Welcome to the RACER Mailbag. Questions for any of RACER’s writers can be sent to email@example.com. 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.
NOTE: Chris Medland is on a well-deserved vacation, but feel free to continue sending F1 questions in and he’ll answer them when he returns for the December 20 Mailbag.
Q: I’ve heard you say with regard to a new IndyCar that “looks matter.” Well, after watching your video of Tony Kanaan driving the Senna McLaren, I say “sound matters.” In a word: Breathtaking. That era of cars got me hooked on racing.
MARSHALL PRUETT: No doubt. Since I launched my podcast in 2016, I’d guess I’ve posted 100 different Sounds of Racing episodes featuring in-car and ambient recordings to celebrate the importance of those sounds.
Q: NASCAR Cup champ and Penske driver Ryan Blaney expressed his desire to run the double. It might have even been him that suggested that Newgarden race the Coke 600, doing a reverse-double if you will. The Captain pretty much shut that down forthwith. Is Roger just inherently against crossing the streams? As a long-time Josef fan I’ve wanted to see him take a stab at a stock car. He might be one of the best oval racers in the business, and Blaney’s a solid wheelman. If I was the owner of two of the premier American race teams, I’d look for ways to integrate them. But there’s probably a reason I’m not.
MP: I can see Roger’s line of thinking here, and it fits Team Penske in 2023. The team has something good going in Cup with back-to-back championships, and modern-era Penske, compared to 1990s Penske which was all-in on doing big and different things like building “The Beast” for the Indy 500, is about as risk-averse as it gets. Monkeying with whatever’s working on the Cup side is the exact opposite of what he’d call for, and since his IndyCar team was mollywhopped once again by Ganassi in the championship, trying something sparkly and exciting at Indy — a race the team was also getting smacked around at for years before Newgarden won in May — is another call Penske isn’t likely to make in this moment.
Stack a few more 500s on top of a return to winning IndyCar titles and extending the Cup output to three or four championships on the trot, and then I might see Penske consider doing something fun like this by sending Josef out for some NASCAR outings and roping Blaney in to do the double.
Q: Just wanted to share some breaking news from one of my sources inside IndyCar.
“In a surprising announcement, the IndyCar Series has fired Jay Frye and is appointing Pato O’Ward as the new president of IndyCar. O’Ward currently drives for the Arrow McLaren IndyCar team and was just named as reserve driver for the McLaren F1 team.
“We were stuck in the mud and just spinning our wheels going nowhere,” said series owner Roger Penske. “When I read some of Pato’s recent comments about the need for a new car and that we shouldn’t be competing with F1, I thought maybe he’s right. Though we’ve had driver/owners in the series before, I think this driver/president idea might get us moving forward and give the fans some hope for our future.”
O’Ward was also surprised by the announcement, but said he is looking forward to providing insight and analysis to the series from his view on the track. The 24-year-old also mentioned his huge fan base in Mexico as well as the U.S., and that one of the first decisions being made will be adding a race in Mexico to the 2025 schedule. There are still a lot of details to work out on the new driver/president position, but O’Ward has promised if he wins the championship next year, he won’t present the trophy to himself.
Rick Schneider, Charlotte, NC
MP: I think the target of the faux firing is way off. Thanks to Frye, we have the UAK18 aero kit, the aeroscreen, and the move to hybridization, all things set in motion before the series was purchased by Penske Entertainment at the onset of 2020. Since then? Zero. Zilch. Nada.
Only one thing has changed since then, and it was the ownership of the series and the complete seizing of decision-making power by its new owners.
Between his day job with Arrow McLaren and his side gig with McLaren F1 (above), I’m not sure there are enough hours in the day for O’Ward to take on the presidency of IndyCar as well. Steven Tee/Motorsport Images
Q: Lifelong IndyCar fan here… 48 Indy 500s.
We can only hope that the “big splash event” that Mark Miles is teasing is actually his resignation or termination.
Mike, Indianapolis, IN
MP: Naw, we need Miles. He’s the last executive link we have to the past. Same note above about Frye applies to Mark.
