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 bit dumbfounded with the signing of Montoya, perhaps you can offer some insight? When we have Allmendinger, Newgarden, Kanaan, etc. who are sponsor friendly, fan-friendly, and wonderful representatives. Montoya certainly was fast in the past, and perhaps he is tired of running mid-pack, but I do not see what he has to prove, when he has been there and done that.
Paul H., Erie, Pa
RM: I guess my inclination would have been to go with Newgarden first (because of his age and potential) and I believe Penske did interview him a year ago. T.K. and Justin Wilson certainly deserve consideration but I guess Allmendinger wanted to stick with stock cars. I guess R.P. sees Montoya as a former champion who has been forgotten but who still has something to prove (although, as you said, what does he have left to prove in America?).
Q: THUD! The sound of Michael Andretti's mouth hitting the AA team garage floor when he heard of Team Penske's big scoop of signing Juan Pablo Montoya to the Penske team for 2014! Guess Penske pulled off another blindsider. Did anyone see this coming?
Have to wonder if JPM had an inkling of this when he turned Mikey down just the other day! Also, have to wonder how Tony Kanaan feels, he is an Indy 500 champion after all, and he's been told he must "bring money" to a new team he's shopping around for, yet, JPM gets signed even without having to bring money nor full sponsorship being in place first! Remains to be seen if JPM can still "bring it" in open wheel cars, and if he will be a good fit in Penske. What say you?
Tony Mezzacca, Madison, N.J
RM: The Captain is the king of surprises and, yes, this was a shocker because most of us figured JPM was staying in NASCAR. Like I wrote on Tuesday
, nobody has ever been away as long as Juan so it will be interesting to see if he recaptures that style we remember. I think it may be tougher than anyone imagines but Kanaan and Dario think he'll be up to the task.
Q: How long has this Montoya-to-Penske deal been in the works?
RM: Tim Cindric said it was at Michigan in August when they first broached the subject.
Q: I grew up in the Detroit area in a Ford family. My dad, my uncles, my grandparents, all worked for Ford. Roger Penske has always been a Chevrolet guy and it's hard to shake those old “Ford good-guy vs. Chevy bad-guy” perspectives. I certainly respect and admire Penske and the Penske team, but that Bowtie affiliation…
But now JPM is joining Penske. He was my favorite guy in F1, he didn't take any BS from Schumacher and figured he could whup him in a fair fight. Driving cojones the size of bowling balls. Hell, he's not like any other driver I know! Next year should be EXTREMELY exciting. I guess I'm going to have to get a hat with a Chevy bowtie on it.
Curt Larson, Clearwater, Fla. & Bloomfield Twp, Mich.
RM: It's a good storyline and refreshing to see somebody from NASCAR come to IndyCar instead of the other way around.
Q: With possible changes to the IndyCar schedule for next year, how does that affect the mechanics and pit crew for teams dealing with a shorter season, regarding employment and salary? Also, was the Andretti offer too low for Montoya to accept? Finally, will we see better racing next year when the aero kit is introduced?
RM: I think most of the mechanics are concerned about being laid off for several months – even on the big teams. I have no idea if JPM and Mikey were ever far enough along to talk money. Not sure we can have better racing than we've seen the past two years and an aero kit might un-even the playing field, but that's 2015, not next year.
Q: All this talk about Beaux Barfield needing to be shown the door (by Dixon mostly) is really funny. Because the one who really needs to be given his walking papers is Mark Miles! What the hell is his stupid obsession with ending the season on Labor Day? No other racing series in America ends on Labor Day. The NFL has always been a ratings juggernaut; nothing new there. The other racing series are not afraid to run races into the fall, why is he?
Now, thanks to his policy, Baltimore is off the schedule! Houston is going to be run in the summer next year! Summer – in Houston! I've lived in Houston all my life and I can tell you it gets unbearably hot in the summer! Fontana is the same situation!
And you know what makes me even more crazy? He then says that IndyCar will hold non-championship events in the fall months. Well how is that any different than racing in the States in the fall for points that count toward the championship? You're still holding an event that will be televised here. The only difference is that they will be halfway around the world and broadcast in the middle of the night or very early in the morning. Guess what, Mark? The ratings will be even crappier than they are now!
All he has accomplished with this idiotic idea (which by the way is not new, and didn't work the last time they tried it) is put the event promoters in a very bad spot and force them to change their race dates away from the ones where they have built equity. Plus, he has made it harder now for race fans like me who actually go to races (I will have gone to two this year) to continue to do so.
