The RACER Mailbag, April 3

Welcome to the RACER Mailbag. Questions for any of RACER’s writers can be sent to We can’t guarantee that every letter will be published, but we’ll answer as many as we can. Published questions may be edited for length and clarity. Questions received after 3pm ET each Monday will appear the following week.

Q: I enjoyed the race at Thermal more than I thought I would, although I have to admit I was confused at times. For instance, at one point the leaderboard changed from laps left to time left, and then back to laps left.

Plus, the halftime stop was pointless. Why not just require a pit stop? And I could have used less “this is an amazing, expensive place” content. Enough already, I get it, it’s for the 1%. Good for them, now show me more cars and drivers.

Anyway, I think the event may have a future if it is treated as a festival, not a race. The trick would be to tailor it to TV and lean into the All Star aspect of the festival. The events should be fun, but not ridiculously silly. To that end here are some things I would add:

• Burnout/donut competition

• Pit stop competition

• Celebrity race, or even better, a team owners’ race, in Civics. I’d pay to see Zak Brown and Chip Ganassi bashing fenders, only to have Michael Andretti dive bomb them both.

• Car show and/or auction like a Barrett Jackson

• Go-kart race open to all drivers in IndyCar and the Road to Indy using a short version of the track

• Some short features on sponsors. I, for one, would like to learn more about them so I could support them.

As for the race itself the primary motivation seemed to be the cash, so why not lean into it and add some more incentives to spice up the strategies? Bonus points if the leaderboard could have a “this is what the driver earns if the race ended now” column which updated dynamically. Cash prizes awarded for:

• Most laps led

• Most passes made

• Most positions improved

• Every second of push to pass used

• Fastest race lap

The last thing is, it should not be during the season. It should be the kickoff and called The Indycar Spring to Speed Festival at Thermal.

Tim E.

MP: Your name has been submitted for the vacant “Thermal Club $1,000,000 (-500,000) Challenge Creative Director” job title.


BTW — your idea for the burnout challenge needs to become part of the Carb Day festivities at Indy right after the Pit Stop Competition.

Q: Maybe next year Thermal’s final can have 20 drivers and the last-placed driver each lap gets black-flagged during the first 10 laps. This would keep people fighting for position. If you are top 10, then you can race the entire second half of the final.

Also, is the prize money offered above and beyond Leaders Circle, or is it somehow a gimmick similar to portions of the Indy 500 purse being Leaders Circle?

Andy Brumbaugh, Chapin, SC

MP: The prize money was unrelated to the Leaders Circle.

Q: You surprised Penske didn’t end up with 50% of Long Beach? Was it even a possibility?

As for Thermal, I didn’t mind it. Tons of testing to watch, nice to see how the “other half” lives, got to see some cars I never knew existed, and a goofy little race too. Beats six weeks without any IndyCar content.

Chad Brueggeman

MP: Yeah, I was surprised. And also disappointed in myself for the failure to think of Forsythe as a possible solution to buy the other half. In recent years, I’d heard about Forsythe holding the line and being unwelcoming to Liberty Media and others who wanted to buy Kalkhoven’s half and become his “partner” in Long Beach’s ownership, but hadn’t heard or thought of Forsythe just buying Kevin’s half and ending the conversation. What an epic move.

Long Beach is Gerry’s town. Michael Levitt/Motorsport Images

Q: I swear I have never seen a group of complainers like I see with IndyCar fans – and I am one of them.  Everyone talks about all of the changes that need to be made for the series to be successful. A new car, more engines, more drivers, less ‘pay’ drivers, more ovals, etc.  As an experiment, I decided to do a comparison.

To me, 1991 was around the peak of IndyCar success and popularity.  I decided to look at the stats of a race I attended then, and compare it to the same race in 2023. The race at Laguna Seca. I was there, it was packed, it was a great time.

Number of entries:

1991 – 27 cars

2023 – 27 cars

Chassis – Most of the field in 1991 had a Lola (21 cars), except five cars with the Penske chassis, and a single outlier Truesports entry driven by Scott Pruett (Great guy BTW)

Engines – Two engines dominated the field in 1991 — Chevy and Cosworth. The outliers were three Judds, two Buicks, and a lone Alfa Romeo.  So 21 cars had one of two engines. Hardly anyone ever cheered for a Judd or an Alfa to win.

21 cars were one chassis.

21 cars were one of two engines.

Another point:  The qualifying spread over the field, best to 7-second spread.

2023 – Pole was 1m06.6s, slowest was 1m07.9s — 1.3 seconds to cover the whole field.

In my opinion, the 2023 race doesn’t look that bad in comparison.

I too yearn for the glory days of early ’90s IndyCar, but it isn’t the cars, engines, and drivers holding today’s series back. What it needs is awareness and marketing. That would help bring back the fans, and the fans would help to bring back the sponsor dollars. The new fans that we need to attract really don’t care that the chassis is old and there are only two engines. They want a show that delivers, and personable drivers that they can cheer for.

I’m just glad the series still exists at all in today’s economy. Appreciate what we have. I’ll gladly watch every race and I won’t complain about it.

John, Visalia, CA

MP: That 1991 Laguna weekend was a great one with the Marlboro Challenge, plus Mario Andretti sampling a MotoGP bike, plus Indy Lights and Atlantics; I was there as an Atlantic mechanic.

You raise a lot of great points. Only area where I’d push back is on the chassis and engine variety side. Part of the allure was the variety, including not-my-brother’s Truesports “Made In The USA” chassis. Beyond all of the amazing drivers and teams, there was once a deeper layer of the sport for folks to sink their teeth into, and that’s been lost.

Since we’ve been spec for so long, the cars are usually viewed as appliances. Heck, most reporters, who once took pride in knowing about the cars and how they work, have no clue what a differential does or why you’d use one style over another. A casualty of spec racing has been curiosity on a wider scale; the car has become like a bat or a ball that is largely ignored. F1 and IMSA/WEC remind us that fans still care about the cars and their differences and nuances.

Maybe part of IndyCar’s ongoing problem, which is tied to the marketing issues that have been around forever, is its old and spec cars. I go to IMSA races and speak to fans and it’s not uncommon for folks to know little about the drivers in the Ferrari 296 or BMW M Hybrid V8, but they can tell you about the turbo arrangement in the Ferrari’s engine bay, or how the BMW’s motor is derived from its former DTM engine.

