Welcome to the RACER Mailbag. Questions for any of RACER’s writers can be sent to email@example.com. Due to the high volume of questions received, 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 have a question for you that Google searching could not provide me an answer for. I was in the brainstorming part of coming up with vacation plans and learned that the Unser Museum in New Mexico is now closed. I had no idea it closed and have no idea how long it has been closed. The only answer I could find is that the cars are now in a different museum in Kansas or Nebraska — I can’t remember — but I’m very disappointed to learn that this is an experience I will never be able to enjoy.
Could you tell me if the Unser Museum is closed forever and what became of it? Not sure how I missed this, but must say I’m bummed. I guess to lift my spirits I will allow myself the next 10 minutes to imagine how great it would be if the Grand Prix came back to Cleveland.
Steve, Lorain, Ohio
MARSHALL PRUETT: Here’s an answer from Susan Unser, wife of Al Unser, 1970, ’71, 78, & ’87 Indianapolis 500 winner and 1970, ’83, ’85 USAC/CART National Champion:
“Big Al created the Unser Racing Museum in 2003 and he was the driving force of operation in Albuquerque for 19 years.
“With Al gone, the Museum Board began looking for a new home for the Unser Racing Museum, which closed to the public at the end of May 2023.
“On June 30, the Unser Collection was merged with the Museum of American Speed in Lincoln, Nebraska that had just added a 20,000 square foot addition. The exhibit in Lincoln is scheduled to open in the spring of 2024. This was a very difficult decision to leave Albuquerque, but we know all the cars, memorabilia and artifacts will have a wonderful new home.”
Q: I see Thermal tickets are priced at $2,000 each (plus $80 service fee). Any thoughts on this?
I understand lunch will be included in the price…
MP: Thoughts…of all the $2,000 IndyCar tickets for sale, these are my favorites.
On a more serious note, the main thing that came to mind when I was alerted to the price was the few times I’ve had extremely wealthy folks tell me about when someone wanted to buy something from them — in these stories, it’s usually a race car — and they don’t want to sell it, so they gave the person an eff-you price to make them go away.
There’s no argument to offer that an effort to pack the limited number of grandstands with fans is being made. Because nobody, in the 112-year existence of IndyCar racing, has tried to sell a $2,000 general admission ticket. Not for the Indy 500. Not for the Long Beach Grand Prix. Not even for the ill-fated Hawaiian SuperPrix.
And because I’m a smartass, I also thought to myself, “I bet NOBODY, and I do mean NOBODY, will ever complain about the HyVee Iowa Doubleheader ticket prices after seeing what the Thermal Club is doing.” And then I had a mild panic attack when I realized Iowa probably read the news and is preparing a “Hold my beer, Thermal” pricing structure that will set a new record…
Standing room only in the GA areas. Just kidding. Chris Jones/Penske Entertainment
Q: RLL and Pietro Fittipaldi: I didn’t see that matchup coming and I didn’t see it in the chat boards. Is this out of left field, or were both RLL and Fittipaldi that good at keeping quiet? He can drive, so I see no issue with the pairing.
Next up, any word on Ilott? I, along with a lot of fans, were expecting something with the Juncos announcement. But nothing but silence. Is there something going on the background, like Ilott driving elsewhere next year? Details to work through? Or is Ilott going to get the flick due to how his contract is structured?
MP: Left field for me, John. Maybe others knew about it, but I didn’t. As much as I try to stay on top of everything, this isn’t one I had on my radar. Other than some very light rumblings about Pietro looking around a few months ago, I just wasn’t hearing much from throughout the paddock. RLL did a good job of keeping this one under wraps; I knew something wasn’t likely to happen with Juri Vips after two conversations with RLL folks at Petit Le Mans, but I didn’t know Fittipaldi would be the one to get the seat.
The Callum Ilott scenario is an interesting one. He isn’t talking, nor is Ricardo Juncos. People usually aren’t silent when everything is decent and in order, so I’m taking the tight-lipped routine on face value and receiving it as an indicator that things could be much better…
I can say that there’s no shortage of drivers who would love to liberate the No. 77 Chevy from Ilott’s grasp, so if things do fall apart between him and Juncos, Grosjean could still be in play, along with everyone else who is trying to get hired there at the moment.
If JHR splits with Ilott sometime soon, he’ll have decent options at other midfield teams. If it happens a month or two from now, that won’t be the case. And if he stays, all of this will eventually be forgotten.
