The RACER Mailbag, May 29

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: Call me an old codger, but the current Pennzoil Dallara is not “The Yellow Submarine.” That title has always and will always belong to the Chaparral 2k. The late Al Unser Sr, Lone Star JR and the late Jim Hall are being dissed. The current Penske team members and NBC broadcast crew who continue to promote this falsehood are disrespecting the history of Indy. Probably many of them were not even alive when the original Yellow Submarine dominated Indy. Rant over.

Dale, Chesterfield, VA

MARSHALL PRUETT: You’re an old codger.


Q: With Josef Newgarden winning two championships and now two 500s (and counting on both), Where do you think he’ll end up when all is said and done with his career? Judging by his age and assuming he stays at Penske (or if he ever left you’d assume a powerful team would be his destination) he’s got another 10-12 years of high level driving still (maybe more based on Dixon and Power)  Is he going down as the greatest American driver not named A.J. Foyt?


MP: We did have Rick Mears, Al Unser, Bobby Unser, Louis Meyer, Johnny Rutherford, Wilbur Shaw and a few other Americans who Josef would need to first equal or exceed in the major accolades before he’s slotted into P2 at home.

But, if he keeps going for another 7-10 years, he could easily join the four-timers club at Indy, and stack 3-4 more championships onto his CV. He’s the best of his generation, without question for me, and that was before his first Indy 500 victory. Where he ends up beyond that is what we’ll be watching until he retires.

Josef, or Dixon, could beat all of his records and I don’t think a single person who saw A.J. at his peak would say anyone was better on pavement, dirt, open-wheel, stock cars, sports cars and so on. A.J. will always be in a category of his own.

Johnny Rutherford and the real Yellow Submarine, aka the Chaparral 2k. Murenbeeld/Motorsport Images

Q: I feel that this has probably been asked: Is there or a perception of an asterisk next to Josef’s 500 win? There’s got to be some folks in a beer joint wondering if he somehow cheated again.

Shawn, MD

MP: I know his win/Penske’s win on Sunday rang hollow for some since it happened a little over a month after a major cheating scandal, but he and the No. 2 Chevy team were the best at the Speedway on Sunday at lap 200 so there’s no reason to apply an arbitrary asterisk.

Like it or not, the top car and team and driver combination at the checkered flag on May 26 was duly crowned and Penske/Newgarden/No. 2 crew deserve to receive all of the respect that’s given to Indy 500 winners.

Q: Big Possum is at the Speedway this weekend and shocked, saddened, disappointed and flopsy mopsy and cottontail to see F1 merch on sale in the fan zone at Indy. The fox in the hen house, for sure. What say you, Marshall?

Big Possum

MP: First, it was great to meet you. This is the fourth IndyCar race so far this year where I’ve heard or seen it happening, so I can only assume Penske Entertainment has both given in and is taking a cut of the proceeds. It shouldn’t matter, I guess, but it is strange.

Q: I find it difficult to understand why there is so little discussion of or disdain for Penske’s cheating at St. Petersburg. Newgarden didn’t know about their advantage? Oh, sure… “Who, me?! No, I didn’t recognize the max horsepower being available without pushing the button!!! Promise!” My gluteus max… At heart, the Penske teams are all capable of and willing to cheat as proven, period. Respect? Maybe somewhere down the line.

L. Curtis

MP: This is the first I’m hearing of this. I’m going to make some calls this week and try to get to the bottom of what’s going on.

Q: What is your Indy 500 race day like? We like to walk around Main Street in Speedway on Saturday night, get some dinner, and get our Charlie Brown’s breakfast on race day. (Yes, it’s worth the two-hour wait).

Do you have any specific traditions or rituals? I’m sure it’s much more of a work day for you than for us.

Josh Meier, Louisville, KY

MP: No rituals, other than trying to rest up on Saturday, which I’ve failed at doing every time…

I’ve had a decent routine for the last many years where I get up around 4:30am, drive into the track, park in the infield and go back to sleep, all to avoid the hundreds of thousands of people who start flooding into the Speedway.