And a lot of the times at IndyCar races, I speak with fans who are the opposite, and can tell me about what Pato had for breakfast Tuesday morning because they follow his every move on IG, but are largely ambivalent to the cars and technology in the series. Two American racing series with two different appeals. And I’m not saying all IMSA fans are lovers of the tech and I’m not saying all IndyCar fans are clueless about the tech. But I am saying their car/tech cultures are dissimilar, which wasn’t always the case. Back when IndyCar and IMSA (or the ALMS, which was its son) were non-spec, the cars were huge sources of fascination, and the drivers were cool, and that gave reasons to know and care about both.

The idea of a wild-looking new car being used as a hook to get more people to be curious about IndyCar shouldn’t be ignored as a marketing tool. Even if it’s spec, or single-supply, or whatever term is preferred, at least the series would give itself a chance to garner attention with something new. Whether non-spec areas of the car would be allowed is an altogether different topic.

There’s a reason why most major brands undergo packaging changes to keep their products fresh and modern If you saw a bag of chips on the shelf that looked like it was from 15 years ago, you’d probably search for something that was newer to buy. The argument for IndyCar to stick with the same packaging can be made, but since it’s barely growing its audience size or share of the sports entertainment marketplace, the reason why it should stay the same isn’t supported by the results or reality.

Q: The wolves are at the doors of IndyCar. F1 calls itself “The Greatest Spectacle in Motorsports” and Penske Entertainment has to take them to court to straighten them out. Now NASCAR and F1 both want to poach the Long Beach Grand Prix from IndyCar.

IndyCar opens its doors to NASCAR, and has given it top billing at IMS on the NASCAR/IndyCar doubleheader weekend. IndyCar cooperates with IMSA (owned by NASCAR) to give it a chance to race on the streets at both the Long Beach Grand Prix and the Detroit Grand Prix  IndyCar is welcoming Kyle Larson to the crown jewel of IndyCar, the Indy 500, just as it has welcomed a litany of F1 drivers.

In return? NASCAR denies IndyCar an opportunity to race at Richmond Raceway. Texas Speedway accommodated NASCAR in April 2024 and left IndyCar high and dry in 2024 (because of NBC’s scheduling around the 2024 Olympic Summer Games).  Now NASCAR is coming for IndyCar street races? At this point I have to wonder if NASCAR is actively courting Honda away from IndyCar? Please remind me why IndyCar plays nice with NASCAR, because NASCAR sure doesn’t deserve it.

In times like these I’m very grateful that Mr. Penske is at the helm of IndyCar, because the wolves are at the door. Fortunately, Mr. Penske has the integrity, the reputation and the resources to fend off these attacks.

At the end of it all, I remind myself which team has won the last two NASCAR Cup championships and smile ;>)

Kevin P., Los Angeles, CA

MP: IndyCar plays nicely with NASCAR because NASCAR is a much bigger and more powerful organization.

Q: I’m excited about the announcement that Gerry Forsythe bought the late Kevin Kalkhoven’s half of the Long Beach Grand Prix. However, from what I understand, Forsythe is a couple of years older than Kalkhoven. So who will keep the Grand Prix an IndyCar event when he and Roger Penske aren’t around?

Aeren Maxfield, Westminster, CA

MP: Great question without an immediate answer. Given Gerry’s very clear interests in keeping the LBGP as an IndyCar race, I’d put money on that being a stipulation if it were to be sold. Said another way, I can’t see why he’d go through all the effort to then let the event be sold through his estate, if he were to sell it instead of appointing a family member or an executive from his companies, and allow it to be pawned off to an entity that would change it into something other than an IndyCar race. Also, Forsythe’s successful enough to not need to sell the race or let it be sold in his absence.

Q: I found it very amusing when you answered the power steering comment with “I’ve yet to hear anyone in IndyCar say they like to be all the other series.” Let’s see, perhaps we should go back to roadsters with four-cylinder Offys, rear-engined cars, four-cam Fords, Cosworths (under anyone’s name), multi-adjustable shocks (Penske shocks inspired by Fox off-road design), carbon brakes, sequential shifting, Halo, yada, yada yada, etc.

At 72 years old, I grew up absolutely fascinated with the early ’60s roadsters. I have loved every subsequent engineering advancement and the incredible speed increases, not just at Indy. The old greats in roadsters were not any more brave or tough than the current pilots of the unloved Dallaras. 240 mph on the straights at Indy — sheesh.

You may not have heard the verbal statement of wanting power steering but comments about wrists hurting and hands blistering on TV at various venues throughout the years speaks volumes to me.

Perhaps Ferrucci and “Little Dave” Malukas would be more competitive on road courses? It sure worked for Danica Patrick at Mid-Ohio in 2007 — she qualified second and finished fifth when she had experimental power steering. Far better than any of her other non-power steering road course results. And both Ferrucci and Little Dave were more successful in the lower levels of motorsports on road circuits.

I think power steering is less a matter of drivers not wanting it than engineering the installation and money.


MP: All interesting points. I have heard from many drivers, and on many occasions over the DW12’s era, that they do not want power steering. The framing has usually been around using the lack of power steering as an area where a fit and strong driver can eke out an advantage over a less-fit and/or weaker driver, and most IndyCar drivers are not Takuma- or Danica-sized.

But that doesn’t mean all drivers are of that opinion of not wanting power steering. You’re right; the DW12 was never designed to have power steering, and the costs to try and retrofit the car would be prohibitive. If it’s going to happen, the best chance is with the next new car.

In this photo, Ferrucci is definitely contemplating a world in which IndyCars have power steering. Don’t ask us how we know that. You’ll just have to trust us. Michael Levitt/Motorsport Images

Q: After the Barber test and the $1 Million Challenge, what did Arrow McLaren think about Callum Ilott? I really hope he gets a chance somewhere in IndyCar after what Juncos did to him last season.

Paul, Indianapolis, IN

MP: Only things I heard were positive. Well-liked within the team. Strong chassis feedback. Played well within the team dynamic — he ceded positions to Rossi and O’Ward without being unnecessarily combative. I’ve heard Prema Racing is also among those who are interested in Ilott, so his odds of getting back to full-time IndyCar seem to be improving for 2025.

Q: Sebastian Vettel recently tested a Porsche Hypercar for Penske. He’s said he would love to race at Road America. Any chance of a one-off race there for him?


