The Mailbag has plenty of questions regarding the old Indy 500 apron that was used through the 1991 event.

Photo Credit: IMS Photo

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.

~Robin Miller

Q: Looked like a lot of empty seats at the Brickyard. And it looked like it was even worse for the Grand-Am race. Isn’t it about time to drop some of these races from the IMS calendar?

Craig Phillips

RM: Just looking at the overhead views I’d say there were more people at the Eldora truck race than Friday and Saturday combined at IMS. But I fear we’ll see Grand-Am with Indy cars on the road course next May.

Q: You have been saying all along that a standalone road course race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway would not draw fans. I wasn’t convinced until last Friday when I was at the Speedway for the Grand-Am race. A really dismal crowd. If you can’t draw fans, in great weather, with a full day of racing action including a Sprint Cup practice, a standalone or Grand-Am race will not be a financial success.

Mark, Carmel, IN

RM: You had at least 25,000 empty seats at the Indianapolis 500 last May so why in the name of Wilbur Shaw would you want to dilute your main event with a race on that boring road course? Fans go to Indy to see speed and passing – not Formula Fords which is what an Indy car will look like.

Q: I enjoyed watching Danny Sullivan and you on Wind Tunnel last night. I’m writing in regards to the discussion topic of Indy’s apron. All the IndyCar and NASCAR fans I know think bringing the apron back would be a good idea. So do many of the former and current drivers, prominent owners, and a slew of motorsports journalists and pundits. With this in mind, where is the disconnect between these parties (Indy’s stakeholders if you will), and the persons who have the ability to affect change? As you’ve stated many times, paving the apron is cheaper than installing lights only by several million dollars. If those stakeholders were the Boston Consulting Group (another ill-advised 7-figure endeavor), would the apron already have been paved?

Kyle Lantz

RM: Yes Kyle, I think if that was BCG’s idea it would already be under construction. The apron was removed after 1992’s crashfest with what I recall as the explanation it would reduce the severe angles of hitting the walls. Of course those IRL cars with the half-ton gearboxes created a laundry list of injuries upon impact to dispel that angle theory. And now we have safer walls so there is no reason not to bring back the apron.

Q: Agree 100% on paving the apron at Indy. Sato, Meira (especially), & to a certain degree Conway (Turn 1 not the north short chute incident when RHR ran out of fuel) can probably all provide good evidence that hitting the SAFER barrier hard isn’t what hitting the dreaded Indiana concrete once was. Further, the acute angle argument for eliminating the apron never made much sense because if anything the additional distance between full wheel lock and the wall gives the cars time to scrub speed because they all know by now not to turn into the slide. Switching gears the ‘best’ thing about watching stock cars at Indy is the plain old fact that you know who’s hooked up because, using this year as an example, it was pretty easy to “hear” that Newman and JJ were the last to lift going into 1. BUT, nothing can beat the sight, smell, and SOUND of an Indy car screaming into turn one at 240+ just before he/or she lifts a bit.

Lance Hanni

RM: The apron made for an extra passing lane and an escape lane when a driver’s car picked up a wicked push (see Gordon Johncock, 1982). Look at Mears and Michael in 1992 and just think of all the time Ruby, Rutherford, Mario cut the grass to make a pass. It was part of Indy’s makeup and it needs to return.

Q: Big news in NASCAR coming to NBC. Is this good or bad for IndyCar? At first glance it seems great. Hopefully this will expand NBC Sports to more homes. It appears that NBC wants to be the home of racing. On the down side, will IndyCar become the redheaded stepchild? Will F1 and NASCAR push IndyCar aside?

Joe Mullins

RM: Way too early to answer but, initially, I think it’s good for IndyCar because it’s going to drive people to a channel they may not know exists or force cable companies to include it in more packages. It would appear that NBC wants to be the home to motorsports and that’s what IndyCar needs – identity. NBC went after NASCAR and Formula One but it inherited IndyCar so I guess my chief concern is what happens in five years if the ratings aren’t improving?