I’ll try and doze off in my rental car until 6:30 or 7:00, but it’s tough to get back to sleep, then head into the media center and hunt for coffee. Then, it’s setting up my laptop, finishing up a story or two — or work on the Mailbag — and saying hello to the wave of reporters who come in for race weekend. We’ve been doing meetups with my podcast’s listener group at the 500 for a little while, so that’s always a blast, and then I wander down pit lane before it gets too busy to see and give love to lots of friends and former teammates across the 33 entries.

I’ve worked with or known folks at each team for decades, so as an old mechanic and whatever else I was, there’s a bunch of great folks I love to see ahead of their biggest day of the year. Then, I’ll go find the historic Indy cars, drool, and marvel in our sport’s legacy. (I was meant to do a visor cam using my Cambox recording device with Simon Pagenaud, who was driving Gil de Ferran’s 2003 Indy winner, but it failed 30 seconds before Simon was due to put on his helmet.)

Next, I head out to the grid, look at the wing angles and setup choices made by the teams/cars that interest me, see more friends, and head back to the media center to get ready to digest 200 laps of racing through the broadcast and timing and scoring monitors hanging from the ceiling and take notes for use in whatever columns or sidebar stories I might push out once it’s over.

I’ll head back to pit lane with about 10 laps to go, watch how the race the finish plays out, film our end-of-day video, try and snag a few drivers for it, and go back to the media center to start writing. If the winner is someone who drinks real beer, I’ll film a video with us having something strong to drink and put a wrapper on the event with them. And if it isn’t (it wasn’t), I let IndyCar know via text that they can scratch my interview slot and give it to someone else (which I did).

Lots of ways for lots of folks to plan their Race Day. Jake Galstad/Motorsport Images

Q: So if IndyCar really wants to capture more younger viewers and have a knockout 2027 engine formula that is cost effective to continue, look no further than to the University of Colorado research on new supercapacitor technology. Imagine if IndyCar continued its ERS systems and publicly teamed up with a university to push the technology? It’s a win for everyone.

Tell Roger and team please!

Mike, Columbus

MP: You’ve been told, Roger. And team.

Q: Why is it we usually see NASCAR drivers doing the double? Is it a fact that NASCAR owners don’t respect IndyCar drivers and their ability? Who would you all like to see do the double from the IndyCar side?

David Tucker

MP: Because most full-time IndyCar drivers don’t care about the Charlotte 600. Pato O’Ward’s the only one I can see throwing caution to the wind at Charlotte, so he’s my pick.

Q: Why don’t Penske Corporation vehicles feature a promotional wrap for the IndyCar series, its races and major sponsors? Expense? Implement it only relevant markets.


MP: Great idea.

Q: What did the four “suspended” Penske people do during the month of May? Was it really a suspension, or did they work remotely? It didn’t seem to make much difference for Team Cheat.

Paul, Indianapolis, IN

MP: Hard to say since I wasn’t there with them. Per Penske, they weren’t allowed to be in communication with the team.

Q: So with what seemingly is heading towards freezing of engine development, how does Honda not wind up getting its butts kicked at Indy until there is a new engine formula, which seems like it is far in the future? Honda seems like the manufacturer that also wants least investment at this point. Dixie’s post-race comments were telling.

Jeff, State College, PA

MP: I hear you, but from the five points-paying races this year, Honda’s won two, and took the sixth at the non-points Thermal Whateverthehellitwas Challenge, so it’s looking pretty close to even in the win column.

While it was clobbered at the 500, there’s no evidence to suggest Honda’s taken its foot off the development throttle. It was only a year or two ago when Chevy got clobbered by Honda at Indy, so this time, the tables were reversed. It happens.