MP: Always a chance. Just a matter of who pays for it. Penske wouldn’t park a factory driver to do it, so you’d be looking at a customer team like Proton or JDC.

Q: Who is considered the worst driver in IndyCar history?

Kurt Perleberg

MP: Since the 1990s, three drivers tend to get nominated for this award: Hiro Matsushita, Dr. Jack Miller and Milka Duno.

Q: Is there any chance of Texas making a return to the IndyCar calendar, or does it depend on what NASCAR ultimately decides to do with its date? I’m sure the track isn’t in a huge hurry to figure something out with IndyCar based off the dwindling attendance over the years.


MP: Last time I asked, IndyCar was hopeful for a return but it wasn’t an active item being worked on, and plenty of folks in the paddock would be happy if we went back and had an oval before Indy. I do think the chances of an IndyCar return are based on what NASCAR chooses, so stay tuned, but at this moment, I’m not overly encouraged about TMS returning to the schedule.

Q: I may have missed this, but do any IndyCar team owners have homes at Thermal Club?

If so, I’m wondering if they helped move things along to have the $1 Million Challenge take place there. For what it’s worth, I liked the event. Didn’t love it, but surely enjoyed it! It needs some tweaks, but no first event is perfect. Having the event at Thermal, and seeing IndyCars on track, is certainly better than not having a race, and it helped break up the ridiculous six-week break a bit. I don’t understand all of the complaining.  Now, less than two weeks until Long Beach, and less than eight weeks until the Indy 500!

Scott Freeman, Bloomington, IN

MP: Not that I know of. Don Cusick is a co-entrant with Dreyer & Reinbold Racing, but does not own an IndyCar or have his own team, so far. He invests money and/or brings sponsors to an existing team.

Q: Credit to IndyCar for trying something different at Thermal. The track looked beautiful on TV. And hey, at least there were IndyCars racing!

Those were my thoughts up until the show actually started.

The heat races were fine. I kind of enjoyed seeing a rare mistake by Scott Dixon, but at least he owned up to it. Romain Grosjean asking who is going to pay for crash damage? Absolute gold, loved it.

Unfortunately, it became painfully obvious during the heats this was a terrible track for this type of event. Everyone got strung out ,and with the short race distance it was follow-the-leader because, well, no tire deg. At least they are hyping up the main event! It is 20 laps, so surely the tires will play a factor!

And hype it up NBC did. An all-out dash for the cash, as Diffey proclaimed!

And tire wear did play a factor! Oh wait, why is Herta driving so slow? Wait, now Canapino? Oh no…..

To hype up the main event as an “all-out dash for the cash” just for half the drivers to drive as slowly as possible for half the race was an embarrassment.

Let’s not forget the constant parade of, “Hey, look at all these lovely folks who have more money than God! Aren’t these $5 million houses just grand! We know at home you are being killed by stagnant wages and inflation; but there is a spa on the backstretch and look, a putting green!”

Let’s not forget the drivers shrugging their shoulders at the purse money. That was an insult, and made me less of a fan of those that did it. We are struggling out here in actual America and we choose to give what little free time and resources we have to this sport. For the drivers to literally say that the $500k is not that much…. Hey Palou, I’ll send over my banking info and you can wire that check over to me. It would change my family’s life. The least they could have done is pretended like they gave a crap. It was so painfully obvious through the whole broadcast they did not care about the money or the event. Those drivers should donate those checks to charity and IndyCar should issue an apology.

Call it an infomercial to sell some subdivision lots. Call it a desperate move to satisfy a TV contract. Call it groveling and schmoozing some ultra-wealthy to throw some dough towards your race series. Do not call it an All Star Race, Shootout, Million Dollar Challenge or whatever they claimed it was.

Tone-deaf, out-of-touch, borderline offensive. Par for the course for the NBC broadcasts and IndyCar.

My dad has gone to probably 40-50 IndyCar races and 20-30 500s. He has been a fan for 40 years, even supported both series during the Split. He turned to me at the end of the race and said, “That was uncomfortable.” Yes, Dad. Yes it was.

Is this the plan moving forward to fill the gap between St. Pete and Long Beach? If it is, then IndyCar, I beg of you, please just move St. Pete back a few weeks. Make it two weeks before Long Beach — I could not care less about date equity. I am just tired of being embarrassed to be a hardcore fan of this series, and I do not need the horrendous wealth gap in this country shoved down my throat any more than it already is.


MP: This was a compromised year with the Olympics causing a big blackout during the summer, which led to the series and its tracks needing to move events to either side of the blackout, and despite being super flexible, Texas Motor Speedway chose not to play ball and the race fell off of the calendar between St. Pete and Long Beach.

I hear what you’re saying about most drivers being unmoved by the prize money that was offered, but some context is missing. If you have $20, are you going to fight to the end of the earth to win another $1 or $2? It’s possible, but most people won’t. Apply that to a decent amount of the drivers, and the peak amount available of $500,000 wasn’t going to lead to abnormal behavior to get it.

If it helps, which it probably won’t, I’d say the biggest difference from being a fan to being someone on the inside of a popular sport is the realization that for the vast majority of the stars, they’re just regular people with all of the same quirks and habits and tics as the rest of us. They just make a lot more money. Most, at least in IndyCar, don’t think of themselves as wealthy elites; they watch bad reality TV shows and have to clean dog poop and take their cars in for repairs and deal with fussy children who don’t want to school, etc.

They also aren’t monkeys who dance for our entertainment when a small amount of money — for those in the best teams who would have the strongest chances of making the final — is dangled in front of them, so I wouldn’t expect them to be fake and pretend racing for a nominal prize in their world is more than what it is.

Thermal. Readers had some opinions. Josh Tons/Motorsport Images

Q: The Thermal Club event was not the greatest race I’ve ever seen, nor was it the worst.  But since it had a touch of the flavor of American
short-track racing (heats and a feature), I think that, should a return
to Thermal be planned, it ought to embrace more of that flavor.

Two heats, just like this year. But invert the top six from qualifying. Had this been the case this year, instead of Rosenqvist and Palou starting up front, they each would have started sixth.

Take six from each heat, like this year. Then take the next six from each heat and run a 12-car LCQ and take the top four or six from that, to make a 16- or 18-car field  for the main event.  No invert for the “consi” lineup.