Q: The real truth to NASCAR signing with NBC is that this is Brian France’s way of continuing to try to crush ICR. He knows that ICR is gaining some momentum and what VERSUS/NBC has done to promote ICR. Why do think it has been so hard to try to get a date back at PIR or MIS (owned by the France Family). Big Bill France knew exactly what he was doing when he got to come to IMS. It was the start of trying to kill ICR and with the help of what Tony George did. It almost happened. Not to say that the open-wheel owners did not help either. Then with TG getting in bed with Berine E. I feel we are still lucky to have IMS and ICR alive today. Why the IMS Corp still wants to bring taxi cab racing to the Speedway when NASCAR and BF are the enemy is beyond me? It is a total insult to the greatest speedway in the world to only have 75,000-100,000 in the seats for a venue that seats almost 250,000. Rest in peace Tony Hulman.

Terry Gobble, Urbana IL

RM: I think the reason Brian France went with NBC is because it reportedly offered a helluva lot more money and I really doubt if he gave IndyCar a thought.

Q: So now that NBC Sports has picked up NASCAR starting in 2015, what do you predict will happen coverage wise when a NASCAR and INDYCAR race occur at the same time on the same day? My guess is that IndyCar will get pushed to tape delay or something along those lines. Do you see this as a problem?

John Baadilla

RM: Based on ratings I’d say we know the answer to that but I’m not sure tape delay hurts that much. CART had it in the ‘90s when it was popular and, if anything, it would allow an event to start at a reasonable time for the paying customers instead of 3:30 or 4 p.m.

Q: I keep reading/listening that the track configuration (flat/minimal banking) is the problem with NASCAR at IMS. Is track configuration the reason for empty seats at -
Daytona, Talladega, Dover, Pocono, Sears Point, Atlanta, etc.

Thomas

RM: I think the tracks and the lengths of the races are factors but, as Dave Despain pointed out to me last Sunday, they were both the same length when NASCAR was booming.

 

Q: Could there be anything to Tony Kanaan sitting in one of the Chipster’s DP cars at Indianapolis? I think Dario will be back, but Ganassi did run four cars as recently as last year. TK was offered a ride once before with Chip.

Brian Henris

RM: There could be and I’ve heard James Hinchcliffe’s name in that seat as well but it might be contingent on a big sponsor.

Q: I read with interest the comment in the latest mailbag the claiming that most of the legendary road courses in the US were getting long in the tooth. Admittedly there are few Circuits of the Americas. It is beautiful and certainly up to world standards. The question I have is “Who needs all of that?” In the last 10 years, most of it in the last four years, Watkins Glen has replaced or added 9 state of the art aluminum grandstands. It has also built a new luxury clubhouse in the esses, a completely new press facility and dramatically improved the rest room and camping areas. It has paved the run off areas to reduce the number of caution periods. I did 10 Grand Prixs at Watkins Glen over the years all the CART, IRL races and 24 Cup races. The current F1 fans may need luxury but IndyCar, Sports Car and NASCAR fans want competitive races and comfortable facilities. WGI has that and I am sure other road courses have that as well.

Thomas Bastian

RM: If it was a vote among the drivers and teams, IndyCar would have never left The Glen. It and Road America should be staples on the schedule but the promoter couldn’t make money paying IndyCar’s sanction fee so there has to be some middle ground before a deal can be struck.

Q: The “Super Weekend” turned into a super Friday for me and my friends. How can IMS justify shelling out huge cash to light the Speedway and for what would seemingly make a tiny difference in the most dismal of crowds I have ever seen at IMS? The lights would maybe boost attendance 20,000 for a year or two and then the glamour would fade and the boring racing we saw on Saturday and Sunday would return to the forefront and crowds would die again. However I must say however small the crowd was Friday the atmosphere and racing seemed to be pretty awesome for the Grand-AM race. I know this has nothing to do with open wheel just a small rant about IMS.

Caleb Hartman

RM: I think 20,000 sounds very optimistic – I’d day maybe 5,000 and it will never cover the millions of dollars to put up lights. IMS was built as the greatest OVAL track in the world. Period.

Q: Please tell me the 2014 IndyCar schedule is not going to end on Labor Day. 1) Not everyone is a super football fan. 2) Fall races are great weather. 3) Are they really going to end the season at Baltimore and move Houston and Fontana early in the season? I just don’t see it. It makes no sense. It would be as dumb as raising Indy 500 ticket prices in a terrible economy. Wait they already did that. Also, they complain that no one comes to practice days, so what do they do raise the price of practice days to $15. A practice day is not worth $15. Forget the casual fan and make the hardcore fans happy first. It’s simple, you want to succeed listen to the fans paying the bills. Even become one on race day.

