroes like the Unsers, Foyt, Rutherford, Andretti, Johncock, etc. I know Marshall doesn’t go that far back, but how about a behind-the-scenes tale from one of the modern day gunslinging badasses like Dixon or Kanaan?

Dave E. in Speedway Indiana

MP: Why don’t we go back to 1996 CART IndyCar Series champ Jimmy Vasser, who made his first big waves by winning the 1986 SCCA Runoffs in the Formula Ford class, which was a big deal back then for a young open-wheeler. Put them on the map. He won the Runoffs driving for a team based out of Sears Point (known today at Sonoma Raceway) named Pfeiffer Ridge Racing. I started working there as a young race car mechanic in 1989 – it was my first major team after a few years working for smaller teams and shops – and while Vasser had moved on and was climbing up that era’s Road To Indy, he was still based in San Francisco and would stop by Pfeiffer Ridge on occasion.

I thought the world of JV, and it was early in 1990 when he paid a visit to the shop as I was prepping to go through SCCA Driver’s School with the old 1980 Tiga Formula Ford my father and I put together for pennies. He was the shop’s big success story and clearly headed for bigger things, but maintained his permanent state of California cool. I got a feel for that when, while outside setting up my Tiga (I think our hard-nosed boss Bob Lesnett took the day off, which is when we goofed off or got into a lot of trouble) Vasser strolled over, took note that it was my car, asked a few questions about it, then about going through school, and offered me a ton of encouragement.

It was one of those deals where Vasser probably didn’t think anything of it, but it meant so much to me to have one of our great young open-wheel stars take a few minutes to boost my confidence the day before I’d turn my first laps in the Tiga. Small gesture; big impact. Sadly, all the encouragement in the world from Vasser wasn’t going to give me half the talent I needed to be excellent in Formula Ford. Lots more stories to tell in future Mailbags – thanks for asking.

Pruett gives a new meaning to tighty whities while testing the Tiga at what was then Sears Point. Image via Marshall Pruett

Q: Could you ask Mark Miles why IndyCar still has no presence on daily fantasy sites like FanDuel? Daily fantasy sites generate almost $3 billion a year with millions of players. It doesn’t make any since for IndyCar to sit on the sidelines in such a huge market.

D, Medford, OR

Here’s the response from Penske Entertainment President and CEO Mark Miles:

As you can imagine, we have received a lot of interest from multiple sports betting platforms as it pertains to Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the Indianapolis 500 and the NTT IndyCar Series. The engagement that these platforms provide are so important and we’ve been working to define the right strategy for our properties. We look forward to sharing these opportunities with our fans in 2022.

MP: Miller was our resident degenerate gambler who knew about all this stuff. I bought a couple of lottery tickets and a few scratchers in my early 20s, won nothing, and gave up.

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