RM: A lot of us share your feelings about ending on Labor Day because it didn't matter when the IRL tried it and likely won't make any difference next year either. I think Houston will be in late June with maybe the hope of moving it to the season opener by 2015 (late January?). Miles is trying to increase revenue for the teams with a proposed foreign tour because the purses are so weak nowadays thanks to the Leader's Circle program. The Boston Consulting Group got paid a lot of money to offer “suggestions” on how to fix IndyCar and I guess Mark feels like he needs to try them.
Q: I agree with you almost 100 percent of the time concerning IndyCar. I have hated the constant whiners that call themselves fans but since Randy Bernard left I am finding myself not as excited as there seems no positive momentum. Baltimore gone for next year, IMS probably adding a road course race, TK having serious issues for sponsorship. Also doesn't sound like any new racetracks for 2014 and still a crummy TV package. Any positives coming for 2014?
I have also started to wonder what would happen if Chip or Roger called it quits. My fear is that Jim France and his new combined sports car series would somehow take over the 500 – call me crazy.
Mike Nicholas, Fishers, Ind.
RM: I guess my advice would be to enjoy the good racing and be patient because I think you'll see plenty of changes by 2015. But if sports cars don't screw up the rules and keep that ALMS element, they could give IndyCar a real run for the money in attendance and sponsorship.
Q: Too bad about Baltimore, it looked like a good venue and it was on my list of races to see. I was final able to watch the ALMS race and it seems to me IndyCar should have also split the chicane on the start/restarts. Maybe a standing start? That was a good race to watch, but the best of the ALMS was when my three-and-a-half-year-old walked into the room, saw the race on TV and then proclaimed, "I only like to watch IndyCars."
Jamie A. Carr
RM: If IndyCar returned, the chicane wasn't going to and that track was well suited for a standing start. All three years featured good racing so it's definitely a loss.
Granted, the portion of the race where it was a wreck fest was not enjoyable, but overall, we loved it. We had already made plans to attend next year, but that obviously won't be the case now. The only race in the mid-Atlantic is Pocono, I'm guessing. I'll probably attend, but just really enjoyed the overall feel of the Baltimore weekend. Heck, I wore a Williams Grove T-shirt on race day and two people recognized it and gave props!
Q: I just read about the Baltimore Grand Prix being canceled for the foreseeable future, and am crushed. This year, three of my friends and I went down for the first time, and it was a blast! Two of the friends weren't even racing fans, but looked to be converts to IndyCar after seeing the action up close.
I don't want to say my faith in IndyCar is shaken, but this certainly has taken the wind out of my sails, with regards to enthusiasm.
Jesse, Hummelstown, Pa.
RM: Even though the crowd went down every year, it was still decent and I found the fans that showed up to be as knowledgeable as they were passionate. Thanks for introducing your pals to IndyCar.
Q: After reading RACER's article on the loss of the Baltimore GP, I see that Pocono is the only race remaining in the Eastern United States. How is IndyCar supposed to market its product to cities like NYC, Philly, Boston or D.C. when the nearest race is a time zone away? If they're not watching now, what's left to compel them?
RM: Well, I guess you hope they're engaged enough to watch (or DVR) in any time zone and maybe there's a shot at Providence hosting a race in the near future.
Q: I was disappointed to learn that the Indy Baltimore race will be no more. The obstacles and costs to pull-off a successful "street" race, anywhere must be astronomical. Other than the obvious disaster of the front straight "chicane" that destroyed so much equipment all weekend, what in your opinion are the underlying reasons for this venue being taken off the schedule for 2014?
Michael Baley, Mount Joe, Pa.
RM: Couldn't run on Labor Day weekend in 2014 and 2015 because of a Navy-Ohio State football game and a big convention. That was the preferred date and fans could actually plan on the same weekend every year so it's a big loss. Could it come back in 2016? I imagine if it found a big title sponsor but, out of sight, out of mind…and probably out of the rotation forever. Sadly, Baltimore joins San Jose, Las Vegas, Denver, Miami, Edmonton and Cleveland in road/street course scrap heap.
Q: Based on the Michael Waltrip Racing NASCAR fix at Richmond, what is the worst IndyCar fix that you have witnessed? Before the 1996 Indy 500 during a very private team meeting, I heard one new co-owner of a team who had multiple cars entered was discussing a plan to bring out a yellow by one of his backmarkers when the primary drivers made an early last pit. By causing a yellow while a very early last pit stop was made, they were figuring that would gain a significant advantage. I was appalled at this guy's plan and was glad that it never materialized. This was the same guy who had spent time in jail for insider trading. And I'm glad that he was not around Indy cars very long.
