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 am a lifelong Indy car fan, been to the 500 23 times, Long Beach nine times, Toronto three plus Portland, Houston, Vancouver, St Pete, Michigan, even Surfers Paradise – you get the drift. It seems IndyCar has never recovered from the split and they keep changing bosses, taking one step forward and two steps back. Once recognized as North America's pre-eminent racing series and on par with F1 in some opinions, they are floating in a state bordering on insignificance.
I applaud the idea of an IMS road race to kick off May. The purists may object but they are in denial that their sport is slowly dying. IndyCar needs a schedule renaissance, starting with throwing out the mindset that the series must conclude by Labor Day. None of the other major racing series suffer from this disease. There should never be a three-week hiatus of racing in the middle of the schedule. If IndyCar is to claim to be North America's open-wheel series, then they must run at the continent's newest and finest road racing circuit, COTA.
I hate to see the Baltimore event be discontinued. This was developing its own identity as a major sporting event on the East coast, i.e. another Long Beach. It was a much better event than St Pete, at least from a fan stand point. I also hate to read that the Sao Paulo event is in jeopardy, another event where at least the TV live feed would reflect packed stands. Why does IndyCar not consider an Aussie tour featuring events in Surfers, perhaps Melbourne or Sydney, and Adelaide? This could be done AFTER Labor Day. I, for one, have always been of a mindset that having Indy cars race at places like Long Beach or Surfers Paradise can't be anything but good promotion for the IndyCar Series and the Indy 500 itself.
Bill Sanders, Olathe, Kan.
RM: Indy car racing has never recovered, nor will it likely ever, from The Split but Mark Miles is taking Randy Bernard's approach and abandoning status quo. Hence the road course race at IMS to kick off May. I'm not a fan of it but I'll give it a chance. Read my story on RACER.com about the plans for the 2015 schedule and I think you'll see some destinations you'll like – including Austin. And I think a “down under” stop is under consideration as well. But there won't be any 3-week gaps, I promise you that.
Q: In his Twitter Q&A, Derrick Walker said, "2014 is a transition year. I can see quite a few possibilities in 2015 but for now I don't anticipate any new events for '14." Was that written before the news came out about Baltimore? There is a difference in new races and new venues. Will there be an additional doubleheader added to the schedule to make up for losing Baltimore?
John in Charleston
RM: It was after and it appears that a street race in Providence will take Baltimore's place, but not until 2015. St. Pete is exploring going to a double-header but it sounds like Houston will only be one race in 2014.
Q: Since IndyCar wants to be in the Northeast, why not run at the New Jersey/New York street circuit? The sanctioning fee would certainly be a lot less than an F1 race.
Mike White, Evergreen Park, Ill.
RM: I certainly think that's an option, especially given the tenuous status of this event with Bernie and F1. But Providence sounds serious as well.
Q: I think it is a mistake to end the season by Labor Day. Why is there a rush to end the season so soon in 2014 and not wait until 2015 when they can work out all the date conflicts. As hard as it is to put a street race on, I don't see it as a good idea to cancel it and to think it's an easy fix to bring back. Yeah, I understand that they don't want to go head to head with football. But with this overseas series they want to do, exactly when will that be on TV? Um…I think football will still be on and I will choose to watch a Duke B Ball game over IndyCar in Iran.
Joseph N. Lawson
RM: You are in the majority of the people who write to the Mailbag and the ones I talk to daily but I think IndyCar has been encouraged to do this by their partners and sponsors. It didn't make any difference when the IRL tried it either.
Q: I thought by now we would have started getting snippets of the 2014 schedule. What gives? I was glad to see an IndyCar test will be scheduled for Road America.
Scott, Bargersville, Ind.
RM: Like we've all been saying and writing, 2014 won't look much different than 2013 except it will be condensed, include the IMS road course and not have Baltimore. But see my story about 2015 and I'm optimistic we'll see some good additions.
Q: In regard to having additional tracks for IndyCar in the future, what about some of the tracks that have been abandoned? Gateway and Nashville Speedway come to mind as possibilities. It would seem to be a good idea for IndyCar and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway to be more in control of its own destiny by buying some of these tracks, like ISC has done. Also, what happened to the relationship between Lucas Oil Raceway and USAC? We don't see too many sprint and midget shows like we used to. I miss Thursday Night Thunder!
Tony in Indianapolis
RM: Gateway has no shot and Nashville had decent crowds and Firestone nearby but nobody seems to want it back. That's the trouble with most ovals: the fans scream for them but then nobody shows up and so the promoters are wary. I still think Richmond has the best chance of returning because it had a good turnout each year.