Q: Reading your piece with Mark Miles on Monday was so depressing. His comments regarding a new chassis, while not a complete surprise, were nonetheless tragic. There is evidently no new car or proper technical package on the horizon for many years to come, which when you list the age of the current car, he should be embarrassed.
IMSA and WEC have been reinvigorated since the new regs came into place. Hell, even F2 and Super Formula have new cars.
If Miles and Penske think this current iteration of car and engine package will attract a third OEM, it’s simply for the birds. It just lends credence to the ongoing conversation that Penske Entertainment, or perhaps just the Captain himself, has no plan moving forward. And worst of all, he is quite happy with the current setup.
I get why the Coynes, Foyts, ECRs of this world would be happy to keep running this package for another 10 years. But McLaren, Andretti, CGR, RLL?
Look at sports cars and show some ambition.
MP: To be fair, Miles was simply the first person I asked the “when might we see a new car” question to from Penske Entertainment in a long while, rather than someone who is centrally involved in making that decision. But his comments do represent the thinking and wishes of the series’ owner. The racing is great; there were more passes in 2023 than there were in 2022, and IndyCar’s engagement on TikTok is up year-to-year over 200 percent. So why mess with something that’s clearly beating the crap out of NASCAR and F1 in North Amer… oh wait.
Q: I lived in Florida from 1969 to this year, and the Sebring 12 Hours was a yearly pilgrimage for much of that time starting in 1971. With the HSR Pistons and Props last weekend, it got it me to thinking about all the race cars with great liveries I got to look at and watch. So here goes with a few. Prototypes only.
Porsche 917 — Gulf, Martini and Rossi
Porsche 962 — Coke, Preston Henn’s Swap Shop, Lowenbrau, BFGoodrich, Sach’s,
Bridgestone, Columbia Crest, Copenhagen, Wynn’s, Miller, Havoline, Momo, Torno
Ferrari 512 — Penske/White Racing
March 83G/86G — Kreepy Krauly Racing, Momo
Jaguar XJR-5/XJR-9/XJR12D — Group 44, Castrol, Bud Light, Silk Cut.
There are many more including lower classes that had great memorable liveries. Spark any memories for you? And what was your first year there either spectating or working?
MP: Oh yes, the Marchs and Jags and 962s. The Group 44 XJR-5s and XJR-7s are among the most beautiful cars and gorgeous liveries with the tone-on-tone greens chosen by team owner/driver Bob Tullius.
My first Sebring was the 2005 12 Hour, running a World Challenge GT team and coaching a Star Mazda driver.
Q: The IndyCar “major event” for 2025 has me curious. Considering street circuits are all the rage right now, perhaps a city in the Northeast? We could definitely use an IndyCar race that’s not a flyaway unlike every other on the calendar.
MP: Street races have been popular since the early 1980s when they became a huge part of each IndyCar and IMSA calendar. There was a point where street circuit events were far more popular than they are now, but yes, if you’re going to penetrate a new market and court new fans, it’s easier to go where they live or work than to ask them to go outside the city and discover something new at a dedicated racing facility.
Here’s what NBC listed as the top 10 viewing markets for IndyCar in 2023. If I’m looking to create a street race where there’s a high probability of it being well received and well attended, I’d start from here:
Indianapolis street race. You read it here first. Motorsport Images
Q: Just a quick message about Pato O’Ward’s F1 test. Faster than all newcomers and faster than most vets. He did us IndyCar fans proud.
MK, Buffalo, NY
MP: Pato has made a leap this year, which is why McLaren is leaning so far into using him more often in F1-related activities.
Q: In Charles Leershen’s book “Blood and Smoke – A True Tale of Mystery, Mayhem, and the Birth of the Indy 500,” there is mention of “…some two hundred bricklayers working frantically against the onset of winter…”. Also, “…it would take 3.2 million bricks to cover the
Speedway, and the job would cost $180,000…”. As a trial, 200 yards of
the front straight was bricked, and on September 11, 1909 was tested
successfully by driver Johnny Aitken. The last brick, made of bronze
with a brass coating, was laid ceremonially on Monday, December 7, 1909.
