If you have a question about open-wheel racing, send it to MillersMailbag@Racer.com. We can't guarantee your letter will be published, but Robin will always reply.
Q: I think many people were surprised by your story that the National Guard was moving its IndyCar sponsorship from long-time partner Panther Racing over to Bobby Rahal's outfit. I was not one of them. My theory on this move is that the National Guard needed two things as part of its sponsorship package: 1) Stability in ONE driver (which Panther did not have after J.R. Hildebrand's departure); and 2) A young, AMERICAN driver to be the face of its IndyCar program. It seems like the National Guard may have been a bit uncomfortable in trying to recruit troops for the American military with a foreign driver. Does my theory hold any water?
Jay Matheny, Mayfield, KY
RM: Dale Earnhardt Jr. had been the face of the National Guard in NASCAR and it makes sense an American would be desired for IndyCar. But Dan Wheldon, Vitor Meira, Oriol Servia and Ryan Briscoe were all popular with the Guard so maybe that wasn't as important as performance (zero wins in six years). However, I understand the Guard wasn't real happy after Hildebrand was let go after Indy, so maybe your theory is correct.
Q: Now that RLLR has locked down one of the best sponsorships in the paddock (National Guard) for Graham, who gets the second car? Hinch? Wilson? Servia? This should supply an influx of cash and maybe RLLR will be the top Honda team next year, barring a move to Honda by Andretti. I vote for Justin "Badass" Wilson for the second seat, how do you feel?
Brian Henris, Fort Mill, SC
RM: I think if Graham is voting he'd definitely pick Justin because they had a good relationship at Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing. And Honda is also a big fan of JWil, if that carries any weight.
Q: I almost choked on my beer when you reported Panther brought in $10-13 million a year from the National Guard. With that kind of money, they should have been a top team! At least they should have paid Dan Wheldon and ran a second car! As an IndyCar fan and national taxpayer, this makes me personally angry.
Pete, Milwaukee, WI
RM: Well, you have to figure that for that kind of money The Guard expected some results and I'll save my Wheldon and Meira stories for another day. But The Guard loved the way John Barnes treated its soldiers and heroes at the track. And I understand he's appealing to try and retain his sponsorship.
Q: Can we get this out there BEFORE Fontana? If Castroneves needs one position on the last lap of the race and Power is in front of him (by 1 or 10 places) Power is going to pull over and let Helio have the spot. This isn't a question; it is an obvious fact. Hunter-Reay's teammates made sure he had what he needed from them at the end of the race last year. No, Power isn't going to bring out a yellow for Helio, but he might let him by (assuming it doesn't also help Dixon). NASCAR teams took a ton of crap for their team orders. I would argue the team ordering their cars wasn't the problem. The intentional yellow was inexcusable, but letting a car by that you need points for is common in all forms of racing. It might happen in Fontana and if it does it would be great if Indy Car could be ahead of the outrage.
Ryan in West Michigan
RM: Don't forget A.J. Allmendinger. Why do you think he's being called into action this week? The Captain is trying to do everything possible to help and so will Will. The outrage in NASCAR was that comical spin that bit Mikey Waltrip in the butt – as it should have.
Q: Will Carlos Munoz be getting a one-off ride for the season finale at California? We all saw his strong running at Indy last May. So will Andretti clean out the parts bin and find a ride for Munoz? Is there a racecar with his name on it for 2014?
The vengeful S.O.B. in Vermont, Ernie Connell
RM: No entry for him this week but Andretti is working on running him full-time in 2014.
Q: The nearly tragic ending gathered the news headlines coming out of the Houston double-header…but the podium by Simona on Saturday was truly awesome! It's a shame she did not have an opportunity to qualify Sunday as it is probable she would have had a better starting spot. I was impressed by the kudos Dixie gave her in your interview. It's interesting to me that TK and Marco are the only drivers I saw congratulate her on Twitter; however, I am sure many others did it in person. I was happy to hear the NBC booth give Simona a lot of compliments too.... although since she was doing the most exciting passes for position, I guess she would be hard to ignore that race!
I have felt Simona is the best young driver in the series for several years and am glad she finally has gotten the chance to show it. Townsend and Wally defending her optimistic pass attempt early in the race Sunday was good to hear too: seems she has added to the great amount of respect she already had. Speaking of which, there was mention on one of the broadcasts over the weekend that Simona is also part of silly season discussions. Any chance she could end up at one of the Big Three teams?