Line up the feature with the 12 from the heats in the first 12 spots,
but invert the top eight. Tag the consi qualifiers on the tail,
straight up.

Both the consi and expanded feature field give more cars not only an
additional opportunity to race, but also to display their sponsors on
the television broadcast — this is, essentially, a made-for-TV event.

As for the race distance for the main event, and any breaks or pit
stops, I’ll leave that to others to determine.

Since it’s a non-points event, I won’t accept any objection to the
inversions. The inversions will make it more interesting, and very well
could make for more passing. Deeply inverted lineups are the racing
with which I grew up, and I grew up watching the best champions come
from deep in the field.

Larno in Penna

MP: Your name has also been submitted for the vacant “Thermal Club $1,000,000 (-500,000) Challenge Creative Director” job title.

Q: The Thermal Club $1 Million Challenge came and went. From when it was announced, through long after race winner Alex Palou was back home in Indiana, the event stimulated articles, texts, posts, shares, re-tweets, etc. about the event. Many were far too negative. As an IndyCar fan, I was an embarrassed social media non-participant.

IndyCar and The Thermal Club stepped up and pulled it off.  Good on them.

Full disclosure, I work for the Podium Club at Attesa, a private membership racing complex for cars and motorcycles located halfway between Phoenix and Tucson. We have a 2.32-mile road racing circuit designed to meet FIA and FIM safety specs at buildout, plus trackside luxury homes, garage mahals, a motorsports-dedicated industrial district, commerce park and more.

Sound familiar?

I share this because The Thermal Club is not our competition and there is nothing about their facility anyone can complain about. Well, other than the fully armed, dressed-in-tactical-gear private security contractors. The Proud Boys look at family-friendly events will never be positive. Just saying.

Thermal did an excellent job. Hats off to Don Cusick, who may have been the strongest mover and shaker in getting the event on the schedule. The broadcast on NBC, not USA or exclusively Peacock, was a tremendous infomercial, worth every dollar they invested, also providing a welcomed bridge between St. Petersburg and Long Beach.

My problem was the race format. Nice try but not really worth watching again.

I have a suggestion, based on U.S. Supercross Triple Crown events.

Next year, if there is a next year, the new $2 Million Challenge should consist of practice and qualifying  on Saturday, with race day on Sunday — featuring three races, a la the three-feature Supercross format, or NASCAR’s stage concept but with very short stops in between.

Race one is a sprint: Every car starts on their choice of tires, no necessary pit stops, X number of laps (when you see X, it means smart people, not me, will determine the number of laps re: tire wear vs fuel mileage).

The race one finishing order sets race two’s starting lineup.

Race two is X laps, long enough to require a pit stop for fuel and/or tires, and the finish position determines the grid for the main event. All cars must start on the tires they finished with in race two.

Race three, the feature, is X laps requiring two pit stops, no restrictions on tire choice.

The driver with the lowest average finish position over all three races wins $1 million. The rest of the field splits the other million.

I like IndyCar doing something outside the box, especially to compensate for its goofy scheduling that starts too late and ends too early with a huge gap between the first two points races.

IndyCar doesn’t have an all-star race. This could be the next best thing.

Bill Tybur, Phoenix, AZ

MP: And…your name has also been submitted for the vacant “Thermal Club $1,000,000 (-500,000) Challenge Creative Director” job title.

We’ll have a caption competition for this one. I’ve got nothing. Michael Levitt/Motorsport Images

Q: Back in the ’70s, F5000 was an incredibly popular series. There were numerous chassis and engine choices. And to keep it interesting, they ran heat races. No fuel stops, no tire changes. Flat-out racing for around 100 miles or so. If IndyCar is interested in trying something new, there it is.

Heat distances could be calculated based on fuel consumption. Tires choice is free. Flat-out short races. No fuel conservation. Races scored using the Olympic system where the winner gets one point, second gets two, etc. Lowest points wins outright. Two, maybe three heats. Thermal would be the perfect place to test this.

Mike Talarico, Charlotte, NC

MP: We have no shortage of interesting ideas for the series to try.

Q: I watched some of the Thermal practice/qualifying streaming on Peacock in addition to the race. I understand your criticisms and believe that flaws in the racing format are amply brought to light from the interested parties. Actually doing an event is the only way to address the flaws and prepare for improvements. Note that for all the hype, Nashville was a dumpster fire as you put it, especially the first time out of the gate from both a track and paying spectators perspective.

As you rightly said, they went outside of the box and that is a rarity in IndyCar. So, give them credit. I viewed this as an exhibition and an outreach to wealthy enthusiasts who can see the IndyCar paddock, ownership and teams up close.

In other words, a business entertainment effort designed as much to attract additional capital into the sport as to plug a gaping hole in the IndyCar schedule. From that lens, it may be a successful venture but only time will tell.

From a racing perspective, it was a mixed bag at best. The drivers have racing DNA and I suspect if the purse was zero they would race wheel-to-wheel bound only by their car owners’ instructions.

Lastly, the track is a great country club track, especially for sports/vintage cars. As a track for IndyCar, not so much. There were no great passing zones like a Road America, and all the high-speed corners kill handling in the dirty air for the close followers.

I am glad they tried something new, emphasis on “tried.”

Emmett, Dallas

MP: Thanks for writing in, Emmett.

Q: I loved the Thermal race, but the first half of the feature needs fixing. The solution to the problem: Drivers must finish on the lead lap to advance, and the last two cars running no not advance. There would be a race at the front and rear of the field. (If concerned about car count for the last 10 laps, let 12 cars start the first half)

Richard Marley, Warner Robins, GA

MP: Another option!

Q: I approve of the series trying the Thermal experiment. Why couldn’t it have just been a normal race? I’m sure that’s been said but I forget the answer.

If the event stays, they need to make the actual contest open to all the cars and make it like musical chairs. If 27 cars are entered, the event is 27 laps. Whoever is last after lap one is eliminated. Down to 26 cars, and 26 laps to go. Whoever is last after a completed lap is eliminated. And so on down to the last two cars. That means you have action on every lap for the TV announcers to focus on, and also when the midfield starts to get within a couple laps they will push to not get into the danger zone. Then people have ran hard enough through the field where tire deg comes into play for last few laps for the last couple cars.

Tell me what’s wrong with this plan?