Bernie, Aubrey, TX
MP: Thanks for helping to answer the Mailbag reader’s question of how many people installed the bricks.
Q: In light of the Vegas GP and the impressive TV rating the race garnered at an inhospitable time slot, I think it’s fair to say F1 has officially surpassed IndyCar as the No. 2 form of racing in the country. Additionally, I would venture to say F1 has surpassed NASCAR in terms of “pop culture” relevance. (TV ratings do not tell the full story).
My question is: Would you welcome Liberty Media taking over IndyCar and making it a complimentary series to F1 if it ensured preserving the prestige and heritage of the 500?
Do you have any idea if Penske Entertainment would consider a joint venture with Liberty where Liberty takes over IndyCar and Penske focuses on promoting a select few races including the 500?
Jah S Buckhead, Atlanta, GA
MP: I’ve been told more than once that Liberty approached Penske with an offer to buy the series, and Liberty was harshly rebuked.
If Liberty were to buy IndyCar and try and preserve what we have while applying its creativity and marketing/promotional expertise to take it to the heights Penske Entertainment have yet to produce, I’d pray for it to happen tomorrow.
Q: While watching the last F1 race of the season, something dawned on me as the cars zipped in and out of the pits. Why is it that in IndyCar stalling while leaving the pits is a common occurrence, especially at the 500 where someone ruins their race every year? Yet in F1, it’s unheard of. Is the clutch setup that much different between the two series? And if F1 can come with some sort of anti-stall device, why can’t IndyCar?
Same goes for standing starts — no one ever stalls off the line in F1. However, the last time that I remember IndyCar trying a standing start, it was a disaster when someone near the front stalled, resulting in a huge crash.
Bob C, Mills River, NC
MP: Couple of things here: The tall first gear used at Indy is something no F1 car has to deal with, so if we’re looking at hardest situations to exit the pits without stalling, it’s there. The other item to consider is a single F1 team spends almost as much as the entire IndyCar field spends on a season of racing, and who knows how much an F1 engine supplier spends compared to an IndyCar engine supplier. With that part understood, the dollars invested into F1 anti-stall technology is light years ahead of whatever was spent years ago in IndyCar. Also, IndyCars stalling is not a common occurrence. If 33 cars make seven pit stops at Indy, that’s 231 stops, and what do we have, two or three in the race? That comes out to something like a 99 percent success rate. If it’s five-six stalls, it’s 98 percent, etc.
Q: If there are lots of other people like me who are missing IndyCar and can’t wait for the next season to start next March, I have a suggestion. If you have not done so already, go on YouTube and watch all the Indy 500s from 1951 thru 1969. This was when Indy, the World Series, the Rose Bowl and Elvis all ruled. But it is great to watch these races and not sit through endless silly commercials. And this is when the guys would get dirt and grease on their face during the race and not dress like they were going up on Apollo 13. I love watching these old 500s and encourage people to enjoy them if you have not watched them yet.
Don, in very maize and blue Michigan
MP: Thanks, Don. The amount of great racing content on YouTube — old and new — could fill the rest of our lives if we stopped and tried to consume it all.
Q: I think you will find answers to your brick paving questions at this link. It mentions Mr. Blackburn from our city of Paris, Illinois.
Patrick, Paris, IL
MP: Thanks, Patrick.
Q: Since we are in the racing doldrums at the moment and that includes F1, here is a little something to help fill the Mailbag: Celebrities that I got to see race at Sebring over the years. Wished I’d have seen Steve McQueen with Peter Revson in the Porsche 908/02 finish second to Mario Andretti in the Ferrari 512S in 1970, but alas, I missed it.
Dick Smothers 1971/72 with John Greenwood in the No. 48 Corvette
Paul Newman 1977 with Bill Freeman in the No. 2 Porsche 911S
James Brolin 1982 with Jim Busby and Doc Bundy in the No. 58 Porsche 924 Carrera GTR
Gene Hackman 1984 with Whitney Ganz in the No.55 Mazda RX-7
Craig T Nelson 1997 with Darren Brassfield and Dan Clark in the No. 2 Riley & Scott MK III
Patrick Dempsey 2014 with Andrew Davis, Norbert Siedler and Joe Foster in the No. 27 Porsche 991 GT
McQueen with his “Le Mans” movie, Newman with his “Winning” movie and years running SCCA, and Dempsey with his Le Mans documentary and Ferrari movie casting were much more passionate and were involved in the sport more long-term than the others.