Alan in Louisville
RM: Simona's always had the respect of the paddock because they all know how hard she drives and how tough it is to wrestle an Indy car on a rough street course. TK was one of the first people to congratulate her when she got out of the car. I keep hearing she may end up with Dale Coyne for 2014, but Marshall Pruett is going to update the silly season stories this weekend in Fontana, here on RACER.com.
Q: How do you rate the IndyCar return to Houston? The crowd looked good from the telecasts and definitely room for growth. I know the track was not up to par and who could have seen Dario's wreck coming? Apart from that, I am glad to see them back there and the races were entertaining to watch.
David Lawrence, Albany, GA
RM: For all the labor pains and sweltering temperatures, I thought they were both damn good races. And, considering it's football season in Texas, I thought Sunday's turnout was very good.
Q: How does Derrick Walker absolve himself and the series of any wrongdoing with the setup of the Houston course with a comment like, “We can suggest where the stands are placed, but the promoter has the final say on where they are located.” Where does the buck stop in this series? If they put a car in the stands, who is going to feel the repercussions more in the long run: the promoter, or the series?
I remember Adrian Fernandez's wheel killing three people in Michigan during a CART race, I have no idea who the promoter was. The next days headlines would read, “Fans die during IndyCar race,” not “Fans die in an event promoted by ‘President of Competition.'” Walker needs to lead, follow, or get out of the way. IndyCar is full of presidents, vps, directors, etc. and then puts on a show that looks like a half-a**ed Chinese fire drill. And they can't figure out why the sport has declined in popularity. Maybe they need a Director of Direction?
Napalm Nick, Locust Grove, VA
RM: Seat location is up to the promoter and IndyCar's responsibility is to make suggestions and make things as safe as possible for competitors and fans. What happened at Houston could have easily taken place on Shoreline Drive at Long Beach during the past 30 years but it hasn't. Having said that, I do believe those grandstands will be moved to the inside of that corner for 2014 because Mike Lanigan and IndyCar are in agreement.
Q: We all know that racing is dangerous; both the drivers and fans accept that. Every time there is a flying car incident, there is outcry over the car being unsafe, the track being unsafe, pack racing, blah blah blah. It is racing which is more dangerous than driving your road car – and your road car is capable of getting airborne at highway speeds, capable of barrel rolling at back road speeds, and capable of getting pretty well smashed up on a city street. I have a theory why Indy cars have the big crashes that they do, and the number of cautions they produce. I believe, at the root of it, it has everything to do with parity of chassis, engine, and tire. The fact that these drivers run so close to one another has to play a role, the qualifying times are evident of this. If we compare IndyCar to Formula 1, there is a great reduction in on-track collisions and cars flying. I think that has everything to do with the cars having different engines and chassis thus the field can separate.
I also think the amount of runoff area weighs heavily in this. It isn't rocket science: cars run close to one another and mistakes get magnified. Just like on a congested interstate, one person's mistake could cause a 50-car pileup. It was nice to see single-file restarts in Houston, and I hope they are here to stay for road and street courses. It was also nice seeing another round of standing starts; I really hope they will be common place for all non-ovals. I really hope that in coming years we can have a three- or four-week run of back-to-back races to cap off the season. These long breaks between races suck.
RM: I think your analysis has merit and it's probably surprising there aren't more big accidents considering the speeds, parity and depth of competition. But, while the fan does assume some amount of risk, what happened at Houston requires an immediate solution and it will get one before 2014.
Q: With everyone so concerned about fan safety, why do stands get installed on the outside of turns past mid corner or the apex? Seems like you're kind of setting the links of the chain for a problem by positioning them at those locations. Seems like moving the stands to the inside of the corners would be a way to break the accident chain. Don't know about the consequences for viewing from those stands, but it would at least help avoid the debris/car from flying right at fans for the most part.
Whatever happened to the Nation's Cup or whatever it was called back in the day? When my wife and I watch the races, we (I) like to name where the drivers are from as the results are shown, and it's incredibly diverse! Why not embrace this and make it another points race? Have South America, North America, Asia and Europe, and I think it'd be a great way to demonstrate the diversity of the series to casual fans. Most casual fans don't really know these guys have come from all over the world to race right in front of them. I always enjoyed at the beginning of the races when Paul Page, in his Paul Page voice, would say, "and in the Nations Cup..." with the standings on screen. Embrace the diversity, use it for something!