MP: Of all the ideas I’ve seen so far in this Mailbag, yours is my favorite.

Q: Did I watch a race, or did I watch a two-hour sales pitch for the Thermal Club hosted by Leigh Diffey and Townsend Bell (The Duke)? I believe it was more of a sales pitch because it wasn’t much of a race.

I don’t even think the four test sessions did not add much value for the teams because they were using last year’s tire, which is totally different from this year’s tire.

I don’t know how IndyCar is going to correct their course, but it seems that as an organization they make a lot of missteps. This is the time for IndyCar to strike against F1 as their ratings are dropping in the U.S. I don’t think the Penske organization is up to the task.

I will offer a few suggestions that may help:

• Drop the fake and gimmicky hybrid.

• Keep the new reduced weight.

• Task Firestone with bringing compounds to the track that have marked differences between primary and soft tires.

• Stop closing the pits for yellow flags unless the hazard directly involves pit road, pit in or pit out. Do a better job of trying to reduce time in clearing track under yellow and returning to green maybe opening pits will help in this area.

• Double the amount of track sweepers and work on clearing tire clag during yellows, but as soon as hazard that caused yellow is cleared, remove sweepers and return to green ASAP.

• Set race distances so that fuel save strategies will only come into play based on yellow flags, not on actual stated race distance.

• Finally, something that I think every IndyCar fan could agree on: more consistency from the race stewards. Race control should interact with the broadcast team and explain what the issue is that they are ruling on, and the penalty. This openness could cause penalties to be more equally enforced.


MP: Another creative director candidate!

Meanwhile, here’s Nigel Mansell sitting under an umbrella. Motorsport Images

Q: A lot of racing events are available only through streaming services. How long until IndyCars, NASCAR and Formula 1 are only available through streaming?

Pete Pfankuch, Wisconsin

MP: 2029.

Q: I am behind the curve over the race ownership. Please advise what is actually up for sale.

Is it 50% of the race contract which finishes end 2028? So then it’s up to the City Council to decide what series races there from 2029? Am I missing a layer of ownership?

Oliver Wells

MP: Gerald Forsythe and Kevin Kalkhoven’s estate own the right to hold the Long Beach event, like Liberty Media owns the right to hold F1 races.

Q: Has there been any information released on the viewership for the Thermal race(s)? I can’t imagine it was great, going up against the first weekend of March Madness.

If IndyCar wants to have a non-points showcase type of race to bridge the six-week gap in the current schedule, I think they’re going about it the wrong way. The Dallara DW12 is a pretty known quantity at this point.  The big argument for watching IndyCar is the talent of the field.  IndyCar could find a karting track, rent/buy 40 World Karting Championship karts, invite the series regulars, and add in some wild card invites. The event would cost way less money, and the discourse of full-time IndyCar drivers racing F1/F2/WEC drivers in equal machinery alone could power Reddit and this Mailbag for a month.

Granted nobody watches the Race of Champions, but there’s no way that event would be more boring than the Thermal race.

Will From Indy

MP: The published number I saw was 816,000 viewers. For the sake of comparison, St. Petersburg in 2023 had 1,189,000, and Texas, which Thermal replaced, had 830,000, all on NBC. The one that will be interesting to keep an eye on is Long Beach, which moves from NBC to USA Network. On NBC, last April’s race delivered 1,026,000 viewers. We can only hope the shift from network to cable for IndyCar’s second-biggest race won’t cause a big ratings dive.

Q: I noticed last weekend that the teams are now plugging in their data cables to the sidepods. Previously, this connection was inside the cockpit. When was this change made? I was at St. Pete and did not notice the change. It’s something I always thought would be a good idea, and now it has happened.


MP: That changed during the offseason. This spares a crew member from having to dig around at the bottom of the fish bowl — hanging their arm over the top of the aeroscreen — to try and connect the data and power umbilical to the car.

Q: I don’t want to completely deride IndyCar for doing something different and “outside the box,”which is what they attempted with Thermal Club.

But it just didn’t work. It looked like a lot of hype for an event that provided very little action or excitement, and played out for a very small audience of the monied elite. To myself (and from the reactions I’ve read, a lot of others agree with me), IndyCar did itself a great disservice with this event.

From my perspective, IndyCar needs to establish a major road course event to go along with the Indy 500, and I think that a 500-kilometer event at Road America is just the ticket. The crowds that currently attend at RA are massive, but can you imagine if you market it as the road course event with huge prestige, and make the purse for that race reflect the special nature of the event?

The facility would be overflowing, and the racing would be amazing, especially with full card of support races to go along with it.

The ticket prices would be more expensive, but no one would flinch because of the incredible value for money, especially at the best road course in North America. IMSA is missing the boat by not having an endurance race here, so why not make it the road course endurance race for IndyCar?

Paul Oke

MP: I’m for anything that makes more out of our annual visit to Elkhart Lake.

Q: After reading through the drivers list on the IndyCar website, I see we have drivers from the U.S., Mexico, New Zealand, Australia, Spain, Sweden, the Netherlands, the UK, Barbados, Brazil, Argentina, Denmark, France and Japan. Almost sounds like an international series, doesn’t it?

To add a little fan interest, is it time to bring back the Nations Cup? Give points to the leading finisher from each country at each race, just for a little more interest in national pride? There’s probably no money for prizes or trophies in the IndyCar promotional budget, but if the trophies at Thermal were an indication of what’s expected, I’ll be happy to donate one of Grandma’s old crystal flower vases.

Russ Wakeman

MP: Once upon a time when CART existed, the Nation’s Cup was a pretty cool thing. Let’s do it.

Q: This isn’t a question, but an experience regarding recent comments about “Driven.”

Back when Driven came out in cinemas, I was a working stiff on swing shift, so didn’t have as many opportunities (fortunately, in hindsight) to go view this ballyhooed masterpiece of cinematography. As it was so well received, its cinema run became very short, and as a long-time IndyCar fan I couldn’t help myself — I scampered out of work fast one evening to make it to my local move house to catch the last airing of the night.

Making it with time to spare due to my personal Tanto skills, I entered an empty theatre. Due to this, I had the best theater experience of my lifetime in that I was able to sit dead center of the completely empty, large round cinema. The sound was perfect, mainly due to not a single person joining me in producing annoying rapturous clapping and cheering during this award-winning complete dog pile.

