The RACER Mailbag, January 12

The RACER Mailbag, January 12

Insights & Analysis

The RACER Mailbag, January 12

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Q: Regarding the Indy 500 being seen live in theaters, here is a little more info. MCA (which owned Universal Studios at the time) did live closed-circuit television presentations of the Indy 500 in theaters and arenas across the country from 1964-70. Here in Los Angeles, there would be around 10 to 12 venues each year with the race, and some of the local presentations were J.C. Agajanian promotions. Charles Brockman (a local Indianapolis sports commentator) was the race announcer some of the years, and except for 1964 and 1966, Rodger Ward was the color commentator.

Chris Economaki did double duty reporting from the pits, doing live shots for MCA, while also filming interviews for ABC to be used a week later on “Wide World of Sports” and its Indy 500 highlights show. In 1970 the Daytona 500 was shown live and in color (the Indy 500 had been in black and white) on closed circuit TV around the country, as was the inaugural California 500 at the new Ontario Motor Speedway, though both did poorly at the theater box office. In 1971 ABC began same-day home TV coverage (a two-hour highlight package) of the Indy 500, so closed-circuit TV then became mostly a boxing (and later wrestling) business, until the emerging home cable TV business had enough households to make pay-per-view profitable. The 12/29 Mailbag picture of the Wiltern Theatre in Los Angeles was 1967, but rain after 18 laps on Tuesday 5/30 moved the remaining race to the next day. The Wiltern Theatre today is now a concert venue.

Dan Redant

MP: Dan, you’re the Mailbag’s new Donald Davidson of Indy 500 closed-circuit history!

Q: Recently on their podcast, Hinch and Rossi made a suggestion that I think IndyCar should consider. They suggested that since the IMS road course layout has been/is being used multiple times for the IndyCar season, IndyCar should run different layouts when they utilize it. I could see keeping the Indy GP layout for the split weekend with NASCAR but maybe try the F1 layout (or a modified version of it) for the GMR Grand Prix? I’d love to see the Indy cars rip around Turns 1 and 2 of the oval down the front stretch.

As a fan, I think I’d be more interested in purchasing a ticket to either race knowing it’s not a copy of the other’s layout. Or a bit more variety to the Penske dominance of the IndyCar layout.

Justin F., Connecticut

MP: I’m all for randomness when it comes to things like this. Only downside is most tire companies would not agree to supply teams without having them test on the various track configurations and building tires to suit the backwards blast through oval Turn 1.

Without that requirement, I’d love to see a random draw an hour before the first road course practice session where Roger Penske pulls one of the many configuration options out of a bag and uses that layout as the surprise circuit for the event. I know we’d need to scramble and get corner workers in place, and maybe even monkey around with TV camera placement, but hey, if we’re trying to inject some anarchy into the series for our amusement and see how teams react, this might be worth exploring…

Let’s change the Indy road course layout every couple of laps and really keep the drivers on their toes. Barry Cantrell/Motorsport Images

Q: I’ve seen you sneak in some tidbits about IndyCar’s forthcoming hybrid system, such as its approximate 250 pound weight. As far as I can remember, no other details or specs have been published – how much power will the hybrid system provide; how often will that power be available; is it a battery system; who are the manufacturers, etc. Is there any other general or specific information you can share with us at this point?

Corey in New Orleans

MP: Most IndyCar race engineers would quit if the thing weighed 250 pounds! The number they’re anticipating is about half of that at 120 pounds or so. Nothing more to share at this moment, but when we do – hopefully in the next month or two – it will be a standalone feature on the site.

Q: I remember reading about the turbine cars in the ’70s dominating the 500 until they broke and were eventually banned for reasons that were never clear to me. It seems that a natural progression after hybrid battery/ICE Indy cars would be battery/turbine. The battery-electric drive provides instant torque and would let a turbine engine run at maximum efficiency all the time. Of course nothing happens without dollars, but if an energy company wanted to highlight the all-fuel capability of these engines, what are the chances IndyCar would allow for experimental technology like this again?

Paul Miranda, Austin, TX

MP: Dial the clock back to the late 1960s and you’re spot-on. Back then, the rules were all but nonexistent, and since USAC/the Indy 500 was not betrothed to the auto industry and reliant upon it providing engines for its cars, teams were free to come up with all kinds of crazy solutions to stuff behind the driver.

Where the Fun Police step in and ruin that possibility is the modern system where turbines, nuclear reactors, warp engines, and anything else that doesn’t fit the tight confines of today’s rulebook aren’t allowed. If it isn’t a technology being sold by one of IndyCar’s engine partners, I don’t foresee it being on the grid. Granted, the minute Chevy or Honda make a hybrid turbine coupe I can go lease from my local dealer, I’m in!

Q: The kids gave this old man a Roku stick for Christmas. Which level of the Peacock do I need to get the IndyCar events that will be moving to this NBC streaming service?  Wish I didn’t have to add another level of technology just to watch all of the greatest racing series in the world.  

Ray Schmudde

MP: For those who don’t get it for free as part of their cable package, you will need to sign up for Peacock Premium to get the Toronto IndyCar race that’s being streamed, and all of the practice and qualifying sessions and broadcast races for the year.

Q: Now that Atlanta Motor Speedway has been repaved, what are the chances IndyCar would consider moving their oval race at Texas Motor Speedway to Atlanta?   

With a brand-new track surface at Atlanta there is presumably no need for PJ1 TrackBite, which has so negativity impacted the IndyCar race at Texas.

Kevin P., Los Angeles

MP: If the good folks at Atlanta Motor Speedway make a solid pitch to IndyCar, I’m sure they’d listen, Kevin, and while I’ve only been there a few times, wow, my memory of that place is how fast it is.

I remember our little Nienhouse Motorsports IRL team booked a test day there in 1999 as part of Eliseo Salazar’s comeback after his big season-ending crash the year before. We needed to help get his confidence up after being terribly injured, and he was all smiles after pulling away from our pit box and never lifting until he returned to pit lane.

The track grip was just immense, and as he found, there was no need to ease into things. He also forgot about the comparative lack of grip on pit lane because he came charging in after the first stint, and with no other teams there, he maintained a high speed until he got to within four or five pit boxes, hit the brakes, and promptly did a Danny Sullivan spin-to-win routine!

Truly impressive that he didn’t hit anything, and while he executed a perfect 360-degree rotation and kept going, the only issue was the matter of distance remaining to his crew… most of the gap from where he hit the brakes to where we were standing on pit lane was gone, which led some of us to dive for cover. That story aside, I’d love to go back to AMS and remind Georgia that it’s important to IndyCar.