Miller’s Mailbag, 7.3

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Hello open-wheel types and thanks for all your questions. I intend to answer your questions every week during the season, so just email me at openwheelmailbag@gmail.com. Don’t feel left out if I didn’t directly respond. I appreciate your interest and passion.

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Q: Regarding the start of the Iowa race and Mark Miles saying they wanted it on ABC. I think the series is going to have to decide if it is going to be a racing series for the fans at the track or a TV show trying to get ratings. They can’t have both ways. Even NASCAR is losing its longtime fan base because the races, season, and mostly TV production are too long. Also Indy Car needs to stop with the “Festival of Speed” label on many of its events. Fan zones, play zones for the kids, and of course the famous Ferris Wheel will not keep bringing people back. It’s the on-track product that will, with the last two years being incredible. Before live TV, I attended dozens of races at Mid Ohio including the Can Am, F 5000, IMSA, and CART. Every weekend was a thrill. The on-track product was great and we saw lots of action including support races before the main event. For TV to stick it to the live fans at the track is wrong. This past weekend I watched the Iowa race on DVR after I knew the winner. I still enjoyed the race and didn’t feel like it lost anything because I didn’t see it live. Maybe its time for Indy Car to tape its races (except the Indy 500) and present the best possible race to the loyal fans in the stands.

Rick, Charlotte

RM: First off, it was the Iowa owner who said he wanted ABC, not Miles, and it’s understandable that any promoter wants as much exposure as possible for his sponsors. The fan zone at Milwaukee was a hit and I wonder how much smaller the crowd would have been without it. I understand the good racing is what should be the main draw but right now it’s not enough so a promoter’s got to try new things to entice paying customers. CART use to show races on tape delay and as small the audience is nowadays I see no problem in doing it and having every race start at 1 p.m. I think it’s important to cater to the people who took the time and spent the money to support your product and to hell with 3:30 starts.

Q: I want to know why it is I keep hearing that NASCAR drivers are the best in the world. Is it the ultimate goal for all drivers to drive a stock car, or is it to make the money? Exactly what is IT that makes them supposedly the best?

Tonya

RM: The best driver might be from world rally or F1 or sprint-car racing or sports cars and Tony Stewart may well be one of the best in the world. But not because he drives a stock car. He can drive anything and it’s that versatility we revere about Dan Gurney, Parnelli Jones, Mario Andretti and A.J. Foyt. They were the best because they drove and won in everything.

Q: I love the ovals, and can’t believe I’m the only one thinking this but the races are way too short! How does IndyCar expect someone to drive a couple hours to watch a race that’s over in barley a hour and a half? I went to Iowa a few years ago, got a couple beers and missed half the race! I’d drive back to Iowa or Milwaukee in a heartbeat if I knew I’d watch at least a few hours of racing action. I truly believe that’s a big part of the poor attendance at ovals lately.

Darren in Duluth, Mn

RM: That was the biggest complaint to the Iowa promoters from their fan base and I think having good support races on Race Day makes it more worthwhile. But maybe it needs to be the Iowa 300 or just go back to Saturday night where 90 minutes seemed to be fine with the Indy Lights race going off around 6 p.m. I do agree though, you can’t have just an IndyCar race at 3:30 and expect people to be entertained by watching the 2-seater take VIPs around the track for hours beforehand.

Q: There’s been a lot of talk about how to spruce up the month of May at Indianapolis and get more people out to the track. One idea I think would be to have a “Indy Legends Race of the Ages!” featuring the Andrettis, Unsers, Luyendyk, Zanardi, Vasser, Tracy, Cheever, etc. and other popular Indy car drivers from the past. Find a sponsor and pay the winner $100,000. Put them on the oval in some sort of IROC-style cars and let’ em race! The Senior PGA tour draws really well, and I think a lot of fans would love to come out to hear on the PA “Mario and Al Sr. are side by side down the backstretch and into Turn 3!” Add it to Pole Day or opening weekend, and I think you’d triple the crowds. It’s not a cure-all but could be one of many good ideas implemented by Mark Miles and Co.

Paul Davis

RM: It might help a little but can’t see it making that much of a difference unless they all drove their old Indy cars (and that’s not going to happen).

Q: I’ve noticed on the ABC broadcasts that there is no mention of IZOD other than the Honda 2-seater. Even the logo on the TV screen is the IndyCar logo without the IZOD part. What does this mean?

Aaron from Milwaukee

RM: That means IZOD is going away after 2013.

Q: With Honda taking on a major role in F1 with McLaren in ’15, how do you feel this will affect their IndyCar relationship? Also, I know we would all love a return to Michigan International Speedway. With the advent of doubleheaders, I know it’d be great but don’t know how feasible it’d be, but what about a doubleheader weekend of Belle Isle and MIS? Thirdly, do you have any insight into how things are progressing from an engineering standpoint on the aero package situation? I’m really intrigued to see how things turn out. I really hope they can figure out a way to break up the monotony of the body styles – it’s to the point I almost feel like I’m watching an IROC race.