This movie’s only redeeming quality is it will (hopefully) never be eclipsed in its award-winning status.

Zenith (not as reference to Driven!)

MP: That sounds amazing.

Q: Just how “frosty” is Josef Newgarden and Scott McLaughlin’s relationship? What is the source of the divide between them? I am sure I am not the only fan who thought they were good friends considering they had the Bus Bros podcast.

Joey, Florida

MP: Hard to say. It surfaced during the St. Petersburg weekend in the media center during the press conferences, which raised a few eyebrows. Unrelated, McLaughlin and Power are two of the most genuine people I know; faking warmth isn’t part of their character. If all was good and happy and normal, you’d see it in their interactions with Newgarden. And maybe that will change and everyone will be super happy friends again.

Things are getting spicy in the paddock.

Q: Some thoughts and questions on recent Mailbags and events.

1. Newgarden. I’ve been meaning to ask you about the relationship between Newgarden and his “Bus Bro” pal McLaughlin. They had an excellent, funny show going and then suddenly it stopped last year. They appeared to have a great time with each other and their spouses, and then they had one final half-hearted episode and then it sort of faded away. My theory at the time was that the Captain put the kibosh on their shenanigans, or that the boys had a falling out. We now know that Newgarden has a “new focus” and has sworn off social media, but I don’t think that’s it — Bus Bros went away before he made those changes. So what happened between Newgarden and McLaughlin?

2. Car weight and tires. Obviously this was a problem at St. Petersburg. Why not put the hybrid equipment in the cars (on inert status — no boost) so they can race at the proper weight for the tires? Without the intended extra hybrid thrust, the cars would be slower. But would the resulting tire degradation possibly improve the racing without slowing the cars down too much?

3. Video games. What are my chances of playing “IndyCar 2025” on my PS5 next year? Any update on timelines?

Todd Lang

MP: Answers:

1: Still hard to say. Newgarden severed a number of relationships right after the September season finale, which I assume is part of the same life-wide downsizing of external inputs he spoke about at length during the offseason and again at St. Pete. Came as a total shock and surprise to them. Did it extend to his teammates? No clue. Delving into The Real Househusbands of IndyCar interpersonal dramas isn’t on my wish list.

2: It’s an interesting idea, but it’s also one that hasn’t been tested, so there’s no way the series would give it the green light. Rather than focus time and energy on trying to perfect a temporarily imperfect situation, we have a Juan Pablo Montoya “It is what it is” scenario.

3: I’ll ask the next time I speak to the series, but as I recall, there was little hope in getting development of a game going before the end of the 2024 season, which would make me think “IndyCar 2026” is the more likely timeline.

Q: Thermal. Nice try, but boring. Ways to fix if IndyCar goes back: 1. Include live pit stops and get the crew members involved. 2. More cars. It’s a three-mile track, way too big for 12 cars. Minimum 20 cars. 3. Do away with cheap penalties like the one on Fittipaldi. 4. Prize money needs to be spread out through the top 10.

I have been involved in many of these types of races, IndyCar blew it – just did not think this one out.

AE, Danville, IN

MP: Like the Terminator, the Thermal ideas can’t be stopped!

Q: I realize that COTA is persona non grata in IndyCar. However, with a huge gap in the early racing season, why not go back and race at COTA? Was the only race there that much of a failure?

Also, I admire Penske for stepping in and buying the series and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. However, the marketing strategy for this product seems to be limiting the capacity for the growth and popularity of IndyCar. It’s a diamond in the rough. Thoughts?

Jason Davis

MP: Sadly, yes, it was a colossal failure. Playing where F1 plays and packs the house and has cars that go a shocking amount faster per lap is not what IndyCar needs today.

It’s already a diamond, but it does an exceptional job of hiding its true worth. All IndyCar needs is a vision for its future and to start working that plan.

Q: I’m writing this after the 3/27 Mailbag and was surprised how negative the comments were about Thermal. I found the practice sessions and even the “race” quite entertaining. I even liked the hype and behind-the-scenes clips of this lifestyles-of-the-rich and famous automotive country club. I’ll never get there, especially as an owner/racer, so I enjoyed the sidebars and showing the garage/vault with the millions of dollars of cars. I even liked watching the chef whipping up some exotic racetrack food (doubt if they were hot-dogs wrapped in foil like most race food).

I compare this whole broadcast to Shadow Creek Golf course in Las Vegas — you can’t get on to play, so I enjoyed some of the made-for-TV golf challenges even though they weren’t a real PGA event, but gave me a chance to see one of the most over the top golf courses. Sure, the Thermal race event was not overly nail-biting, but I thought Herta’s strategy was fun to watch play out ,and Palou’s dominance probably means something. I thought many Mailbag writers threw too-much shade on a rather fun exhibition. I paid nothing to watch, and definitely got my money’s worth!

Jim Cox, Rock Island, IL

MP: Thanks for sharing your views, Jim.

Q: I am headed to Long Beach for the first time. Any suggestions about what to do pre-race/post race to get the full experience? Any suggestions about what to do in/around the Long Beach area?

Since everyone and their uncle is trying to preserve the series and grow the brand, I have a few quick thoughts/questions and want your input:

Do you think it would make sense for the series to announce some way to get a new chassis into development with enough of a timeframe for the teams to plan out its purchase? With that, if IndyCar cannot make full-scale changes to its existing spec cars, is having different, smaller changes to the new car each year a way to adapt, but not break the bank?

With that, would it make sense to have that newly announced chassis adaptable enough to take on engines of various sizes to allow for manufacturer flexibility? Could the Chevy/Honda racing arms be OK with supporting the series for a few more years under the current design with the knowledge that there would be a planned ‘open forum’ like IMSA’s that could allow them to not invest so much in different domains? Was Michael Andretti right?

I know the design of the heat races at Thermal did not work out that great, but if IndyCar were to do something like this again, even for points, it seems like having either a real race and/or forcing enough laps for a pit stop and new tires would be good. It feels like you need to have tire wear as part of the process. Also, the in-line restarts for a sprint all but guarantees less racing, as it gets to an extended single file with little action quickly. Might there be some means to make that change to two-by-two rows for all restarts?

I’d really like to hear about your specific feelings about guaranteed spots for the Indy 500. Robin softened on the issue over time, and I think it is pretty hard to run a racing business where the core teams — the franchises — may be left out of their sponsors’ big cash cow moment. I am all for traditions, but if the series wants to keep growing/maintaining feels like there might need to be a compromise. Love to hear your thoughts.