Matt Converset, Decatur, IN

RM: I wish I could tell you that Matt but I think its ending Labor Day weekend in 2014. How about six months of being off the radar and media map or the mechanics who get laid off? I know a friend who’s been buying Indy tickets for 30 years and he just learned of a 25 percent increase in his seats and canceled them. Charging people to park and increasing ticket prices with an abundance of empty seats smacks of stupidity.

Q: I saw your answer last night on TV about returning Indy cars to dirt. To clarify my question I sent you yesterday of course I know that the current Indy car would not do well on dirt, what I meant in restoring the old National Championship Trail was to bring back and merge with the Silver Crown cars. This I feel would do more than anything else to reconnect with the average American racing fan.

Herm Flowers, Marion, NY

RM: I can’t imagine today’s car owners and management even giving that suggestion 10 seconds worth of thought. No chance. Hinch had the best idea: rent 20 dirt cars and turn all the IndyCar drivers loose in them and it might get a decent crowd and rating.

Q: I hope that you and the rest of the Mailbag readers caught the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race at Eldora. What an incredible race! I always that that a NASCAR race on the dirt would be a great show, and last night did not disappoint. Plus, the field had plenty of great American short track racers in it: Kyle Larson, Tracy Hines, Scott Bloomquist, just to name a few. Plus, there was a great segment featuring interviews with Joey Saldana, Jack Hewitt, and Steve Kinser. If NASCAR was brave enough to put one of their touring series back on dirt for the first time in 40+ years, why couldn’t IndyCar do the same? Obviously IndyCar couldn’t use those tender little Dallaras that they use now, but I’m sure that Beast (or someone of the sort) would be up to the challenge to develop a dirt chassis for IndyCar. Plus, it would be a shot in the arm that the series desperately needs right now. If dirt track racing was good enough for A.J. and Parnelli, then it ought to be good enough for Marco, RHR, Dario, and Scott Dixon.

Jay Matheny, Mayfield, KY

RM: All of us oldtimers would like to think something like that would work but it’s neither feasible or logical. Today’s owners can barely afford to field an Indy car, let alone add another discipline and I don’t think IndyCar fans would respond like NASCAR fans did. But let’s be clear: it was a decent race because of Dillon and Larson and it showed just how starved fans are for watching drivers have to deal with the elements of a hard, slickie. I watched every lap because it was entertaining and made a lot of people remember why they fell for racing in the first place.

Q: Watched “briefly” the Brickyard race. What is with the empty seats? Is NASCAR no longer the prettiest girl in the bar? Any word on the New Jersey Grand Prix. Is it on or off?

Steve Selasky

RM: It’s been a ghost town the past few races but it still had a pretty damn good TV rating (somehow). Bernie has other things to worry about at the moment.

Q: Why do reporters have the propensity to shove a microphone in a principle’s face right after a major unplanned announcement or development? In this day and age of highly trained business managers dodging the media is second nature. Case in point Mark Miles response when questioned about the new TV Deal between NASCAR and NBC. What we got was spin. “This is going to be good for everyone including IndyCar.” The guy was just blindsided did anyone expect anything other than a CYA Statement? These matters are discussed behind closed doors long before anything is revealed to the public. If anything the people that I would be watching is the Top Brass at Disney/ABC/ESPN. They have the power to influence this matter to the point of changing the landscape. Could ABC exercise an option in their contract with IndyCar to broadcast additional unscheduled races?

Bob Marston

RM: I think Mark had ample time to prepare his thoughts and he said about what you would expect. As for ABC/ESPN, if they were chomping at the bit to get out of NASCAR (with good ratings) why would they want more IndyCar races?

Q: After watching the Trucks at Eldora… twice, I just have one question. Who was the idiot who decided we needed to pave roads?

Justin Einerson

RM: I don’t know but USAC sprint week remains the best show in racing.

 

Q: Funny we don’t hear of T. Stewart saying anymore that the 400 is bigger than the 500 at IMS! They should run the Nationwide race at the fairgrounds mile dirt. Perfect.