Brian Boggs

RM: It’s been American Honda lately so not sure Japan and F1 figure into things like they would have in the CART days but I think Sato’s victory may have helped keep the interest from the homeland. No chance you could run Belle Isle and MIS in the same weekend. Derrick Walker recently gave the manufacturers the aero kit specs so I imagine we’ll know something by Labor Day.

Q: I agree with your suggestion that Milwaukee should be scheduled right after Indy based on past success and to have that interesting juxtaposition between a superspeedway and a short oval. Other than that, I don’t see the need for other oval races. North America is home to some of the best road courses in the world. It’s a travesty that IndyCar isn’t holding events at Road America, Laguna Seca, COTA, Road Atlanta, Watkins Glen, Mosport and Mont-Tremblant. Maybe pair up with the sports cars for those events to make it worthwhile. The doubleheader at Detroit proved to be a success. IndyCar should export that model to racing meccas overseas like Brazil, Australia and Great Britain. In addition, wild card entries from the region should be permitted to compete and make that organic connection between the race and the region. Call it a talent audition and competition like American Idol, but for open-wheel racing. Imagine V8 Supercars champion Jamie Whincup and the Super Formula (formerly Formula Nippon) champion competing in IndyCars at the Adelaide Street Circuit in Australia as wild card entries or Le Mans winners Allan McNish and Tom Kristensen competing in Indy cars at Brands Hatch as wild cards. The star power will do the marketing for IndyCars. I’m not confident IndyCar will survive on the backs of American fans alone.

B Fontanilla

RM: I like the idea of a doubleheader in England or Australia (and adding a hero) because it would be a novel concept for those fans. But I think IndyCar’s true identity is its diversity of tracks and ovals are its heritage. It may come down to road courses and streets circuits and Indy only if attendance doesn’t pick up but we’re not there yet.

Q: I enjoy the starts of the sprinters, WoO, midgets, etc. But the starts of the IndyCar series leave much to be desired. Is it the speeds or the distance to the first turn? I am always pleased at how well the USAC, WoO drivers get started without many crashes. I would like to see the “Pro’s” put to the test.

AJ “Buddy” Pugliese

RM: I agree that Iowa was pretty shabby but it seems like the double-file restarts on street circuits are much tighter and better than the ovals are this season. And they’ve done a good job of staying pretty clean as well.

Q: With NASCAR silly season seemingly hinging on the moves of Kurt Busch and Ryan Newman, is there any chance we could see Kurt try IndyCar full time? He seemed to honestly enjoy his time in open-wheel cars (from his test years ago at Sebring and recently at Indy). The guy has plenty of talent, brand awareness, some personal sponsorship deals (ex. Monster with his brother). Kurt is a racer and NASCAR racer, but I can’t understand why he (or ‘Dinger) would accept a C+ to B ride in NASCAR when they could have an A ride in IndyCar that would pay (although at a much lesser rate than NASCAR) them a salary.

KK

RM: I guess if somebody threw a boatload of money and a good car at Busch he might consider it but that’s not going to happen and he’s going to make a lot more money and have a lot more success in tin tops. I just hope he runs Fontana this year or Indianapolis next year.

Q: At the end of the year my cable channel package got a shake up and I lost NBC Sports. Rather than upgrade yet again I chose to go without the majority of IndyCar and F1 races. Totally by chance I noticed that F1 is being shown live on CNBC as well as NBC Sports. Since CNBC is part of the base package I can now watch F1 again. What are the chances of IndyCar doing the same thing?

Tim, Baton Rouge, LA

RM: NBC isn’t allowed to show IndyCar and the only way it would get on CNBC is if another live event ran long on NBC Sports Network.

Q: With Tag having so many “DNFs” this year and the rest of the time running poorly, how soon before Bryan Herta yanks the plug on him? Herta was very disappointed at Belle Isle, due to the number of Barracuda people present. I like Tag but something is missing, he is just not racy anymore.

Edgar Arnold

RM: He’s still racy but not as consistently quick as a year ago and they’ve had some mechanical issues as well. Alex is no kid and the clock is ticking on his open-wheel career.

Q: Is there any chance that IndyCar could pair up with the Nationwide Series at Chicagoland on their late July date next year?

Ryan, Fort Wayne, IN.

RM: That would make sense for the promoter since both have trouble drawing by themselves at Joliet. But don’t bet on it.