RM: Fans like to be close to the action and a promoter wants to try and provide the best experience and viewing points possible – not an easy task at a street race. In hindsight, those Turn 5 stands were probably dangerous and will likely be moved for next year. The Nation's Cup was a CART thing so, naturally, it died along with CART. And by the way, with Dixon, Power and Briscoe around, I think the list needs to have the Antipodes in there, too…
Q: I noticed at Houston they weren't using the double-file restarts. Was there a rule change? I'm glad I found you at RACER.com. I was really missing the Mailbag.
RM: It was done because the track was so rough at a couple key places. And thanks for your support. RACER.com is the site for coverage of American open-wheel and sports car racing, and a U.S. perspective on Formula 1 and its feeder categories. Thanks for joining us.
Q: I think there is a huge flaw with having a night race and hoping for cooler temperatures. I raced at night for years and it is miserable! The actual race is great. Cooler weather, hooray. The bad part is that 80 percent of the on-track activity is then run in the heat of the day, from 12-5. This is brutal for all of the support series drivers and crews and extra brutal for the fans sitting out there all day. The math doesn't work for a promoter. Fewer people will be there during the majority of the day (because of the heat) so fewer food/beer sales. In order to make up for that you need higher attendance. You aren't going to get more people to show up though if they pay the same price as this year but can really only enjoy the main event. Why pay the same ticket price if I am only going to show up for the race at night and not for activities during the day? The result is lower ticket sales. I think moving the race to night is a bad idea. Night racing is exciting once the race actually happens but everything leading up to it will suffer.
RM: At a place like Fontana last year (103 degrees at race time) and, to a lesser degree at Houston this year (94 degrees with 97 percent humidity on the Saturday), it's almost a necessity to race at night. The crowd at Houston (both days) was a hell of a lot more than I expected (although Sunday was perfect weather) and the fact there were more than 15,000 people at Fontana a year ago was a miracle considering the conditions. Nobody comes to qualifying at ovals so the promoter isn't losing anything and, until the last couple years, a place like Texas flourished with a night race. I think most tracks count on the race making their nut – not practice and qualifying.
Q: How are race locations determined? Why no more races at Kentucky, Watkins Glen? Champ Car had races at Vancouver, Mexico, and Australia. How about Road America, Road Atlanta, Laguna Seca or Lime Rock? Does it concern track ownership or some sort of politics?
Michael C, IndyCar fan in NASCAR country
RM: Simple economics – supply and demand. If the races don't draw, the promoter isn't going to book them. The Glen really tried to make it work by moving the date around trying to find one that worked while Kentucky started out pretty good and then attendance kept getting worse and worse. Ditto for Mexico City (you must have a star Mexican driver) and Laguna and Elkhart Lake. Vancouver's track was eaten up the Winter Olympics while Australia always had great crowds but got dropped during the unification for some insane reason. Bottom line? IndyCar needs a sanction fee and, unless the promoter scores a nice title sponsor, it's damn near impossible to break even.
Q: When might street circuits be reduced to only Long Beach, Detroit, and St. Pete? I don't even want the St. Pete race but I understand the Dan Wheldon connection. It is not OK to race at a track that only opens a day or so before the actual event. I am grateful that Dario is alive and recovering. Please return to the speedways of Michigan, Kentucky and Dover and the road courses of Road America, VIR and Portland International Raceway.
RM: A nice blend would be 7-7-7 (ovals, road courses and street circuits, like in CART's heyday) but, as I stated in the letter above, that's not reality anymore. Fontana and Pocono are trying to reconnect with the fans but it's tough sledding for any oval right now and places like Portland need a lot of work to even be considered. Street circuits give IndyCar its best chance at drawing decent crowds and, while they're not the roots of open-wheel, they've staged some damn entertaining races the past two years.
Q: Is there really any reason that the IndyCar season ends so much sooner than NASCAR's does?
RM: Lack of fans, sponsors and TV ratings (compared to NASCAR) make 20 races a challenge and IndyCar's new leaders don't want to compete with football. Next year, the schedule will be compacted and over by Labor Day.
Q: I have been trying to find this out on my own and I can't seem to find the information anywhere. Do you know what type of sanctioning fee tracks were paying Champ Car during the mid-2000s? I've read where Road America does not want to pay IndyCar's sanction fee for a race but they were always on the CART and Champ Car schedules. Champ Car also raced at several other tracks that no longer have IndyCar races and I'm just wondering if they might still be asking the same sort of fees it commanded in the '90s. And that is the reason street courses seem to be the only new circuits able to turn a profit with IndyCar these days. Nothing against street courses – I love Long Beach and loved Baltimore while it lasted – but I also loved Road America, Laguna, Watkins Glen, Portland, etc.... Any info you can provide would be greatly appreciated.