Tim, Chicago, IL

MP: Lots to cover, Tim. Working backwards, I have always hated the concept of guaranteed starting spots. My first year at Indy was in 1997 with a team that wasn’t part of the 25 guaranteed entries, and we had to fight like hell to become one of the eight independent entries to qualify for the race. I always like to kick the subject out of racing and see how it fits in another sport: How would NFL fans react to the league saying that the first 25 teams that came into existence were guaranteed spots in the playoffs every year and the other seven — simply because they are newer and might be far better than some of the guaranteed 25 — must fight their way into the playoffs, regardless of their record? Makes no sense there, and it makes no sense here.

I don’t see this as a tradition. Those NFL teams all have major sponsors, and if they aren’t good enough to make it into the playoffs, those sponsors also face the promotional consequences. If we’re trying to create guarantees in sports, which betrays the basic premise of sports where the outcomes aren’t predetermined, it will never make sense to me.

Removing the risk of failure to take part in our biggest race is the poisonous relative of (Almost) Everybody Gets A Trophy.

IndyCar gave its owners a long lead time to prepare for the arrival of the Dallara DW12; word of the new-for-2012 car was shared with them in 2010. I’d expect IndyCar to do the same when a date is set for the DW12’s replacement.

Back in the day, customer chassis suppliers would make bespoke Indy cars, with the mid-1980s being the most fertile period where V6s from Buick, and longer V8s from a variety of engine builders, were designed with special fitments to accept their lengths, widths, and heights. Although this is no longer needed with today’s tight engine regulations, Dallara does work with Chevy and Honda to make or fit all of the accessories that support the engines in the sidepods, but the engines themselves plug right into the same chassis and same drivetrain and bodywork.

If IndyCar chose to allow a range of engine options, it could ask Dallara to try and come up with a universal fitment solution — making the engine bay like a size 12 shoe where anything smaller, within reason, could be installed and ballasted accordingly — where the rest of the car wouldn’t need to be custom fit to each engine type. Doing custom floors that are longer or shorter, spacers to lengthen or shorten the wheelbase to match the engine’s length, and/or custom rear suspension A-arms to alter the wheelbase or weight distribution, and whatnot, would be an expensive proposition.

Dallara would also likely need to do custom sidepods and engine covers unless they did universal solutions that are wider and taller to fit all engine widths and heights and lengths.

This is what we did back in the day. Not sure if there’s a willingness to go back to those days, but if so, it wouldn’t be new for IndyCar.

On Long Beach, it all depends on what you like. Tons of movie and TV history to absorb if that’s your thing. Some great beaches and landmarks. Roscoe’s Chicken and Waffles, which is a few blocks away from the Turn 11 hairpin, is a traditional stop. If you’re near Burbank, one of the great and few remaining auto and racing bookstores is a pilgrimage to make.

And if you’re able to fly in early, the Road Racing Drivers’ Club annual Long Beach dinner on Thursday night of the event is a special one this year with three-time F1 champion Jackie Stewart as the special guest and honoree. It’s not cheap, but you’ll mingle and dine with an endless array of racing legends, about a third of the current IndyCar drivers, and have an unforgettable evening.

There’s no shortage of fun stuff to do at Long Beach. Jake Galstad/Motorsport Images

Q: In answer to your response to Tom H’s idea of teaming drivers, each driver would drive their own car. However, the on-board starting of the hybrid could lead to additional features There could be a Le Mans start to start the race. Then, taking a page from Pro Wrestling tag teams, when it is time to switch, the second driver must tag the first car as it comes to a stop and run to his own car, the same distance as on the initial start. Controls could be in place that the transition from electric to ICE can occur at the same minimum speed for all cars.

On another subject, I recently read an ad for a new Honda outboard motor. The ad described it as the first V8 Honda developed. Should we read anything into this?

Walt, Dolan Springs, AZ

MP: Yes, I can confirm Honda’s new V8 boat motor is its NASCAR Cup motor. It will make its debut next February at Daytona in Lake Lloyd. I love the tag-team idea as long as we get the waiting driver straining to reach the driver who pitted, just like we see in every tag-team match, and struggle to tag in for two or three minutes.

Q: I only recently noticed that ‘SP’ no longer follows Arrow McLaren. So what is going on with Sam Schmidt now? It was always inspiring to see him trackside, but I can’t remember the last time I saw him at a race.

Angelo Mantas, Skokie, IL

MP: Spoke to Sam at St. Pete while he was dressed in his Arrow McLaren gear. He’s still involved.

Q: What happened with Devlin DeFrancesco? Despite rushing himself into IndyCar and being in over his head for the better part of his time with Andretti Autosport, he turned into a serviceable driver by the end of last season. Did his money dry up? Did Coyne not want him? I don’t think Devlin was ever going to challenge for a championship — or maybe even wins — but he wasn’t a backmarker. It seemed like towards the end of the 2023 season he had some momentum into securing a ride early for 2024. Then crickets. What’s up?

Also why do you think Carlin was never able to challenge in IndyCar? They had pretty good success in Lights after being a force in Europe for years. Charlie Kimball was a good enough driver to bring home podiums if he had the tools. And Max Chilton was at least decent enough to somehow lead meaningful laps at the Indy 500. For a team as accomplished as Carlin, why couldn’t they make it work in IndyCar?

Mike in St. Louis

MP: We recently went into depth on this topic with many of the same questions in the Mailbag. Might be worth finding it and diving in.

Carlin had a lot of potential but got off to a poor start when they spent their engineering development budget on aero instead of suspension. They rebounded fairly well, had their moments, and yes, on ovals, Charlie and Conor Daly were factors and Max had some really good moments, along with Pato O’Ward for a brief spell, but the team spent too much of its time in IndyCar trying to make big things happen on an ever-shrinking budget.

Despite the extreme wealth possessed by Chilton’s father, it wasn’t an open vault for the team to draw from, and in the absence of big sponsors, the team was unable to keep up with the front-running teams and, critically, was never able to land a front-running driver to help them evolve into a consistent threat.

Truly great people at Carlin, from top to bottom, who are missed, but we also have a number of the star crew and engineering talent employed at Juncos Hollinger Racing.