Q: I was struck by this comment in the last mailbag: “I take my kids and grandkids to the 500 every year and, after about lap 20, they are busy with iPods and smart phones and could seem to care less about track action. It seems racing is far less interesting than video action.” I’m sad to say but except for the Indy 500 our beloved sport of Indy car racing is dead. When I was a kid in the 60′s my dad built dune buggies, hot rods, and even a rail dragster in our garage. All my life I followed in his footsteps, loving everything mechanical and today I’m an engineer. My favorite form of racing was always Indy car, from about 1967, which is the earliest I can remember, up to today. Why? Because I was and am a techno gearhead and loved the exotic nature of open-wheel Indy cars. Stock cars were, well stock and too much like a daily driver. For a techno gearhead like me there wasn’t anything to be attracted to with stock cars. Indy cars, sprint cars, midgets, and dragsters were and still are cool but after years of stagnation no longer very interesting. And that’s the problem, Indy cars are stagnate and boring. And s-l-o-w-e-r than just a few years ago. IndyCar racing has become a spec series of race-able but ugly and slow cars that with the exception of Indy I can no longer stay awake watching. Even the much hyped Iowa race was a snooze fest. I’m not going to blame Tony George, Penske, the front engine invasion, costs, Jeff Gordon’s defection down south, lack of American drivers, or any other easy target as none of these are the real reason for IndyCar’s demise. The current state of IndyCar is because it is a 100-year old sport that has reached it’s peak and run it’s course and there’s not enough techno gearheads to keep watching it. What do you know, my first rant.

Mechanical Mike

RM: If good racing doesn’t hold our kids’ attention span then why do you think innovation would? Yes, for older guys like us but I don’t think today’s youth will ever care like we did. And Iowa was a damn good race – from second to 15th.

Q: Maybe I’m stretching it since Danica is no longer in Indy car, but you’re a fellow racing analyst to Kyle Petty so here goes: What did you think about his remarks concerning Danica not being a “real race car driver”? For the record I’ve always liked Kyle and I have little respect for Danica’s driving talent. But I thought Kyle was way over the top on this one for a variety of reasons. Your thoughts?

Cletus Cobb

RM: I love Kyle Petty’s candor and while it may have been a stretch not to call her a real driver I think his point was questioning her race craft and/or inconsistency. Plus, he’s been saying the same thing for three years so it was hardly news.

Q: As a motorsports writer and former USAC driver who has seen Danica Patrick nearly qualify on the pole at Indy, finish on the podium at Indy, win at Twin-Ring Motegi, and sit on the pole of NASCAR’s Daytona 500, what are your thoughts on Kyle Petty’s comments that Danica is “not a real racecar driver”? How many times did Kyle Petty go flat out into Turn 1 at Indianapolis at 230mph? Also, unrelated, we keep hearing Road America and Chicagoland are possibilities for 2014, but have you heard any rumblings about a return to Kentucky Speedway? They have always been a great show and the crowds were always decent at least (especially if we are calling 25,000 at Milwaukee an acceptable crowd size). I’d be the first one to buy a ticket back to Kentucky!

Daniel Robbins

RM: I’ve always been a big Danica supporter and spend lots of lunches arguing with Vuky, Bettenhausen, Kunzman, Chassey and ‘ol Bub about her. She proved she could race with her performances at Indy, Homestead and Texas and even Milwaukee a couple times but her strength is big, fast ovals where you have to be smooth and precise and not horse the car around. She struggles at road courses in NASCAR just like she did in IndyCar because it’s so physical and that’s not her style. But the night she ran wheel-to-wheel with TK and they traded second place every lap at Homestead should have dispelled any doubt she could race.

Q: This past weekend I was surfing the net when I came across the Wikipedia entry for the Cannonball Baker Sea-to-Shining-Sea Memorial Trophy Dash (a/k/a The Cannonball Run). I was looking at the results from the many editions of this race that were completed over the years when I came across this entry:

Miller Robin 3 39:35 7 Chevrolet Vega 1972

I seem to recall you mentioning once you had competed in the Cannonball at some point, but is this entry really describing you? If so, did you actually make it from the Lock, Stock & Barrell Restaurant in Darien, CT to the Portofino Inn in Redondo Beach, CA in 39 hours and 35 minutes in a Chevrolet Vega? If so, I am impressed beyond words. The fastest route described by Google maps on this run is 45 hours! What did you have under the hood of that Vega? And, most importantly, did you have Catherine Bach riding shotgun? You must tell us more about this glorious event and your impressive run.

Jay Matheny, Mayfield, KY

RM: The genius of Brock Yates introduced the Cannonball in 1971 when Dan Gurney drove them (in a Ferrari) to victory and I was lucky enough to compete in Year 2 before police and politicians put an end to our fun. We started in a parking garage in Manhattan and raced to the Portafino Inn on the Pacific Ocean in LA. My co-driver, the late Wes Dawn, was a Hollywood makeup artist and part-time stock car driver and we didn’t have cruise control so we jammed an ice scraper on the throttle and ran most of the way at 103 mph (as fast as our Vega would go downhill). Wes got lost in Ohio while I was napping and we got stopped six times for speeding so that cost us and we finished seventh. Wes had to go to jail for five weekends because we used his address on the tickets (which naturally we didn’t pay) and it was wild and fun. Brock wanted to have one more a few years ago and I almost had Paul Newman talked into co-driving with me when the lawyers told Mr. Yates it was a bad idea. His book, Cannonball, can be found on amazon.com and it’s a fun read.

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