Q: There were two references to the Nashville Superspeedway in the mailbag for 9/25. Sad to say but the Nashville Superspeedway is closed. I understand that they rent out the track (and only the track) for certain events that can insure themselves. There aren't any spectator events. We used to run SCCA Solo II events in the parking lot and got kicked out a couple of years ago when they closed. Grrrr…
Rob Roten, Spring Hill, Tenn.
RM: Sorry to hear that but thanks for the information.
Q: Finally! No more Mousy Marty on the Mickey Mouse network! How long have you been skewering them? Forever?! I can only hope that an engaging and knowledgeable anchor takes his place for 2014. If ABC is listening (I'm sure they aren't), check out Brian Till. Former IndyCar driver, and a decent one at that, current ALMS commentator for ESPN (already in the family). He's called a couple IndyCar races for NBC Sports Network, so he's up to speed on current IndyCar events. Scott Goodyear was a better driver analyst when he was paired with Paul Page. I think Brian, as a former racer, knows what will draw the best out of a driver analyst. ABC's ratings should improve proportionally to the change in their lead announcer. Any other candidates?
IndySteve, Springfield, Ore.
RM: I've been pretty relentless with my criticism of ABC through the years and it's been justified, especially if you compare it to NBC Sport Network's product. Marty Reid did a nice job in NHRA and off road but just never seemed to be on top of things in IndyCar. And there certainly wasn't much chemistry in that booth. I was very impressed with Brian Till's play-by-play in his NBC races and he would be an excellent choice. I also think Vince Welch could do a nice job. On the flip side, Marty is a good guy and I wish him well.
Q: With Marty Reid's duties being relieved in NASCAR, is it a certainty he also called his last IndyCar race? If so, who should take his place? I say bring back Paul Page, since Bob Jenkins is retired.
RM: Yes, he's gone from ABC/ESPN so it will be somebody new for 2014. Brian Till has been suggested and even though Vince Welch is a solid pit reporter, I think he'd relish the chance to try play-by-play. Don't think Paul is in the ABC/ESPN family plan anymore.
Q: Thanks for your tribute to George Bigotti. Very educational. It does lead me to some questions I've had regarding the transition between crew chiefs/mechanics calling the car setup to engineers taking over. When did "setup engineers" (as opposed to engineers who design cars) first appear in IndyCar? At what point did having a setup engineer become standard practice? If there was a championship for setup engineers, who would have won the most?
Eric On The Road
RM: Hard to pinpoint the exact time but engineers replaced chief mechanics in the 1980s when CART rose to power and road racing team owners like Newman/Haas, Jim Hall, Jim Trueman and Doug Shierson came to Indy cars. Before that, the chief mechanic served as the “setup engineer” and Jud Phillips, A.J. Watson, Bill Finley, Wayne Leary, Mike Devin, Darrell Soppe, Jim McGee, John Martin, Duane Glasgow, Jerry Eisert, Jack Beckley, Herb Porter, John Capels, Roy Campbell, Mark Bridges, Bill Spangler, Bill Fowler, Dick Cecil, Jack Starnes, Chickie Hiroshima, Don Koda, Grant King, Dick Offinger, Howard Gilbert, Paul Brooks, Jess Alou, George Huening, Tommy Smith, Ted Swiontek, Danny Jones, Ted Hall and Bignotti all come to mind as some of the best that I knew. A.J. says George was super smart about engines but he also knew chassis and his record speaks for itself – 85 wins.
Q: I had to write you to let you know your tribute to George Bignotti was, to put it simply, beautiful. George hired me at Vel's Parnelli Jones Racing in 1971 (when I first met you in Finley's garage across Gasoline Alley), and I also was with him at STP Patrick. George made my dream come true and those memories will be with me forever. He was a true genius and gentleman.
Mike aka "Jackets"
RM: Tom Sneva said nobody could out-work George and he was innovative and never afraid to try something new. You saw that firsthand and so did Tim Coffeen. The mechanics seemed very loyal to Bignotti as well, which speaks volumes about how they were treated. And I was lucky enough to stooge for Bill Finley (and drive him crazy with stupid questions), who built Indy cars from the ground up behind his garage on Patricia Street.
Q: Why are you so gung-ho for bringing back the apron at IMS? If I remember correctly, it was taken out for safety reasons to lessen the angle of impact on common spins. In my opinion, this is a better reason to not have the apron than any reason I have seen to bring it back. Do we need more passing? 68 lead changes last year was borderline ridiculous. You always talk about wanting drivers to have more of a challenge, but you want them to have an extra lane to cut the corners short? I don't get it.
Since the apron did allow drivers to cut the corner a little short, I believe it was an artificial inflator of lap times/speed. I've never heard/read anyone else mention this, but it had to be a factor. This is another reason I'd rather see the warm-up lanes stay and the apron stay away. Could you ask around and see what engineers and/or Donald Davidson think about this?
Kyle Jenkins, Shiloh, Ill.
RM: Go watch a YouTube clip of Michael Andretti and Rick Mears, Bill Vukovich and Jack McGrath or Lloyd Ruby and Mario and tell me why you wouldn't want the apron. It gave drivers another groove and an escape route from a badly pushing car (ask Gordon Johncock about those final 10 laps in 1982). It could also help pump a little life into the Brickyard 400. I don't care what engineers think, I know what I saw and it was all good. As for the angle of crashes, etc. well that was before the SAFER Barrier and before they got rid of those IRL 500-pound gearbox battering rams.