RM: To say a race has ever been fixed is impossible because of all the dynamics and cars. Clint Bowyer's intentional spin only brought out the caution and slowed Ryan Newman's apparent victory – which he then lost in the pits. Bryan Herta's “spin” at Sonoma in 2006 enabled teammate Marco Andretti to have enough fuel to finish but he still had to win the race. I know George Bignotti ran Johnny Parsons out of fuel on purpose in 1977 to try and help Gordon Johncock with a caution and Mario once asked if Michael “needed a yellow,” so this kind of gamesmanship isn't new. But Bowyer's move set off a chain reaction that decided a race and The Chase.
Q: I see in the last mailbag that someone wanted to know why fans like Will Power so here is my top 10 list for those who want to know: 10. He can beat Dario; 9. He's a likeable guy; 8. He's humble; 7. When we realized that Al Unser Jr wasn't going to return, we found Will; 6. Wives and daughters like him and that helps bring the family together on race day…at least in my case; 5. We like to explain to people outside of racing that his name really is WILL POWER; 4. He races for Team Penske; 3. He races aggressive; 2. He wins races; And the No.1 reason us fans like Will Power…he bribed us! Now where did I put those passes to the Penske paddock? Hey Will, a little help please.
RM: Power is usually worth the price of admission and he'll appreciate your sentiments.
Q: I was wanted your take on the apparent collapse of Andretti Autosport. I personally don't see a huge improvement in performance at Ganassi or Penske, but do see a huge loss of performance at Andretti. Qualify poorly, run poorly during the race. Why? Been an Andretti fan for 40 years and always will be. Spent five minutes talking with Mario at Pocono 25-30 years ago and it's still one of the top highlights of my existence.
Phil the Porsche Fan
RM: Good observation. It was apparent Andretti Autosport got the jump on everyone this season but Ganassi and Penske have certainly caught up, along with a few others. Not sure what they found (dampers seems to be the logical answer) but other than Ryan Hunter-Reay, they've been struggling lately.
Q: How odd that Andretti Autosport missed the deadline for ordering an engine for Kurt Busch at Fontana. Is there more to the story than missing a date?
The cancellation of Baltimore for 2014 and 2015 is so disappointing. Why would the series not want a successful venue? What a slap in the face. The 150,000 in attendance is a great turnout for the weekend. Why couldn't Baltimore be the final race?
Miles and the Hulman board are so wrong to end the series on Labor Day weekend. Of course I am selfish and want Fontana to continue to be the finale, so I can attend.
Do you think Ganassi will allow Kyle Larson to race in USAC in his spare time next year? How about in May at Indy? Kyle's signing for a full time ride in the Cup series actually made the local paper – a real article; not just couple of sentences.
Three weeks to the next race and I am climbing the walls!
RM: I don't think there was any money to run Busch and him making The Chase would have changed everything anyway. Baltimore didn't have close to 100,000 in three days this year, but not being able to run on Labor Day weekend because of conflicts KO'd it. Doubt if Chip lets Larson run but the kid wants to.
Q: Here's how we save IndyCar
– we do a “family swap.” We swap the Robertson clan of "Duck Dynasty" for the Hulman-Georges. The Robertsons would bring their 11.8 million viewers to IndyCar, which would attract all the big sponsors away from NASCAR. Uncle Si could be the competition director, Willie would be in charge of the business side, and we'd put Phil up in the flag stand. Drivers, crew chiefs, and owners would be required to wear face paint on race day, to reflect their sponsor's colors. As for the Hulmans, send 'em down to Louisiana to learn backwoods common sense and good judgment, and get the blessings of Jim Nabors before they are allowed back home again in Indiana.
Jim Scott, Wisconsin Rapids
RM: Would you consider working in IndyCar's marketing department?
Q: To be both bold AND cautious simultaneously is a difficult and dangerous thing to attempt (ask NASA). Half-bold often leaves all involved dissatisfied for different reasons. Presently, a May road race at IMS is divisive. So, if it is definitely on (and I am a traditionalist who is coming around to the potential of such an event) it should be leveraged boldly to capture the full potential to unite (or be abandoned). How can this be accomplished? Simple, make the race a true GIFT in return for 100 years of loyalty shown to the 500 and the IndyCar Series by generations of Indianapolis and Mid-western fans and massively market it as the biggest THANK YOU in the history of motor racing.
While you lose potential revenue (and I bet there are models whereby you at least break even), look at what you get in return; lasting and priceless goodwill, the best possible apology for all past mistakes like the Split, dumping Randy, losing Baltimore – and maybe Brazil and Kanaan, et al.