If, for example, Honda were to announce it’s leaving after the 2025 season, I would expect the company to put all of its money and effort into going out as winners next season for two reasons: The pride HRC US takes in its products and, more importantly, because half or more of the field will have paid $1.45 million per engine lease, and unless someone wants to see tons of lawsuits appear, there’s no way a manufacturer can afford to leave a major series today without giving its best to its paying customers.

Q: What a difference a year makes. Last year, I was cheering on Newgarden during the final two laps, wanting the American driver who tried 12 times to finally break through and win himself an Indy 500. This year, with how everything has shaken out within that organization, I wanted anyone else. Especially wanted it for either Rossi or O’Ward. Do you think Pato will break through and finally get his Indy glory?

Eric, Wisconsin

MP: I do. There were cheers unlike anything I can recall hearing when Pato took the lead from Josef in the final laps, and while the cheers weren’t as loud when Josef got him back in Turn 3 on lap 200, there were a lot of happy fans and a lot of support for him as he won his second 500. I also heard about a decent number of boos for Newgarden, which is sad, but he’s also not exactly the most sympathetic character in the series.

Arrow McLaren was super strong, but Newgarden’s No. 2 Chevy was a fraction better. Pato’s signed to the team for a long while, so for me, it’s less a question of whether Pato can win — he showed us he can on Sunday — and more on McLaren to make its cars better than Penskes.

Plenty of cheers for both the late-race protagonists. Phillip Abbott/Motosport Images

Q: With the many storylines coming out of the Indy 500, the one that impresses me the most is Pato O’Ward. In my 50 plus years of watching IndyCar, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a driver so gutted by a loss. It brings back memories of the many times Mario was interviewed after his car broke, again, while leading the 500. After seeing the tears and hearing the emotion and the passion with which he drives, I am now a huge fan of Pato. If the series were smart, they would be scheduling a race in Mexico for 2025 or ’26. The attendance to see this exceptional driver and person might be second only to Indy.

Rick Schneider, Charlotte

MP: Vamos, Pato!

Q: This letter is not to complain about how long the first caution was in this year’s 500, but rather to explain to anybody who wants to know why it may have gone longer than they thought it should have.

The impact to the SAFER barrier took place right in front of where I was sitting on the exit of Turn 1/beginning of the short chute. Three of the styrofoam whosawhatsis that absorb energy between the steel and the concrete walls had to be replaced.  When the truck with the replacement parts arrived, two crew members jumped out and started running the parts over to the impact zone. The whole AMR Safety Crew was flat-out hustling their buns off the whole time.

One of the pieces dropped right into place, but the other two fought them.  The crowd was cheering them on as two-three crew members jumped on top of the wall, and sat on, jumped on, and kicked and punched into place the new styrofoam pieces as fast as they could. As soon as the parts were in place, the crowd cheered even louder as they all ran as fast as they could to their trucks and hauled butt out of there.

Quickly, the sweeper truck, which was already staged in place and waiting, swept up any styrofoam bits left behind, and took off as well. As soon as all the trucks were clear, the series signaled one to go.

There was no messing around, no delays, and I don’t see how they could have made that caution one second shorter than it was. I was very impressed with the AMR Safety Crew.

Dylan Burgett, Villa Park, IL

MP: Thanks for the report, Dylan. You won’t find a better response team in racing.

Q: The best visual from this year’s race was a guy wearing a shirt that said Team P2Penske in the team Penske layout.

John, Seville, Ohio

MP: That made the rounds among drivers and team owners and it was hilarious.

Q: After reading about the proposed charter memberships and capping the fields at 27 outside of Indianapolis… tracks like WWTR, Milwaukee, Road America, and some others could easily handle 30 cars. I understand at tracks like Mid-Ohio, Barber, yes you would have to restrict the number. You would think having 30+ cars at WWTR would be great. They should just set grid sizes by venue. Also, they need to expand the Leaders Circle — 21 cars is as old as the dinosaurs.

Is IndyCar not taking Honda seriously about 2026? We have heard nothing about any new manufacturers.