Ever run into any of these folks while you were working the race?
MP: What a fun list, Jeff. Saw Paul Newman race many times in IMSA and Trans Am. Same with Craig T. Nelson in the ACRL Sports 2000 series and then IMSA. Tons with Patrick Dempsey. Others that come to mind: Walter Payton, Vince Neil, Lorenzo Lamas, Michael Fassbender, Frankie Muniz, Paul Walker. I’m sure I’m forgetting a few.
Wait, F1 already has more celebs than it knows what to do with, and now it’s stolen Frankie Muniz as well? Motorsport Images
Q: I read a report on X that Iowa Speedway is being repaved in spring 2024. Do you know if this is accurate? If so, I’m extremely curious to see how it will affect the IndyCar doubleheader and the racing we see.
MP: I asked the series and it was unaware of a repaving taking place prior to the IndyCar event.
Q: I recently booked a condo for the Nashville weekend with some of my iRacing IndyCar friends (again, shoutout IndyCar for sadly ruining that community). After doing a bit of research, every support series that has been there the last two years has excluded Nashville from its 2024 calendars. Trans Am, GT America, Toyota GR, etc as well as possible series like IMSA support, Porsche Sprint, etc.
With most series having their schedules out already and seemingly none but IndyCar and Indy NXT having Nashville on it, is there any concern about having a full (and high quality) slate of on-track action across that weekend next year?
Caleb Benci, Stow, OH
MP: I texted the event’s leader and he did not respond, so I don’t have much of an answer for you, Caleb. If we’re fortunate, we’ll get the jumpy trucks and who knows what else. Maybe the first appearance of GridLife at the event? A celebrity race? Nashville is the last place where fun and creative support acts should be in short supply.
Q: OK, now I’ve lost it, Now I can’t watch the full NASCAR season on live TV. I have to have a smart TV and pay extra for races. Total BS. IndyCar is trending the same way. Hey networks, wake up! Most of both of your series’ fans are old school — I attended my first IndyCar race in Phoenix in April of 1966.
If these stupid exces continue to press us old guys into watching races on the web, it won’t happen. We’re old school and the passion we all share for watching racing will be gone. We won’t pass it on. SoCal was home to over 10 drag strips, Riverside, Ontario, Fontana and now nothing other than Long Beach — which is better to watch on TV — still exist. So where will you build your fan base, you dummies? F1 and ESPN now have huge fan base because of promotion, exposure and driver stories through Drive To Survive. Hey IndyCar and NASCAR: Wake up! Do stuff to increase ratings! If you continue to limit your live coverage on major networks, the old guys like me and others won’t teach the young and your viewership will be dead and gone
MP: The best way to kill an old product is to solely focus on the old demographic, Joe. Streaming is taking over, and has been for many years. When I worked at Fox/SPEED from 2006-2013, we took our first steps to offer streaming for select American Le Mans Series qualifying sessions around 2009 or 2010, led by our passionate head of digital, Kevin Annison, and even then, it was considered as being way ahead of its time here in the U.S.
Most of the younger viewers I knew, and that’s largely fans who are under 40, do not schedule their lives around sitting on a couch to watch racing delivered on network channels. If having to make some adjustments to watch a few of your favorite races via streaming is the price of a series trying to appeal to a newer audience, it sounds like they’re doing what you’re imploring them to do.
Q: I’m interested to know how contracts, bonuses and incentives, especially for drivers, are typically structured in major racing series like F1, IndyCar, and top-level sports cars.
MP: I asked a friend with many years of top- and middle-tier driver management experience to help with an answer, which was provided with their name withheld at their request:
For IndyCar, there’s a few different ways to categorize drivers on the grid.