Further, look at what you get; an authentic reputation for caring about the fans beyond just words, a unique event that instantly separates you from NASCAR and Formula 1 in terms of customer service, 15 to 50 thousands more fans filling the TV cameras than you would get under the traditional model, and generally more "butts in seats" to promote the 500. This idea has been touched upon but it deserves true thoughtful consideration. Maybe you still give some of the prime seats to 500 ticket holders, sell suites to local businesses, find a title sponsor (State of Indiana?), make it a non-points sweepstakes run to appease traditionalists, use empty bleachers to sell corporate banners or honor the states and nations where IndyCar has run throughout its past glorious history, etc. Maybe you break even, lose a little, or even profit a little.
BUT, none of that should be the focus. The focus (the marketing focus especially) is FREE SEATS to say THANK YOU for YEARS of LOYALTY. You could erase almost all past bad and present doubt with one single day. How much would that be worth moving ahead? Otherwise, what's the point beyond short-sighted profit? Is it that crazy???
Lance Barry, Girl's School Road, Indy
RM: Probably crazy but I suggested to Mark Miles that anyone with an Indy 500 ticket is admitted free to the road race and asked to make a charitable donation (minimum $10) to show some goodwill and appreciation to the diehards. I think it's going to take something like that to ensure 40,000.
Q: From your experience, how do the drivers really feel about the "Push to Pass"? I would imagine the more experienced drivers appreciate it, but am really curious as to whether IndyCar has ever considered a system like DRS (Drag Reduction System) used in F1?
Kenny Ramirez, Corona, Calif.
RM: I think they've accepted it as a necessary gimmick to make street races better (and it's worked) but something new may be coming. Stay tuned.
Q: I must say if the Indianapolis Motor Speedway needs renovation, much less adding a possible road course for the Indy cars, do the Speedway organizers have any thought to getting rid of those F1 starter lines on the front stretch for good? I HATE looking at those things – they're an eyesore. It ruins the beauty and mystique of the Speedway, especially if no racing sanction is using them. In fact, I think the road course configuration for Indy cars should go counter-clockwise, unlike when F1 was there.
RM: Those lines are used by MotoGP and no decision yet on which way the IndyCars will run the road course.
Q: The letter by Joe Walsh in the Sept. 11 mailbag raises an interesting point about the points system. I am in agreement with him. There isn't enough incentive for drivers to go for it because the difference in points between 6th and 7th isn't enough. If you win a race the points should be significant. IndyCar's points system is better than the old CART system for podium points but it still rewards mediocrity.
The best point system we've seen in the last 50 or so years was the old F1 system of 10-6-4-3-2-1. If you applied that system to the last several years of IndyCar, the changes in the final standings are significant. In 2007, the champ would have been Dixon rather than Franchitti. In 2009 the order would have been Briscoe, Franchitti, Dixon rather than Franchitti, Dixon, Briscoe. In 2010 the champ would have been Power rather than Franchitti. Dario didn't try in the last race because he didn't have to and so might still have won the title. In 2011, Power would have done it again and would have been untouchable by the time of the last race.
For sure, if the points system was different the drivers would race differently. With a different points system the standings might have looked the same. In the old F1 system, you would need to finish sixth 11 times to finish ahead of a race winner. The current IndyCar system only requires two 7th-place finishes to be ahead of a race winner. This just doesn't seem right to me. Winning and to a lesser degree finishing on the podium is far more important than being 13th. Just the thoughts of an old curmudgeon.
RM: I always liked that F1 system because it did reward performance more than consistency but I still think winning doesn't get enough of a spread to second place. Having said that, the past five championships have come down to the last race without any Chase, so it's working.
Q: I think sometimes we all tend to look back on the past and think it might have been slightly better than the reality of the situation. With all the down time between races, I thought I would check out some classic CART races to entertain myself. Go check out the 1993 ITT Automotive Detroit Grand Prix on YouTube. I think about five people were ready to lynch Wally Dallenbach after the race. The difference was, back then, there was no social media, thus it didn't quite blow up the way things do now. Funny that the start, blocking and restarts were the hot topics with Race Control! There is also a certain Toronto race where the same happened to Tony Cotman!
Paul Haluska, Sarasota, Fla.
RM: In the 1960s and '70s, the drivers policed themselves and nobody even knew the chief steward's name, but the advent of street circuits made it a contact sport and tough on Race Control. It's a thankless job.
Q: In the new issue of RACER magazine they are debating the best racing movies of all time with a lot of hope on "Rush" living up to the hype. So, who do you think was the best actor-driver – Newman, McQueen, Garner or someone else? Do you think Patrick Dempsey has the "right stuff" to make a go as a professional racer? If Ron Howard can pull off with "Rush" what he did with "Apollo 13," then it will be great. Everyone who watched Apollo 13 knew what was going to happen, yet there were cheers in the audience when the parachutes came out. Not so many of us in America know the story of "Rush" but I am certainly going to be first in line to get a ticket…that is, if it makes it to dear old Waco. What the heck, it's worth driving to Austin if it doesn't come to Waco!