AE, Danville, IN

MP: Last I heard was Penske Entertainment talking to Stellantis — Dodge, Chrysler, Peugeot, etc. — about coming in with one American brand and one European brand. They’re finally taking Honda seriously, and what’s likely to happen with the next engine formula is close to what Honda suggested, but it’s too soon to tell if the cost cuts and overall increase in value Honda’s been seeking will be enough to keep the brand in the series.

Q: Can you refresh my memory about the Townsend Bell/Pat Patrick working (pay) relationship… and unintended humor? I think Townsend once told a story when he was first employed by Pat Patrick. Somehow, Pat forgot, mispronounced or garbled Townsend’s first name in conversation with Bell. Townsend somehow was not miffed and replied, “Mr. Patrick’s check for my services cleared my bank account, and that was good enough for my purposes!” Ha ha.

Tom Fitzgerald

MP: Here’s what Towny said: “It wasn’t about money. My first IndyCar race was for Pat, in 2001, and my first two races were at the Lausitzring and Rockingham, and I was doing Indy Lights that year and then I was going to race for him my full rookie year (in 2002). It was in my fifth or sixth race the next season and I had been contracted to him for about nine months at that point, and we were at whatever race and he said on the radio, ‘Thompson, this is Pat Patrick,’ and to myself I’m like, ‘No s***, I know who you are…and who’s ‘Thompson?’ He says, ‘Thompson, I want you to pass that car in front of you.’ And then he called me ‘Thompson’ for the rest of the time I drove for him.”

Q: My annual question: When you were in Long Beach, did you learn anything new about the status of the Dan Gurney autobiography?

Rick Johnson, Lynnwood, WA

MP: I didn’t see Evi for more than a moment at Long Beach, nor did I see Kathy Weida for more than 30 seconds, so no, I’ve failed in my mission. But Evi sent me an email a few days ago, and once I get home I’ll catch my breath and respond and inquire.

Lotsa work going on out there… Michael Levitt/Motorsport Images

Q: I hope you don’t roll your eyes when you read this question, but it is something I have always wondered: What causes the jerky steering wheel movements through turns? Is it the bouncing of the car and if it comes up a little too high the wheel turns a little too fast with less weight on the tires? It looks like great resistance and then the resistance goes away, but they never turned so far that they have to countercorrect unless the rear end comes around.

Please be kind, I have never driven anything nearly as fast or advanced as these cars.

David, New Albany, IN

MP: Brother, I love these kinds of questions.

IndyCars do not have power steering, which is an important fact to know. Power steering systems (hydraulic or electric) often feature some form of damping to reduce kickback through the steering wheel, so with a purely mechanical system like the one found in IndyCar, there’s no damping whatsoever.

Of the various reasons for what you see, keep in mind that the cars have stiff coilover springs and shock (dampers) that hold the car in place and resist aerodynamic loading and bumps, and the phenomenon you describe is mostly found on road and street courses where the kickback is the biggest and most obvious. If the suspension settings (springs, dampers) were super soft, you wouldn’t see the snappy steering wheel kickback as often.

You have uneven track surfaces with dips or bumps that jerk the front tires in whatever direction, and sometimes in different ways if the left-front and right-front are running over different pieces of road. You have the difference in compression, with the car leaning left or right based on the corner its navigating, and the compressed side being the most vulnerable to undulations that fire back through the steering wheel. There are other factors, like the castor settings and Ackermann, but that’s getting into the weeds. Thanks for asking!

Q: I’d be excited about a spec-ish IndyCar engine if it gives an opportunity for more differentiation elsewhere. Cooling high-power electronics is very difficult because they (generally) can’t operate at the higher temperatures of an engine. A lower temperature delta between a device and the ambient airflow requires either more airflow or a more efficient thermal system. This is exactly why Tesla has implemented such complex thermal systems! I’d love to see multiple manufacturers go hog-wild with radiator, ducting, and entire thermal management system development. It should be quite applicable to road cars, less expensive, and grant modest-but-not-insurmountable advantages. Is this realistic or am I the one who’s hog-wild?