RM: There were some huge sanction fees ($7-8-9 million) for CART during the '90s but they were backed down in Champ Car's run from 2003-'07 and I know for a fact that Road America had a GREAT deal. But I think Mark Miles is willing to work with Elkhart Lake and make it fair so IndyCar can return in 2015 (with sports cars on the same weekend, if track president George Bruggenthies can pull it off). Long Beach has also had a sweetheart deal since 2008 but I imagine that will be renegotiated for 2015.
Q: How long until the Andretti team switches to Honda? It's 9-9 engine victory-wise headed to Fontana and another interesting part of it is three smaller teams have won with Honda and TK winning Indy is the only small Chevy team to have done so! I think it could work out really well if AA made the switch because you know Honda is going to be very motivated by the Chip defection. Plus, the best years of the IRL was when Penske and Chip were stuck with the Toyota. I don't think it will be like that with Chevy but I'm thinking Honda could be the engine to have next year.
RM: Logic says Michael would rather be the big dog with Honda than a mutt with Chevrolet and I imagine he'll make that jump. But, with or without him, Honda will be extra motivated to beat Ganassi.
Q: I know the majority of your questions have to deal with IndyCar but what is the possibility the New Jersey F1 race will actually take place in 2014? Between the F1 teams' objection to a 22-race schedule and getting the permits & course ready for the race, it seems like there could be another cancellation like this year, even though the race is on the 2014 tentative schedule. Also, do you think that IndyCar would ever be interested in running on the undercard Saturday to F1 if the race takes place? That would definitely be a great east coast replacement for Baltimore and much needed awareness/visibility in NYC.
Jerry, Royal Oak, MI
RM: I'm almost certain IndyCar would relish a double-header with F1 but I don't think Bernie Baby wants (or needs) any part of it. And the promoter pays big bucks to get F1 so I would think IndyCar's best chance (like at Austin) is a standalone or twin bill with sports cars.
Q: I'm such an old follower of OWR that I used to listen to the radio broadcasts of the 500 in the 1950s! If the IMS folks need a name for the two events at the Speedway in May how about "TWINDY"?
RM: I like it a lot better than “I Am Indy.”
Q: Have the start issues so far been driver error, or software/technology related? I know the standing starts have been criticized as a bit of a circus, but please tell us that IndyCar is going to keep them going for all street courses and road courses from 2014 on. The TV coverage of the starts at Houston were much better than Toronto, but the in-car replays are what really shows how exciting they are. Speaking of which, in-car footage is incredibly underutilized. The video "in-car theater" segments on Racer.com from Houston were fantastic. It really accentuates the feeling of speed and shows the intensity of the racing. Overall the NBCSN coverage is pretty good, but there needs to be much more in-car footage (live AND replay) to showcase IndyCar's strengths.
Scott B., Gainesville, FL
RM: Yes, that's what I was told regarding standing starts and it seems crazy since Champ Car didn't have those issues in 2007. But those were all Cosworth engines with the same software so maybe that's why. But it needs to be fixed because SSs aren't going away in 2014.
Q: Can you discuss Hinchcliffe's success in the GoDaddy car as compared to Danica's overall lack of success? Did they both have the same equipment, thus is it all driver skill or were there other things that had an impact on each drivers' results?
Rick, Victoria TX
RM: The equipment was the same but I think Hinch is better with chassis setup and a lot more aggressive. Danica excelled at Indy and most big, fast ovals but struggled with the physicality of road racing. Unlike Simona. And Hinch turned out to be a sleeper.
Q: What is it going to take to have a driver like Justin Wilson be picked up by a top team? He has shown what he is capable of with Dale Coyne's team, yet when Penske has an opening they go with a driver that has never even been in the new car. Do you think there is a chance that Franchitti will retire after the accident and Justin could end up at Ganassi?
Chuck, Stow, OH
RM: It's going to take myself and Steve Shunck winning PowerBall because we will start a 3-car Indy team with JWil, S-E-R-V-I-A and Kyle Larson (whose contract I will buy from Ganassi). I've always been perplexed why The Captain never gave Justin a shot but I don't think Dario is retiring and, if he did, I imagine Hinch would get The Call from Chip.
Q: What's your opinion of Takuma Sato as a driver? Is he too aggressive for his own good? I admire his aggression but I have some friends and family members calling for his removal from IndyCar. There's the last-lap wreck in the 2012 Indy 500, hitting RHR in pit lane at Pocono, and other incidents. Finally, there's the last-lap crash with Dario in Houston, which I thought was Dario's fault. What do you think?