1: Pay driver bringing some or all of the budget and not taking a dime back other than maybe 40% of prize money they earn for finishing in the top 10, minus Leaders Circle money.
2: Pay driver bringing a larger budget with negotiated salary from $150k-500k a year. Usually, larger budget equals larger salary plus the same prize money breakdown around 40% of top 10 results, not including Leaders Circle.
Pay drivers potentially could have some other incentives based on results or performance overall, which more often lead to a contract extension.
3: Paid drivers also have a large operating window. To be clear, a paid driver is strictly receiving a pay check. Salaries range from $150k — rumored $5M per year with perks for a race win bonus around 100k or $500k-$1M for the Indy 500 and similar for the championship. Additional perks are things like contract extension or salary raises based on season performance and points finishing position. Often these bonuses are covered by sponsorship contracts where the sponsor is responsible for a bonus to the team based on similar criteria.
Just as incentives can lead to addition money or longer contracts for drivers, they usually also have things that protect the team and its sponsors where if the driver does not get the results they had hoped for, or there’s a large change in financial security from a sponsor leaving, it can lead to the driver being released prior to originally agreed-upon term.
IMSA has similar situations but at a much smaller level. As for F1, I’ve not really looked too much into it. Most things you find on the internet are a mystery. Unless a team or credible news outlet posts that info in a story, I don’t trust any of the information.
Palou no doubt activated a whole bunch of bonus clauses this year. Gavin Baker/Motorsport Images
Q: F1 front suspension arms used to be very long. Not as long as current Formula Ford cars, but longer like on the 1990s F1 cars.
Why are their front suspensions so much shorter these days? I would think that being longer would allow for more mechanical grip, allowing slightly smaller wings, or tons more grip with the current larger wings. Is it a rules issue, or a design issue?
Let me know where my armchair mechanics is wrong!
MP: Long suspension arms don’t automatically equate to more mechanical grip, nor do shorter arms mean less grip can be achieved. F1’s formula changed heavily for 2022 with a giant emphasis placed on aerodynamics to generate grip, so that’s one reason why aero dominates the designs instead of mechanical. Most of the tuning during a session is through aero and tire pressure. Also consider how the cars have become noticeably bigger, and teams design their cars to be as wide as the rules allow; up front, that means wide tires and wide-ish tubs consume a fair amount of space, so that dictates how much space is left to fit suspension arms and pushrods or pullrods.
Q: I race model airplanes. A lot of the very top competitors will buy several more motors and airframes than they need so they can pick and choose the very best ones to compete with. Even though they’re spec and come from one manufacturer, they’re also handbuilt and there can be a slight variance in performance. That has me wondering: do some teams stock up on extra floors/wings/bodywork beyond their needs to have their choice of the best in the lot? Or is the variance in quality too small and/or cost of the parts too great?
In a similar vein, how much finessing takes place or is allowed with the aero surfaces? Can teams sand/clearcoat/polish wings, floors, and bodywork? Can they smooth or fair edges? Or do they just clean and wrap them and send them out?
MP: Most definitely on teams in spec series testing different spec items where possible performance gains could be found, provided they can afford to buy/have/test those extra items. Floors, in particular, are big items to benchmark for superspeedway use.
At the first professional racing team I worked for, we raced in the precursor to the USF2000 series and the Sports 2000 series where both used the 2.0-liter four-cylinder Ford Pinto engine. The rules required the use of the stock intake manifold, and our engine builder, the great Curtis Farley, did exactly what you’ve described by buying and dynoing a bunch of intakes. One stood out as better than the rest — it was stamped with “007” as Farley’s serial number, and whenever we had a big race, 007 was sent out from Kansas City and returned Monday morning so Curtis could dispatch it to the next client who needed a few extra horsepower.
IndyCar lets teams do all of the necessary bodywork smoothing and prep, but not to the point of altering the dimensions to gain an edge.
Q: Did “Brandon” end Kelli Stavast’s career at NBC? Did not see her this past season.