Gary Romp NW Ohio

RM: I never heard Stew say that, he’s got a lot of respect for the Indy 500 and that always comes out in his interviews. I was thinking The Speedrome for Nationwide.

Q: The subject of Indy cars returning to Cleveland’s Burke Lakefront Airport comes up in the mailbag 2-3 times per year. Is Mike Lanigan actively trying to resurrect the race or is he just sitting on the promotional rights? I notice that he was able to find a title sponsor for an untested venue in Houston.

Bill Carsey

RM: Mike has said repeatedly if he could find a title sponsor like Shell, he’d be back at Burke Lakefront faster than he could light a cigarette. And he’s promoted races at Houston before. I always thought Honda might want to move its race from Mid-Ohio to Cleveland but I think anybody who comes along with a good sponsor could try and get a race.

Q: The drivers said that they did not get much standing start practice before Toronto. How is this possible! Shouldn’t there have been practice at the previous street course events?

Chris Greene, Miami

RM: They practiced in a special box at the end of the pits on race weekend and most of them do a standing start when leaving the pits anyway.

Q: Apparently IMS is considering putting in lights to allow the Brickyard to run later in the evening. After a time of long, hard thinking, I have come to the conclusion that lights would be appropriate. However, I believe the first race under the lights should be the 100TH running of the Indianapolis 500 on Saturday night of Memorial Day weekend. Hopefully, by then the pole sitter’s and race winner’s purse will increase for the 100TH running and also the cars would be running at record speeds. I believe a larger purse, the 100TH running, and the 1ST race under lights on a Saturday night would be a good incentive to bring a few “racing stars” from other series to give it a try. I think interest in the race would increase, even from sponsors. I tend to dream of the “good ol’ days” and keeping traditions when it comes to May and Indy. However, I believe this is an opportunity that IMS needs to seriously consider.

James Fox

RM: As I said on WIND TUNNEL, if it meant a much better TV audience then I’d be all for running Indy at night. I also like your suggestion: how about $10 million to win and $1 million to start the 100th Indianapolis 500? Bet they’d have more than 33 cars.

Q: You responded to a write-in wondering about the kind of attention a DeltaWing could bring to IndyCar, given the buzz it has brought to ALMS, saying it is a marvelous design and concept perfect for Le Mans and ALMS, but not an IndyCar on an oval. You were as open and welcoming of DeltaWing to IndyCar as anyone. Why the change in tune now? You’ve made the case that DeltaWing wouldn’t have been able to accommodate IndyCar soon enough, but why do you now believe it wouldn’t work on an oval in IndyCar? I would rather see the DeltaWing in IndyCar as an optimal, single-seat, racing machine instead of running aroung in the multi-class, token passenger seat ALMS. I find the psuedo-traffic, multi-class racing boring, but I am paying more attention to it than ever because the DeltaWing is in it. Maybe I don’t fully understand development, but the constant mechanical problems are disappointing.

Troy Grossman, St. Paul, MN

RM: My only concern was watching the Delta Wing tip over last year at Road Atlanta after slight contact with another car and I just don’t think it’s got anything resembling enough driver protection on the sides. I love Ben Bowlby’s creativity and maybe it could be refined someday to an Indy car.

Q: So I saw Monday that Turbo had a less than stellar weekend at the box office. If I remember correctly, this was one of Randy’s babies and there was a lot of excitement surrounding it during its initial development. Did anything change post Bernard affecting the production/promotion of the film? I agree that we need to raise future generations on the sport, get them excited early, but it looks like this isn’t going to be the ticket. Just curious what your thoughts were.

Zack, Waco, TX

RM: Putting a project together with DreamWorks would seem to be an automatic home run but my buddy said his 3-year-old son was bored for the first hour but then finally got excited when the racing came on screen.

Q: I just saw Turbo with my 10 year old and 3 of his buddies. I live in NASCAR country, so for these boys it was their first decent exposure to Indy cars, and they thought they were very cool. What I thought was cool was having Paul Page as the announcer for the “race.” It made me feel like it was 1995 again. I know some people aren’t fans of his, but why can’t we get him back at least for ABC? Am I the only one who misses him on TV?

Bary, Harrisonburg, VA

RM: Page inquired about the NBC job and a lot of people would love to see him back on ABC but it’s not happening, for whatever reason.

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