Jeff Lowry, Speedway, Ind.
RM: Well, first off, it wasn't Dario's fault. Sato got sideways as Franchitti was pulling around to pass him and became the victim. As for Taku, he was always fast in F1 but crashed a lot and that was pretty much his M.O. here until this season when he got with Don Halliday and the Foyts. He finally won and seemed much calmer but, lately, seems to have regressed to some old habits. He's brave and fast and a nice guy – but seems to lose focus.
Q: Saw “Rush” last weekend. It was a great movie and brought back great memories of Watkins Glen, Mosport and Montreal of the '70s. It has rekindled an interest in F1 that has waned since it left The Glen in 1980 and any type of American involvement since Scott Speed in 2007. Then I watched great IndyCar drivers try to compete on a joke of a street circuit in Houston where an ill-prepared racing surface affected the outcome of the race and perhaps the season. It's not the cars and not the drivers; it's the residue left over from Tony George's attempted murder of open-wheel racing in the U.S.. They get Spa and Monza, we get Toronto and Houston. They get “Rush”, we get a snail in “Turbo.” There is something missing here. I think it is that we settle and they strive for excellence.
RM: There is something to be said from going to The Glen, Road America and Mexico City to a parking lot or a street course circuit but it really speaks volumes about what's transpired since 1996. Your comparison is tough to argue with.
Q: I spoke to the rest of Australia. We are claiming at least 50 percent of Matthew Brabham.
Jed, South Australia
RM: Fair enough but he's got no Aussie accent at the moment.
Q: How many times this year (OK, count last year, too) has an IndyCar spun and stalled with no damage, and caused a full-course yellow? And how many laps has that yellow cost the fans, both at the track and on TV, of full-speed racing which erased hard-won leads? And how long does it take each time to get the safety crew out to electrically start or push-start or tow-start the stricken car? And how many times has the vaunted high-tech anti-stall software actually locked up the car and required a tow back to pit lane (under full-course yellow, as in Charlie Kimball at Sonoma) to figure out how to get rolling again?
Anybody have a really good reason why we can't use the best American automotive technology perfected in 1912, and have an onboard starter on each and every car? Detroit ships something like 12 million of them each year, and they work each and every time, for 20 years. OK, the starter and the bigger battery weigh an extra 20 pounds, but if they were required it would be a level playing field for everybody. Take out 20 pounds of ballast, or just go 20 pounds slower. It's not impossible on racecars: for years F1 cars had starters. Some current ALMS cars have two starters on the same bellhousing, just for safe redundancy. And having personally spun formula cars with starters an embarrassingly large number of times, I can assure you that the engine can be restarted before the car even comes to rest.
No safety crew, no five-lap break for the safety truck, no interminable shots of the driver doing the "push-me, push-me" dance in the cockpit. No safety crew with their backs to oncoming race traffic. Maybe even no retry of standing starts when the driver screws up. OK, I get sprint car tradition in Indiana. Is there any other plausible explanation for allowing stalled racecars blocking street courses in the 21st century?
RM: I don't have any numbers but, clearly, the on-board starters need to become operational ASAP. I'm told Honda and GM haven't spent the time on them but will step things up for 2014. Some of the longer cautions are to sweep marbles and while that's frustrating and boring, it usually helps the racing. And gives TV a break for commercials. But I agree, it makes it tough to keep your audience.
Q: Long time since I've e-mailed. I made it to three IndyCar races this year: Indy, Pocono and Baltimore. Really enjoyed all three. Baltimore was a great event and I'm really sorry it's not coming back. I'm definitely an oval guy, but Baltimore sold me on IndyCars on road/streets. That said, you commented in the Mailbag that oval racing seems to be dying but I thought you'd like to know that last weekend at Williams Grove they had the largest crowd in the history of the place for the National Open. Better yet, the race was won by Fred Rahmer in his last Open before retirement. http://tinyurl.com/pumep7t
I hope you take the time to read the article. Note what he said in Victory Lane… “I know I'm going to get drunk as hell tonight.” Can you imagine an IndyCar star saying something like that after a big win? Can you imagine the uproar from the wine and cheese crowd if one did? Ha!
Dirt track Dave
RM: It's good to know that oval, dirt racing can still draw big crowds and Pennsylvania has always been one of the best. I can remember working for RPM2Night on Open Wheel Wednesdays and John Kernan expounding on “Fast Freddie Rahmer.” Good way to go out. But I can imagine Scott Dixon saying that very thing if he wins the title this Saturday night.
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.