Tom, Ohio

MP: If that’s what manufacturers want, I’m sure IndyCar will create a lane for them to play with and differentiate themselves through such things. It’s not crazy at all.

Q: I am inquiring on the status of contract negotiations with the City of Portland to extend racing at PIR beyond 2024, which I believe is the final year of the current contract? What is the latest news on the future of the Portland race for 2025 and beyond?

Jeff, Tualatin, OR

MP: Last I heard, it was expected to move ahead with a new contract.

Q: As IndyCar continues to assemble the schedule for 2025, how many significant changes should fans expect? As you’ve previously reported, the series is looking to add a “major event” as early as next year. Do you think this event will come at the expense of another, more established race? As a Canadian fan I am a bit concerned about the long-term future of Toronto’s race. With the City and race promoters signing just a one-year deal for 2024, do you expect Toronto to remain on the calendar in 2025? If not, do you think the series is looking at other Canadian venues as potential replacements, or will fans up north potentially be in the dark after this year’s race?

Dylan, Kingston, ON, Canada

MP: I’m a bit light on schedule intel — it’s been low on my priority list during the month of May, FWIW — but I’ll start doing more digging next week. Toronto is a crucial race for the series, and one of the long-term pillars for its promoter, so I’d imagine everything will be done to keep racing at the venue. IndyCar’s already on thin ice with Canadian fans due to the often poor TV offerings there, so if Toronto falls off the schedule, I think the series would be dead to a lot of its amazing fans above the lower 48.

Q: So, what happened at the 45 team during the practice week before the 500? In Carb Day final practice they said that Christian Lundgaard’s engineer just walked away on Monday and he now has a new engineer on his stand. It’s unusual for a crew member to walk away in the middle of a race weekend, especially a team engineer.

Chris Howe, Upper Sandusky, OH

MP: I’m not aware of an engineer leaving; it was race strategist Peter Baron who quit during qualifying weekend. If an engineer also quit, I missed it. Yes, it’s very uncommon, and always a byproduct of dissatisfaction by the team or employee. Lundgaard’s phenomenal race engineer Ben Siegel took over the race strategy duties for the 500. Not sure who they’ll slot in for the rest of the season.

Al Unser and his Johnny Lightning Colt-Ford TC en route to victory at Indy in 1971. Motorsport Images

From Robin Miller’s Mailbag, May 28, 2014

Q:  ESPN Classic has been showing old Indy 500s, and I just finished the 1971 race. Several things caught my eye. I saw few cars with sponsors. Where did teams get money? For example, Unser’s Colt (pictured, ABOVE) just had lightning bolts on it. Who was Johnny Lightning, anyways?

The pace car wasn’t deployed during cautions. What tools did drivers have to know they weren’t gaining an unfair advantage under yellow?

I’ve seen you write that some drivers did have an unfair advantage over others under yellow. Did USAC really trust drivers to “maintain spacing” under yellow? Under one caution, Jim McKay commented that Al Unser’s mechanic was complaining to the flagman about second place catching Unser. At the end of the race, there were five cars on the lead lap. There may have been five total lead changes during the race. In terms of on-track action, is today the golden age of IndyCar?
Kyle in Raleigh

ROBIN MILLER: First off, racing was not that expensive back then and sportsmen like Bob Wilke, Tassi Vatis, Al Dean, Lindsey Hopkins and J.C. Agajanian could pay for it out of their own pocket. Johnny Lightning was a popular toy car from Mattel that got lots of mileage from Unser’s back-to-back wins. The second-place car Unser was complaining about was brother Bobby, who was cheating the Pacer lights right in front of USAC’s eyes with non-stop pit stops. Today’s racing is much closer because of spec cars and much more reliable because of engine leases. But the ’60s and ’70s were the golden age for many and they still matter to some of us.

Story originally appeared on Racer