Carlin’s gone, but a lot of its IndyCar spirit (and personnel) live on at Juncos Hollinger. Jake Galstad/Motorsport Images

Q: Do you think it might have been a bit ridiculous, given what we’ve seen, that NASCAR didn’t want to let SVG run the Daytona 500? As a long-time fan of Australian Supercars I thought it was a bigger joke than F1’s super license gatekeeping — that NASCAR thought this world class driver needed to run ARCA before they’d even let him race in Xfinity at Daytona. I’m still bitter. Everyone is finding out first-hand why I’m bummed I didn’t get to see him in the Great American Race.

Ryan, West Michigan

KELLY CRANDALL: I think you’re mixing up two different races. Shane van Gisbergen was never entered for, nor potentially going to be entered into, the Daytona 500. He is full-time in the Xfinity Series, so yes, he needed to run the ARCA Menards Series race on the same weekend. It’s no different than what the sanctioning body has done to other drivers with elite credentials who have come to NASCAR. A few examples: Juan Pablo Montoya (Talladega 2006), Dario Franchitti (Talladega 2007; Daytona 2008), Ricky Carmichael (Talladega 2008) and Danica Patrick (Daytona 2010). They need to get track time and be approved, and NASCAR needs to see they are comfortable in the draft. In van Gisbergen’s case, NASCAR never doubted him but it is policy and they felt he would have no issues getting through practice and basically being approved right then and there. In a way, it was a formality but still required.

Q: Will we ever see a NASCAR championship finale on a road course?

Chris Fiegler, Latham, NY

KC: A few years ago, I would quickly have said no. But given how NASCAR has taken on a new mission of trying new things and changing its schedule, I’ll say that nothing is impossible. I do, however, think that is not something NASCAR and the drivers would want to do (wanting the championship race to be decided on a more traditional racetrack and not where someone necessarily has an advantage) and I think it’s highly unlikely it would happen.

Q: Is there any logic as to why the Richmond race was scheduled for 7pm ET on Easter Sunday?  If I remember correctly, NASCAR used to avoid racing on Easter Sunday. I ended up turning the race on after the NCAA basketball games were over and wondered why the stands were so empty. Was it to avoid the NCAA basketball games?

A night race at the end of March in Richmond doesn’t seem like the smartest decision. I checked the forecast and it said it was 57 degrees with 90% humidity. But it could easily have been 40 degrees and flurries.

As for me, a late start like that had me shutting off the TV and going to bed before the end of the second stage or whatever it’s called. Having to work on Monday and the alarm going off early in the morning means I’m not going to stay up and watch the race. I don’t know how the TV ratings will turn out, but if I was the track owner, I would have been upset because of the lack of fans in the stands. I honestly don’t get the logic used to establish the start times these last few years. Late afternoon starts means I just usually miss the race entirely as I’ve committed my afternoon to something else and I’ve completely forgotten the race even existed.


KC: NASCAR has run on Sunday night of Easter for the last three years, but just did so at Bristol. It gives NASCAR the chance to be in the spotlight with no other major sporting events going against it, and more importantly, it’s something Fox Sports wanted. And as we know, TV pays the bills and they pay a lot. The same applies to your comments about late afternoon start times – television gets a big say in what they want and what works for them. Richmond has struggled mightily with its attendance for quite a few years now and racing on Easter wasn’t going to help. It used to be a track that was must-see and could sell out the place, but the sport hasn’t seen either of those two things at Richmond Raceway in quite some time.

Q: I’m still trying to figure out why Massa is challenging Hamilton’s first championship. I can’t believe it hasn’t already been thrown out of court. As I remember that race, after Piquet’s crash, intentional or not, Massa still had a pit stop to make. When he made the stop, Ferrari blew it by allowing him to leave the pits with the fuel hose still attached. It seems to me that if he had a clean stop, he would have been no worse than third in that race, picking up the necessary points for his championship. He didn’t, so he and Ferrari are to blame for that loss.

While F1 is currently being dominated by a superior driver in a superior car, it’s not boring, as the TV production is fine, keeping one informed with intervals, strategies, and no commercials. I like to see the teams trying to improve their cars each race, sometimes making considerable improvements over the course of the season, as McLaren did last year. Red Bull probably wouldn’t be as dominant without Verstappen, although any Newey-designed car is going to be the class of the field. Even with spec engines, the cars are designed by the teams, and car racing, to me, isn’t just about the drivers, but also about the engineering involved to build the best car. If one car is superior, it’s up to the competition to catch up.

Bill Kennamer, Fayetteville, AR

CHRIS MEDLAND: On Massa, the legal challenge isn’t designed to overturn the result, but he wants acknowledgment and damages because he believes if that race had been voided he’d have won the title and been entitled to much greater earnings opportunities as a world champion. But there’s part of me that sides with you, Bill, not only on the pit stop but the fact that if that race is voided at the time then the three following rounds are likely to play out differently, and who knows the final outcome? Massa would have been in a much stronger position, sure, but is not guaranteed the title if the race result had been annulled there and then.

The pit stop error did come amid a hectic pit lane caused by the Safety Car that Piquet Jr. triggered, so I can see where Ferrari would feel there was a direct correlation, too, but you’re also right that without that error Massa also has a chance at a much better result.

I like your feedback on the current season, too. Obviously a proper title fight and regular close battles for victory are what everyone wants to see, but there is plenty that’s still good about the quality of the current grid and the journey that some teams are on. I do think a reminder of how quickly it can all go wrong even for Red Bull and Verstappen in Australia was a good thing, though, as it also highlights how impressively that partnership has been executing for so long. 

Singapore, 2008: Ferrari’s fuel hose of shame. Motorsport Images

From Robin Miller’s Mailbag, April 4, 2019

Q: Growing up on CART in the ’90s, I knew the heroes from the bums. Watching your tough guys series is great to hear about the heroes from years before me but what about the bums? You’ve never been one to mince words. Who were some of the flops, jerks, goofballs, buttheads, and bums of yesteryear?

Kevin S, Lindenhurst, IL

ROBIN MILLER: Oh my God, we don’t have enough space for that answer. Let’s just say there were some guys like Steve Barclay, Judge Harry Sauce and Tony Turco a “little” out of their depth in an IndyCar, but it might make a good wintertime read to revisit some of these categories.

Story originally appeared on Racer