Q: Saw that Darren Hagen won the USAC Honda National Midget Pavement championship on Saturday. What is the extent of Honda's involvement in the series? Is there any chance this could be a path to IndyCar? I see Kyle O'Gara finished fourth in the USAC Midget Pavement standings and he raced Indy Lights at Indianapolis and will race at Fontana. Granted, he has family backing with Sarah Fisher and Andy O'Gara, but what is the plan for his future?
RM: Honda does have a plan to get a USAC champion to the Indy 500 and hopefully it can be sustained. I think little O'Gara just keeps getting better and drives whatever he can with four wheels.
Q: With so many new drivers from Europe looking to come to America to race in IndyCar, are there any European car owners from GP2 looking to come over to field a team and what are the chances some of these new guys or girls will get a real shot at some of these seats opening? Also what's the max number of cars that can be on the grid though the year? It looks like if every one expands like they're trying to do, we may get to 30 cars.
Joseph N. Lawson
RM: Last year there were reports a GP2 team was defecting to IndyCar but, obviously, it never happened and I haven't heard anything since. But I believe Luca Filippi will be in IndyCar full time next year. Don't think we'll have more than 28 full-timers but some ovals could accommodate 30 – just not many road courses or street circuits.
Q: Today I was watching a old video of Nigel Mansell in his CART days. One of the biggest things I noticed was how great the cars sounded back then compared to now. I guess my point is, Indy car needs to get that sound back. The new car doesn't have to go fast to sound fast. I want the old LOUD, scary engine sound back.
Mike Chwalek, Oswego, NY
RM: Yep, they sounded like beasts and took your breath away as they screamed past you. I think we all agree with your wish.
Q: The first race I ever saw was the 1982 Indianapolis 500. To date, I still believe that is the greatest 500 that's been run in the last 35 years. I was 13 then and what kept me coming back were the cars. The innovation and new styles every year were exciting. I know you have indicated that you believe that the DW12 has produced the most exciting racing in the last 40-plus years but we have to look at the history of the sport. The legends became legends because of their ability to master cars on the edge of technology.
I would recommend going back and looking at some of Paul Page's intros to the "500"; his words were 100 percent correct. Now, where is the innovation? Where is the technology? I also get that it's about money but I will suggest that good racing alone will not bring back the fans. Yes, we need stars and new legends but I will suggest that the cars and the technology will create the stars. Think about it: there were more fans in the '80s and '90s when very few races were up for contention at the end. Now most are and we are in the doldrums.
If the sport gets re-elevated to its elite status, the money will come. Look at Larry Ellison and the freakish amount he spent on the America's Cup. The money will come once the fans come back and so far I see nothing different that we are doing today than IndyCar was doing five-to-10 years ago. I think IndyCar is trying to regulate cost too much. Without rehashing the obvious reasons that I mentioned above, why doesn't IndyCar simply put out basic formula rules and let the owners buy or build the best car they can? The formula worked before and it can work again. I think its IndyCar's only hope.
Michael, Atlanta, GA
RM: It's true that many of us want more powerful cars that look different and push technology. But are there enough of those people out there to really make a difference in attendance or TV ratings? And I think IndyCar needs some assurance from Ford or Dodge or Audi that they want to come play with a clean sheet of paper. Until then, why mess with the only thing you've got right now – good competition? Maybe just open up the rules for the Indy 500 but, again, will that get you teams from sports cars, NASCAR or F1?
Q: I spent Friday, Saturday, and Sunday in Houston for the IndyCar Grand Prix. It was the first IndyCar race I have ever gotten to attend. Other than the horrible heat the first two days, it was a great experience. The only other racing that matches the access to paddocks, drivers, and pits that I've ever been to was NHRA drag racing in Memphis years ago. I also enjoyed the World Challenge Series cars almost as much as the Indy cars.
I filled the memory on my digital camera everyday with pictures and videos. When I went back to work this week I took my laptop to share the hundreds of pictures and videos. The younger coworkers were amazed to see the Hondas, Mazdas, and Fiats speeding around the track in paint schemes they've only seen in the “Fast and Furious” movies. My older co-workers gathered around my laptop and watched some footage of the Camaros and Mustangs roaring down the straight after turn 5 in the rain with their wipers and lights on over and over again. And more than once a co-worker commented on the IndyCar race, “Isn't that the Dancing with the Stars guy?” All of them were shocked as to how close I was allowed access to the cars, the drivers, the pits, and the paddock.
Here in central Arkansas most people are strictly roundy-round fans. They seemed dumbfounded as to why I would drive so far to see an IndyCar race. My boss was so uninformed of the sport that he actually asked me, “How was Indiana?” After seeing my pictures and videos, many of them changed their tune. “I didn't know they had that much going on at an IndyCar race. Do they race any closer to here?”
I came to a realization. We as IndyCar fans shouldn't wait around for the powers-that-be to attract new fans to the sport we love. Many whine about the schedule. Whine about the TV broadcast ratings. Whine that IndyCar doesn't get the exposure of NASCAR. Word of mouth will draw in more fans at the grassroots level than any advertising campaign that IndyCar can muster. It is we the fans who have to draw more people to IndyCar if we ever want to see it get anywhere close to its former glory. IndyCar and its race weekend partners have so much to offer racing fans. Most of the public just hasn't had it brought to their attention. Everyone talks about creating fans for the future, I say let's make some fans for the now. They are out there, they just don't know who they are. Take a friend to a race. Or grill some burgers, put some beer on ice and invite some friends over to watch a race. That's what I'm going to do for Fontana.
John H, Central Arkansas
RM: First of all, thanks for spreading the word and being such a good marketing agent for IndyCar. Would you like a job on West 16th Street? It's a great letter and illustrates how far off the radar IndyCar is with most people. I think the NASCAR fans who used to have to buy Indy car tickets at Chicago or Kansas were always blown away by the close racing and speed so it's a matter of exposing people to it. But they still preferred Cup to IndyCar because of their favorite driver, so it's going to take a lot of passionate fans like yourself and word of mouth to ever make a difference.