The RACER Mailbag, September 7

The RACER Mailbag, September 7

Insights & Analysis

The RACER Mailbag, September 7

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Welcome to the RACER Mailbag. Questions for any of RACER’s 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 length and clarity. Questions received after 3pm ET each Monday will appear the following week.

Q: What do the winning team and driver receive for the 2022 IndyCar championship?

Pete, Ohio

MARSHALL PRUETT: In order: 1) $1 million for the team/driver. 2) A mini Astor Cup trophy. 3) A TAG Heuer watch. 4) A championship ring from Jostens.

Q: In a recent “Bus Bros” episode, Scott McLaughlin said he’d just bought a new car but could not say on camera what kind of car it is. That seems weird to me, but what do I know? Do you know what kind of car he bought?

P.S. Many moons ago I, too, was a Safeway Box Boy, er, Courtesy Clerk.

Steve

MP: I hated every minute of my Safeway stint, but it helped me to save up $200 to buy my first camera and to pay for cable TV, so it was worth it. Not sure what Scott bought; I like the idea of keeping some things private.

Q: It is good to see the IndyCar championship is still up for grabs. Most of the races this year have been excellent, with multiple winners and surprising performances by rookies David Malukas and Christian Lundgaard.

That being said, I’m concerned about the future of IndyCar — specifically, will we continue to see races, or are they going to be replaced by “events”? At Nashville, the NBC announcers talked about what a huge “event” it was. But while the scenery of the cars speeding across the bridge was impressive the actual race has become an embarrassment. Meanwhile, Detroit is moving its race from Belle Isle to downtown and Graham Rahal is floating the idea of a street race in Pittsburgh, where both will be promoted as big events.

When I went to Mid-Ohio this summer I went to an IndyCar race, not an event. The fans came to see the cars, the drivers, the speed, and the racing and it was the biggest crowd since the CART era. And we didn’t need a rock concert or Ferris wheel to entertain us. Going forward, IndyCar needs to be honest. It needs to decide: is it trying to draw thousands of new people to the series to become actual race fans, or just thousands of people to be entertained at an event?

Rick Schneider, Charlotte

MP: Why can’t it be both things? Look at every photo from the early days of the Indy 500, and the entire crowd is dressed in full suits and dresses like they were going to the opera. Look at photos from the early 1970s and it’s bell-bottom jeans and long hair and full hippie regalia, including all manner of debauchery going on in the Snake Pit.

Crowds evolve, interests evolve, and if “events” are what the current evolution of racing fan has come to expect, why would we ridicule them for wanting more than sitting on a bench all day staring at cars going by? The sport’s aiming for more event-style weekends to try and keep itself alive by attracting new fans. I’ll get behind whatever it takes to grow the sport. Easiest answer for me is, if purists simply want to watch the racing at an “event,” then don’t partake in the food, concerts, Ferris wheels, and other offerings.

Damn Ferris wheels. Glenn Dunbar/Motorsport Images

Q: As I am sure you have heard, NASCAR is going to hold a street race in downtown Chicago next year on the 4th of July weekend. While the visuals might be pretty terrific on TV, the racing is likely going to be pretty awful. Of the 12 turns, only three will not be 90-degree left or right-hand turns and there will be precious little, if any, run-off area anywhere. If you thought the last two Nashville IndyCar races were crashfests, wait until you see this!

So why am I writing to you about NASCAR you ask? Well, because this little coup, if they do pull it off, demonstrates, yet again, the ineptitude — maybe even the misplaced arrogance — of the IndyCar marketing department. A street race through the city of Chicago should not be run by taxicabs! It should be run by nimble open-wheel machines that can turn and brake and are driven by people who know how to do that in confined spaces!

Once again, the marketing team at NASCAR has one-upped IndyCar and they managed to do that in the Midwest, the heart of IndyCar country. IndyCar tried to do a race in Chicago in 1981 and failed, in no small measure because they did nothing to get out in front promoting it after it was announced. I know because I lived in (and still live in) downtown Chicago and was an IndyCar official at the time, and all you could hear in the media after the announcement was the sound of crickets.

And if NASCAR having a street race is not bad enough, it is launching a 10-episode “Drive to Survive”-like show titled “Race for the Championship” that will only further promote and highlight not only the series but, more importantly, the drivers who are already more visible than almost any of the IndyCar drivers thanks to the marketing machine of NASCAR.

When is IndyCar going to wake up and smell the coffee?

Steve, Chicago, IL

MP: I feel like the Mailbag has gone full Skynet and become self-aware and is sending questions and commentaries into itself.

We need to acknowledge something here, Steve, and that’s how NASCAR is a much bigger name and far more influential than IndyCar. If IndyCar and NASCAR showed up on the mayor’s doorstep with competing proposals, NASCAR wins every time.

Q: For two years now, all we hear is about how Colton Herta is poised to become the next great American driver overseas in F1. Who is driving this narrative? I see a fast, always on the edge driver with very little results to show on his resume. Often, his mistakes leave most IndyCar fans scratching their heads as to why he did this or didn’t do that in the moment.

Bob, Cleveland, OH

MP: If you’d sent this a year ago I’d have no clue what you were talking about, but yes, his 2022 has been a puzzling one. That said, he’s been in IndyCar since 2019 and through 2021, he did nothing other than impress while winning a bunch of races and learning from the same mistakes every other young driver makes. If all that gets wiped away because he and the off-song Andretti team have had a rough year, I’d say that’s unfair.

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