The RACER Mailbag, April 20

The RACER Mailbag, April 20

Insights & Analysis

The RACER Mailbag, April 20

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Q: I remember someone stating the best way to make new IndyCar fans was to throw a street race in their lap. After booking Long Beach for the first time instead of the local TMS (expected disappointment after last year), I couldn’t agree more. To say I was blown away was an understatement!

The track was always busy with great variety (IndyCar, IMSA, Trucks, Drifting, Historics), a car show and exhibition inside, great food options, a concert, and plenty to do around (shops, beach, touristy things). My wife who is not a race fan but tagged along with me even admitted she had a great time! Already looking to rebook next year because I want to relive that experience again.

Based on the experience and energy of this weekend, why has no one consistently been able to utilize this blueprint successfully outside of Long Beach? It felt like an event, not just a race. Are IndyCar and IMSA that much at odds with each other that they can’t see the mutual benefit of doing this more often than just Long Beach and Detroit? And not a question, but I really hope Iowa is successful as it seems to be trying a similar approach

Ben, Cypress, TX

MP: Great to hear, Ben, and yes, I’ve always been an advocate of adding street races for the sake of making new fans in an easy, downtown location where non-fans might want to check out what we’re about. IMSA hasn’t organized a street race of its own in forever, nor do I see them changing that practice, so it’s up to IndyCar to work with its promoter base to see what’s possible. Green Savoree give us the St. Pete and Toronto street races, Penske does Detroit, and we have the new Big Machine group behind Nashville. Would one of them be up for expanding, or would a new street race promoter need to raise their hand?

Let’s bring back the IndyCar/sports car double-header street race in Baltimore. Problem solved. Michael Levitt/Motorsport Images

Q: I’m sure there’s something in the works to remember Robin at this year’s Indy, hopefully joyous in reflection of his love for the race and humorous based on his years of memorable quotes. After your comment about how embarrassed R.M. would be about naming the race for him at Milwaukee, perhaps something could be done at Indy to give him a poke in the ribs?

When he was being remembered after his passing it came to light just how generous he was and wanted no recognition for it, so I was thinking that something done for charity in his name would be correct.

But instead of the typical event, maybe do something with humor injected. Like the Robin Miller 5k at the track some morning where participants must wear vintage t-shirts and sweatpants while consuming a Pepsi and a donut? That’s just off the top of my head, but the idea is to do something that would fit the RM mold.

Tracey St Aubin

MP: We raised north of $20K for charity in Robin’s name last year, and we can certainly do more. Thinking of doing a dinner with some of his/our closest friends and spinning yarns about the old fart. Since I’ll be covering Indy for the first time without him, it will be sad and weird, and to be honest, with the daily workload to handle, I’m not sure I want to take on doing a whole charity production as well while going solo. We’ll do something, though, for sure.

Q: I get the impression you have to grow up fairly wealthy to do to make it to the top level of racing. Is that a fair assessment? I don’t think less of a driver if their family has money, but it would be cool to hear if there were any Average Joes in IndyCar.

Evan, Tonawanda, NY

MP: Big money or big talent has always been the ticket to land in pro racing, and for the most part, the best drivers are all from normal backgrounds. Scott Dixon had to sell shares — a future earnings deal – as a kid where investors put up the money to get him racing in America, and it was only though that investment group that he landed in Indy Lights and earned his way forward. The late Justin Wilson had to do the same and it took a long while to pay off the investors. Your reigning champ Alex Palou comes from utter normalcy; so does Pato O’Ward. Same with Alexander Rossi. Same with Scott McLaughlin, who worked as a racing mechanic and fabricator before getting his shot in Australian Supercars. And so on and so on.

It’s not uncommon for mom or dad to have a good job that allows them to pay for karting, and maybe even the first step of the Road To Indy, but it’s rarely more than that when we’re talking about the top half of the field.

Q: It appeared that the build-up of marbles off of the racing line was a big issue at Long Beach, and is an issue at most of the IndyCar races. I just watched a replay of the Australian Grand Prix, and it didn’t look to me like there were marbles off the racing line even at the end of the race. Am I just not seeing them? Is the makeup of the tires that much different? If the marbles are due to softer compounds, would it make sense to use harder compounds, which likely would make the cars much harder to hustle around the tracks, but might also showcase driver skill?

George from Seattle

MP: The cars are already incredibly hard to drive on the limit, so I don’t think there’s a need to make them impossible to drive. Driver skill is showcased on every lap — some display more than others. Going to harder tires wouldn’t change this. No doubt the marbles were excessive at Long Beach; a mid-race visit by the sweepers would have been a welcome intermission.

Q: Nice to see Juncos Hollinger willing to step up and take one for the team and get that 33rd car in the show. It got me to thinking to back in the day when a who’s who of race car drivers showed up and wanted a crack at qualifying one of the extra dozen race cars that were sitting around the garage. Bump Day was a necessity back then. Now for many reasons (money) it’s not.

Yes, it is exciting to watch and yes, the network hypes it and can sell big-time commercial spots. And yes, it is a tradition, but the way sponsor money is these days, let’s be glad we can get 11 rows of three considering there are only 26 full-timers, give or take. Right from the get-go you need seven more cars and about $7 million to make it happen. If it happens there is no 34th car, then so be it. Let’s move on. Maybe next year will bring some additional cars and we can revisit that tradition.

Jeff, Florida

MP: The big change some of the Indy-only entrants have experienced is the lack of willingness for full-time teams to lease extra cars or co-enter on cars they’d run. The hardships being felt this year might actually have a positive effect next year as some have refused to let this happen again and say they are going to buy their own Dallara DW12s to at least have that big asset under their control. Having a car won’t solve everything, but it does take some control into their hands next time around.

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