Q: Despite living in the midst of PA Sprint car country – which gets OK local coverage – the only time IndyCar gets any mention in the local media is the 500 itself, or if something horrible happens like Dan Wheldon's death. But with Montoya leaving stock cars to return to open wheel, it was major news; would suspect this situation is similar in other markets where NASCAR is the only racing that gets regular mention.
This might be cynical but if anyone knows the value of media exposure, it's The Captain. All things considered, could this be a factor in whatever sponsorship he found to run JPM (as opposed to Tony Kanaan or Justin Wilson)? BTW, I sure hope Tony K does not become another Buddy Rice!
John Weaver, Camp Hill, Pa.
RM: With all his global businesses, you would assume Roger Penske has a major South American company lined up or on the hook but I also think he sees JPM as value for his team and the series.
Q: How many times has The Captain contacted NAPA? Reportedly there were two years left on a three-year extension with MWR that paid $18 million a year and we know IndyCar would be a whole lot cheaper. JPM wins his second Indy 500 under NAPA colors for Roger Penske… Am I dreaming?
Dick, Ormond Beach (I still love Langhorne)
RM: You would think he made that call instantly but NAPA seems to like Martin Truex, so it seems more logical it might follow him to his next stop in NASCAR (Rusty Wallace speculated Joe Gibbs in a fourth car). And NAPA is used to big TV ratings, of course, so it would be a boon for IndyCar to steal them, if not a longshot.
Q: Juan Pablo Montoya is a professional racing driver. He does not have to race to prove anything. He just has to do his job and get the job done. Penske is a professional team that is supposed to be at the top. Obviously, RP feels that JPM can get this job done for him. All this talk about him being fan- and sponsor-friendly is B.S.: Penske wants to win races and feels that with JPM he has a better chance of doing so and that he can attract the money to pay for the upgrade.
RM: I agree. I think RP sees JPM as a steal and somebody hungry to re-establish his badass self in open-wheel racing. Somebody tried to tell me that Juan was so eager to be competitive again he agreed to drive for free. Now that is B.S.
Q: What are you hearing on a ride for Kanaan for next year? Is the Foyt team a possibility, since it appears A.J. respects TK about the most of any of the current drivers? Plus, a 2-car team would really benefit Foyt with the extra data. And A.J. knows TK can win the 500, which is probably the most important thing to him. Just a thought; curious to get your perspective.
RM: Spoke with Jimmy Vasser last week and he thinks they're getting close to re-signing Kanaan but Foyt would also be a logical stop – especially since Sato has dropped off so drastically. And you're right, A.J. doesn't admire too many of today's drivers but he does respect Kanaan.
Q: Considering the rumors of Tony Kanaan coming to NASCAR, I'd like to know your thoughts as to why so many Indy car drivers have struggled so much in a stock car? If the Indy drivers are supposedly some of the best in the world, why is so hard for them to adapt? I believe it's because they cannot adapt to the significantly reduced downforce coupled with the fact that a stock car requires so much more actual steering input than an Indy car does.
Other than Tony Stewart, who drove midgets, sprints and Silver crown cars before Indy, none of the others in recent times have ever driven anything that would ever come close to being that loose and having to actually steer the car.
Gregg Paul, Mukwonago, Wis.
RM: Talking with Dario Franchitti about that the other night and he said it was just so different and so hard to adapt. He said Jimmie Johnson was always trying to help but he just couldn't get comfortable driving loose enough. On the flip side, A.J., Parnelli, Mario and Gurney had no trouble adapting to tin tops in the '60s and '70s and they all won races. Last time I checked, no NASCAR driver has ever won an Indy car race or really come close.
Q: I am a 40-year-old Indy car fan who is finally getting to go to my first race in person at Houston this year. Is there anything that you would say "You've got to make sure you see _________"?
Plus, where will the line be to get one's picture made with the best open-wheel reporter in the business today?
John Hankins, Pine Bluff, Ark.
RM: Get Johnny Rutherford's autograph, compliment A.J. on losing weight after his operation, tell Rick Mears you want to see him do some TV commentary and get your picture taken with Mario.
Not sure what day Marshall Pruett is arriving.
Q: Last week's question about swapping the “Duck Dynasty” family for the Hulman Georges is one of the most brilliant e-mails I've ever read in the mailbag. It was so brilliant I was compelled to write in on just how brilliant it was.
There's obviously a lot of sarcasm there, but is there a good idea in there somewhere? Is there something with a massively established fan base that we could somehow integrate into IndyCar to try and get viewers? Something like the most popular open-wheel series in the world that might also be broadcast by the same network broadcasting IndyCar?