That’s the satisfied smile of a guy who just picked up his phone to find a voicemail from Bobby Rahal. Andy Hone/Motorsport Images
Q: A month or so ago, I emailed the Thermal Club to say I’d like to be on the list to buy tickets for the IndyCar event in March. A few days ago, I received an email to purchase tickets for the event from the Club. Went to the site immediately, and I admit when I saw the price I inhaled deeply, and said a few dirty words. But, yes I bought a ticket for the event. I live in Los Angeles, where the only other event is Long Beach, which I’ve attended every year since its inception. My personal feeling is, this is a once-in-a-lifetime event, open access to all areas, easier access to drivers, and the track, and obviously limited fans attending.
And yes, at this point in my life I can afford the ticket; however, I can understand a large number of fans being more than a little upset at the price. It threw me, too.
To clarify for those who do buy tickets, you are issued a ticket with just the Sunday date on it, with a barcode; the single ticket is good for the three days. I’m quite a long time fan going back to living in Bethlehem, Pa., and my dad taking me to Nazareth as a young man to watch Mario and Aldo on the dirt track there. Been to every Long Beach, Fontana, and Ontario race as well, plus seven Indy 500s when I lived in Pennsylvania, and a couple of the first Pocono races before moving to LA.
I personally don’t agree with your article comparing it to the Formula 1 race in Vegas. I would have attended it, but not for $3k a ticket. I don’t consider that a value for that particular race.
If and when the Thermal Club is placed on the regular schedule, I don’t envision the same amount of fans going as they do to Long Beach. This track is 150 miles from Los Angeles in the middle of nowhere. It’s not a great distance from Palm Springs area, but when you factor in hotels, food, other expenses, it’s going to be expensive for the average fan to attend for three days. After the event, I’ll, write again and give a fan’s opinion of the event.
Gary, Los Angeles
MP: Thanks for writing in, Gary.
Q: “The Thermal Club has shared its plans to sell tickets for March’s three-day NTT IndyCar Series test and its $1 Million Challenge all-star race at its private road course located on the outskirts of Palm Springs, California, for $2000 a ticket.”
Really?!? Do you think you’re F1 in Vegas? Thermal Club — you might get your 5,000 people, but you’re giving the finger to all IndyCar fans in SoCal and the surrounding areas. What a joke. Why don’t you offer a lottery for two tickets for $300 each? Go ahead and continue to piss off your IndyCar fans, Roger. You’re smarter than to allow this to happen. I hope the place is empty!
MP: The track has set the price, so while I’d have loved to see IndyCar step in and try to steer Thermal towards a more friendly price point, this is the choice of the track, not the series, so I can’t blame Penske Entertainment. I also won’t be surprised if this event does a faceplant and fails after one try if the money to pay for it — and continue the event in 2025 and beyond — was dependent upon selling tickets at $2000 a crack.
Q: I know you are likely more than tired of this subject but that doesn’t stop me from piling on.
It’s obvious the Thermal Club members/owners don’t want the average folks there. I’m assuming some “compromise” was made to placate either Penske Entertainment, NBC or both. Regardless, this is a bad look. Does the series not care about the optics?
Only conclusion is “yes.” If I’m wrong just holler at me and I’m good with that. If not, I will seriously rethink where my racing fan ticket money goes to next year.
Mike DeQuardo, Elkhart Lake, WI
MP: Good call; I’d never want my happiness to get in the way of your piling on, Mike. When I spoke with the series when this was announced about tickets being made available to fans, I was told there was a plan to make sure the “most ardent fans” would be taken care of, and at the time of that reporting, there was a request to leave the specifics out about the tickets first being made available to members of the IndyCar Nation, the series’ official fan club.
So, in hindsight, I’m not sure if I interpreted that “most ardent fans” message correctly. Being an idiot, I assumed it meant that like every other IndyCar race, IndyCar Nation members would get some sort of discount on tickets and better access than the average fan. And with that assumption came an assumption the tickets would be something IndyCar Nation members could afford. I’m sure there are a few members who can fork out $2K for access to Thermal, but most of the members I know cannot.
Which led me to wonder if, by “most ardent fans,” they were talking about only the rarest of members who could afford to gain access to the event. So, now, I don’t know what I was being told. When I asked who from the series might comment on the ticket price, I was referred to the track, which makes me think nobody is in a rush to own this turd in the punchbowl.