David, Waxhaw, NC
KELLY CRANDALL: Kelli Stavast wasn’t a part of the NBC Sports portion of the NASCAR season. She is also not listed in the section of the NBC Sports website where they have their talent bios. Stavast has been quiet since the Talladega Superspeedway race in the fall of 2021, and it’s really unfortunate. I’ve always thought she was great at covering the sport and it was a crap situation that unfolded in the post-race interview.
THE FINAL WORD
From Robin Miller’s Mailbag, December 3, 2013
Q: I’ve been an observer of your Mailbag for several years now and am normally fine with others asking the questions, but I feel compelled to write in about this issue, which is the quick rise of Formula E and whether IndyCar can learn/capitalize on it at all? It seems to me that IndyCar has missed a great opportunity here.
A few years back when IndyCar said they would be getting a new chassis and engines, the forums were abuzz with all the possibilities. I suggested on one blog that IndyCar needs to start embracing hybrid technology with their new cars. This would have solved several key problems for the series. 1) Bring new technology to the series that is capable of changing strategy race to race, thus bringing more interest and excitement. 2) Attract younger fans with new and more relevant technologies. 3) Attract new manufacturers and sponsors related to hybrid technology, as well as electronics in general. 4) Provide an identity for the series. IndyCar could surpass F1 as the leader in hybrid racing technology by making it a cornerstone of the series and simultaneously differentiate itself from NASCAR and its fan base and sponsors by emerging as the new, modern, and cooler racing series.
Now, all that means nothing without great racing, but assuming IndyCar can keep the great racing going, the problem would take care of itself. I realize that at the time IndyCar was (and still somewhat is) on life support, so an idea that radical probably wouldn’t fly at the time. But I say, if IndyCar has any sense of self-preservation left, it should take Formula E seriously and watch it closely. Even if it falls flat on its face, IndyCar could still learn about new sponsors interested in promoting their technology through racing. But if Formula E does reasonably well, the series may be onto something. IndyCar can’t afford to lose the old school fans to NASCAR and the emerging tech-savvy younger generation fans to Formula E.
Never mind Formula E; IndyCar could have been drawing hybrid inspiration from the very Darth Vader-y Lister Storm LMP Hybrid that was running around in the Le Mans Series in 2006. Motorsport Images
IndyCar needs to do something radical and soon, or else not even the 500 can save the series. Mark Miles is making changes, but these changes only vie for existing fans, instead of creating new ones. The average American doesn’t care about a racing series playing second fiddle to NASCAR and F1. I realize that if teams resist new aero packages they will absolutely hate hybrid technology. But if the money is there for sponsorships from major car manufacturers looking to showcase their hybrid technology, they will change their tune. Start small by incorporating some form of KERS one year, electric motors the next, etc.
Hybrid technology isn’t going away and as much as we racers hate it we can no longer afford to ignore it. The last thing I’d want to see is a bunch of cars that sound like overgrown mosquitoes zipping around. At least by making it hybrid technology we could keep those old internal combustion beasts and their glorious exhaust notes.
IndyCar has a real chance here to remake its image as the racing series of the 21st century by incorporating hybrid technology. Every major car manufacturer has hybrid technology. IndyCar has the advantages of being an established racing series rich in tradition and history as well having one of the largest races in the world that reaches millions of potential customers in the world’s No. 1 car market. This idea seems so obvious to me I’m amazed no execs at IndyCar have pursued it.
Obviously great racing isn’t bringing back the fans like it should, so something else needs to be done and done soon before IndyCar becomes completely irrelevant not just in pop culture, but in racing as well. A shortened season and a road race that cannibalizes the 500 won’t do it. But incorporating hybrid technology into IndyCar could.
Eric Mauser, DGRC Project Scientist, Indiana University
ROBIN MILLER: My friend, the very talented TV and movie producer Adam Friedman, has a good idea about how to incorporate all this hybrid technology into the month of May. I won’t share his idea yet but there is a place for it and someday it could be part of the Indy 500. You make some very good points and I don’t pretend to know much about any kind of technology but it’s obviously got some momentum with Formula E and IndyCar needs to embrace and encourage new manufacturers and ideas because, as you stated, good racing isn’t making any difference.