Honestly, I know Bernie likely won't do IndyCar any favors, but is there any way possible that IndyCar could piggyback on F1's North American races? New Jersey, Montreal, and Austin? Give up the gate for the ratings and run the IndyCar race immediately before or after the F1 race. The ideal scenario is the world feed broadcasting the F1 races covers the IndyCar races as well.
I realize most of that is just a pipe dream, but the reality is, you need to get people to try your product. Sometimes that requires free samples. When your product is good enough, the money lost on a free sample is recouped by repeat business and right now the IndyCar product is as good as it has ever been, but nobody is trying it out.
Ryan, West Michigan
RM: It's pretty depressing to think “Duck Dynasty” gets 11 million viewers on A&E channel and IndyCar struggles to reach 400,000 on NBC Sports Network. With NASCAR joining NBC (maybe as early as next year), it should be a big lift for IndyCar because a whole new batch of people will be tuning into this channel and maybe they'll check out IndyCar. I think NBC Sports Network could realize viewing figures like ABC for an IndyCar race in time. As for Bernie letting IndyCar run with F1? You got a better chance of seeing Dario and Will go on vacation together.
Q: What can you tell us about the relationship with IZOD as a title sponsor? I never thought of them as very hands-on but they've certainly been less visible in the last year or so. I believe the contract has two more seasons but I also read that IndyCar was looking to find a new title sponsor. Any insight on this? Are there any prospective buyers? Also, what kind of money would it take to sponsor the series?
Joe, New York, N.Y.
RM: IZOD signed up in 2010 for five years at $10 million a year and started a very visible campaign with television ads and drivers and all kinds of billboards and store placement. But the CEO who fell in love with IndyCar and pushed the deal then retired and the new boss had little interest in continuing the program. They've done nothing in terms of marketing or promoting the last two years and they won't be back in 2014. No prospective replacement yet.
Q: Just read that Nationwide is bowing out of sponsoring NASCAR after 2014 to "refocus its motorsports spending on other areas of the industry." Wouldn't they be a good fit for IndyCar? If not the series, how about a specific race? I keep hoping that Verizon will step up to the plate. I do see their series app commercial a lot.
RM: Can't imagine Nationwide going to another series (hell, they had Dale Earnhardt Jr. as their spokesperson and you can't get more visibility). I was told Verizon was considering a title sponsorship before Randy Bernard was fired. At least Verizon seems engaged with IndyCar with commercials and apps.
Q: In one of your recent RACER.com videos, you asked Dario and TK what they would think about bringing the apron back at Indy. Does this mean that the powers-that-be at IMS are actually discussing that possibility, or are you simply throwing that out there because you (like me!) would love to see that happen?
Steve, Eden Prairie, Minn.
RM: Derrick Walker is definitely looking into it but there's an issue with drainage that needs to be addressed.
Q: Just wondering if you've seen a preview of the movie “Rush”? It sounds like it's going to be pretty good. I guess anything will be better than “Driven.”
Do you think Helio can hang on to win the championship? He's had a lot of good luck up until this point but would like to see him come on strong and win it with speed and not others' misfortune.
RM: My pals liked it and enjoyed the realism of the racing scenes. See RACER's review here. “Drivel” was worse than “Red Line 5000.”
I picked Dixon before Mid-Ohio and I still think he's got a shot but HCN looks pretty composed. So, yes, he can win it.
Q: After watching the Stadium SUPER Trucks series races from Toronto on NBCSN, I am begging the St. Pete organizers to add this series to their next IndyCar event. Please relay this message to them. It was phenomenal to watch those big, awkward trucks race around a street circuit and go over those ramps, especially with Townsend Bell and Paul Tracy in the mix. Too bad Vasser got injured in practice and couldn't race. That would have been great to see.
I think the SST complements the IndyCar Series very well on street circuits as it offers a unique racing experience that breaks up all the street/road racing series that typically comprise a weekend-long event. And, those races are mayhem. If they are that entertaining on TV, I can only imagine how much fun they are in person.
Jeff Stark, Port St. Lucie, Fla.
RM: Robby Gordon's series was a big hit with the fans in Toronto, and everyone in the IndyCar paddock that I talked to enjoyed them. I know they're set for Long Beach next year.
Q: I just read where Raul Boesel was six laps behind Emmo and Little Al while they duked it out for the win at the '89 Indy 500. If both Emmo and Little Al had crashed on lap 198, wouldn't they have had to hold the scoreboard on lap 198 until Boesel had completely unlapped himself? Surely, a "what if?" occurrence like that had no precedent, right?
Michael Hackney, Nashville, Tenn.
P.S. I wish IndyCar would come back to Nashville. Their races at the Superspeedway were mostly way better than the NASCAR races.
RM: After a quick call to Donald Davidson, “You are correct, sir.” Boesel wouldn't have taken the lead until lap 199.