Tom in Waco
RM: McQueen was a dirt biker turned sports car racer and had some balls while PLN didn't start until he was 43 but obviously possessed the skills needed to win SCCA/Trans-Am races and titles. Dempsey seems serious (the four-part series on VELOCITY about his quest for Le Mans is quite good) but it's very difficult to be a full-time actor and part-time racer.
Q: In view of all the publicity linking concussion and football, I am surprised there has been no talk linking Massa's tragic accident in 2009 and the fall-off in his performance since his “recovery.” Certainly the effect of a spring hitting one's head at God-knows-how-many mph must exceed the head bumps in football.
John Peterson, Minneapolis, Minn.
RM: He never seemed as quick and the same thing happened to Roberto Guerrero, although he made a helluva comeback after being in a coma from his 1987 IMS testing accident.
Q: I know the Mailbag is mostly about IndyCar, but I have a general open-wheel question for you. I'm disheartened to see all good, young American drivers heading to NASCAR (I understand why they are going). Question: will the USA have a competitive driver in F1 within the next 10 years? I can't think of anyone on that path except for Conor Daly.
Wally, Eden Prairie, Minn.
RM: Alexander Rossi has been successful in every formula in Europe and appeared to be in line for an F1 ride this year but can't compete with the money being brought in by other drivers. If he can't find backing, he's likely never going to make it and young Daly is fully aware of how the game is played (despite his success this year).
Q: A quick shout-out to 47-year-old Dave Darland. He has six USAC sprint car victories this year, moving him to second all-time in the USAC sprint car victory record book. He is tied with Jack Hewitt at 46 wins and just six behind Tom Bigelow's record of 52 wins. He's battling Bryan Clauson, who wasn't even born when Dave started running USAC sprinters, for this year's crown. Dave is getting it done!
RM: Yes he is, and he's one of the best people as well. You can see him in action this weekend at Rossburg, Ohio in the annual 4-Crown Nationals.
Q: Several years ago, I heard a rumor that there is a "secret" agreement that the engine on Vuky's winning roadster is never to be fired. Be that as it may, IMS blew a wonderful marketing op by not having Bill Jr. drive his Dad's winning roadster around the track on the 60th anniversary of his dad's first win at Indy.
I would make the case that Vuky was the greatest to ever drive at Indy. He won 1953 and 1954. In 1955, after a stirring duel with Jack McGrath (until McGrath had his magneto go sour), he was running away from the field until fate intervened. Looking at the picture of Vuky taking the checkered flag in 1954 with Jimmy Bryan's right front tire even with Vuky's left rear. The casual fan would think, ‘Wow that was a close finish!' The truth is Bryan was taking the white flag as he was a full lap behind as Vuky had lapped the field! I'm no Donald Davidson, but I don't think that had ever been done, except maybe in the very early years when just going 500 miles was quite an accomplishment.
If fate had treated him a little better he could have been our first 4-time winner, coming within eight laps of winning in 1952, winning in '53 and '54, and a threat to lap the field again in '55. I'm glad to have been there to see it, even though I was only eight-and-a-half years old on Race Day 1951. Vuky was truly my hero. I don't think anyone, A.J. included, has ever dominated Indy like Vuky did.
JM, Zionsville, Ind.
RM: Howard Keck gave that 1953 car to the IMS Museum with the orders it would never run again, nor would it ever be allowed to leave the grounds. They even removed the camshaft to make sure the engine would never fire. Vuky Jr wanted to drive his dad's car again but it wasn't possible.
Q: Been enjoying the Danny Thompson LSR diaries on RACER.com. Mickey Thompson has gotten a bad rap in Indy car circles due to the Eddie Sachs/Dave McDonald crash. As someone who was there, what do you think? Raving lunatic or ahead-of-his-time genius?
I think it is interesting that Danny Ongais, another person known for high-profile crashes at Indy, drove for Mickey in all forms of motorsport. There's a great documentary there, don't you think?
RM: I was in the grandstands in 1964 and didn't get to know Mickey until he brought his off-road series to Indianapolis in 1984. But he was way ahead of his time and a clever, hard-working character who was a delight to get to know. When the tire profile was changed in '64 at Indy, it changed the handling of his “roller skates” and he was concerned prior to the race.
Yes, he would be a wonderful documentary. He's one of those guys like Gurney, Granatelli and Chapman who made us fall for Indianapolis.