Welcome to the RACER Mailbag. Questions for any of RACER’s writers can be sent to email@example.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: I am reading My Checkered Past and I have to say I am very disappointed in Al Unser Jr. I loved to watch him race, and I was a big fan of his during the day (I have been going to IndyCar races since 1967). But his revelations in the book – I am only halfway through it – are amazing. It seems he was very self-destructive, self-centered and made a lot of not very smart decisions. I have lost all respect for him. He had a negative impact on a many people; some he professed to love. As a driver he might have been even more impressive than he was, given some better life decisions. Squandering that natural talent is not only a waste, it is a slap in the face to those who may have similar talent but not the wherewithall to realize their ambitions.
I’m writing this just to get it off of my chest, and maybe get some insight. Am I missing something?
MARSHALL PRUETT: I had the opposite reaction to his book; I appreciated his honesty. Yes, Little Al won two IndyCar championships and two Indy 500s, which is a remarkable thing. But he also left another two or three CART titles behind due to his demons and addictions.
Learning more about how an elite talent rises to the occasional challenge but comes up short more often than expected is where I found the greatest value in the book penned for Al by my pal Jade Gurss. How many promising draft picks fail to live up to their potential in stick and ball sports? More than we’d hope, which is why I don’t share the same negative opinion here. I also keep in mind that without the same challenges Little Al faced or created for himself, his top rival, Michael Andretti, became a one-time champion and has zero Indy 500 wins. So if I compare the two, Unser Jr. might’ve overachieved.
Q: Last year after RC Enerson failed to qualify for the 500, Bill Throckmorton said, “I guarantee we’ll have a car in the 500 next year, and R.C. will be the kid driving it.” That no longer appears to be the case, even though it appeared to be a symbiotic relationship with the Enersons owning the chassis and spare with Throckmorton having the budget. Are both really going to risk sitting on the sidelines? What happened?
John, Del Rio, Tennessee
MP: I continue to root for both to succeed here, but the Throckmortons and the Enersons seem to suffer from the same lack of budget, so there’s nothing to risk. I can’t speak to what went sideways between them, but there are one or more Indy 500 hopefuls with money in hand who want to get the Enersons’ cars and go racing. As for RC, that kid never appears on the short lists of paying IndyCar teams when they’re looking for new drivers and it’s a shame. I bet someone would be pleasantly surprised if they went testing with him.
Q: Now that RP has owned the Speedway a few years, what changes have made an impact on experts like yourself?
MP: I honestly can’t think of anything that stands out for folks like me who write the stories, take the photos, or shoot the videos, but I think it’s supposed the be that way. R.P. doesn’t need to waste his money on our side of the sport; it’s better spent on making the fan experience better, cleaner, and more upscale.
Q: I am excited about Michael Andretti’s intention to join F1. Do you have a sense of the barriers he is facing from the existing F1 hierarchy? Given their clear desire to expand in the U.S., it would seem a no-brainer. But, I am sure they are worried about diluting their product, a la baseball/NHL expansion.
MP: If Michael has the money and supply contracts and infrastructure ready to go, I can think of no logical reason why the FIA or F1 teams would stand in the way of Andretti Global or any other new prospective entrant with everything in place to do a proper job. It’s the protectionism part that worries me. That being said, with F1 undergoing a healthy growth spurt in viewership and awareness, there does seem to be a desire to ensure nobody else gets in while the getting is good. It’s a gang mentality being practiced by zillionaires and auto manufacturers.
Haas F1 has been an embarrassment for years, and yet, due to the timing of Gene Haas joining the grid, his annual s***show deserves to be safeguarded from being demoted from P19 and P20 by Andretti Global (or similar) to P21 and P22?
Q: Been watching Winter Olympics on our local West Palm Beach NBC station and there has been constant commercials from RP Funding who apparently is a sponsor of the St. Pete race and the Firestone Grand Prix logo and dates are clearly displayed though not prominently but still visible. Nice to see some promotion this far away and in a different local station area. Have you heard of any other promos regarding the race? St. Pete always gets the live crowd, but the tune-in crowd is important.
MP: I haven’t, and if you think you’re far away, I’m 3000 miles to the west…