If you do go to Thermal next year, please let us know what they gave you for lunch. Chris Owens/Penske Entertainment
Q: With rumor that Apple is putting in an offer of $2B for Formula 1, what if any effect will that have on IndyCar’s TV negotiations?
I hear/read grumblings about how bad NBC is, be it for Indycar or IMSA – the IMSA faithful want IMSA.TV in the U.S. and are willing (per social media) to pay anything to get it to replace NBC with its commercials and broadcasters.
The IndyCar fan base seems to have the opposite take — they want it all on network TV, commercial-free, and with different broadcasters, and even a nickel is too much for Peacock. I’m not in either camp. I’m delighted we get IndyCar and IMSA on Peacock and that we have the level of coverage we have. Are there areas for improvement? Of course. Would I like Georgia to get a shot at taking Marty’s spot on pit road? Yes, I vote for Kevin, Dillon, and Georgia. Or Hanna, to save NBC some travel expenses.
MP: I’ve heard the same about Apple+ and F1. Lord, I really hope they don’t spend that kind of money. I’ve loved F1 since the late 1970s, and I’m happy to have seen its popularity explode in recent years, but this crazy bubble is going to burst in the coming years, and it won’t be pretty. There’s no way this level of cost to attend some of the worst racing on the planet can survive, and while there’s joy in rooting for your favorite team or driver, ratings will suffer if the races are one-sided affairs. If Max and Red Bull run the table again in 2024, this fad will pass, which would be a heck of a thing for Apple to be stuck with at that price point.
On the NBC side, most of the complaints I see are related to commercials, which is another F1 thing that has spoiled a lot of folks. If it’s a domestic racing series, it has commercials, and despite the early days of streaming on Peacock where there were either no or few commercials, that too has changed, so the complaints continue.
As I see it, the commercials thing comes down to your age, location, and when you started following the sport. I’ve only ever known racing to be televised with commercials, so while I don’t love them, their presence isn’t a surprise or a deal breaker. For those who’ve grown up in places outside the U.S. where commercial-free sports are the norm, seeing them here is a travesty, and for those who are newer to racing and have been fortunate to come in when F1 moved to ESPN as a commercial-free property, it must make what’s seen elsewhere with lots of commercials seem like the Stone Age vs Space Age.
I like your pit lane roster. Georgia’s a perfect fit for IndyCar, and Hanna’s done a great job in the nothing-but-inside-baseball series known as IMSA and made her WeatherTech Championship TV hits look like she’s been doing them for a decade. Marty’s struck me as someone who is long overdue for a permanent move to the booth.
Q: If Max Papis is recused from disciplining of Pietro Fittipaldi and Arie Luyendyk is recused from disciplining Rinus VeeKay, what happens when they collide with each other?
MP: This is my favorite question of the month, Ed. My vote is to have former IndyCar race director — now IMSA’s race director — Beaux Barfield on a hotline to rule from his couch in Texas.
Q: Simple question: Trans Am is racing at PittRace in 2024. Why can’t IndyCar?
MP: Because PittRace hasn’t struck a deal with IndyCar to hold a race?
There’s no real “can’t” here, but it’s common for smaller series to race at venues like the Pittsburgh road course that host a lot of championships like Trans Am or SRO that operate just below the NASCARs, IndyCars and IMSAs. There’s nothing stopping them from courting IndyCar, and that’s how these things work. If they’re interested, I’m sure IndyCar would listen.
Q: In response to Chad Brueggeman from the 10/18 Mailbag, he can see Formula Fords run at Road America each year during the June Sprints weekend. It’s a fantastic weekend to attend. The next two years will have bonus opportunities as the Runoffs will be at Road America, too.
MP: Thanks, Jason. They can also be seen at most SCCA Club races throughout the country.
Q: I am so excited about Kyle Larson doing the double. He will certainly bring eyeballs to the 500. Could you please suggest to someone at IMS or IndyCar to promote the Indy 500 on Kyle’s winged sprint car? That is the crowd IndyCar needs to watch the Indianapolis 500. His wing is usually blank.
MP: I’m confident Kyle’s loyal fans will know exactly where he’ll be racing in May, Jeff.
Q: How come we are not hearing anything about the silly season? I am mainly interested in Team RLL news. Has Graham been signed? Who is the third seat RLL going to? Vips? I didn’t see anyone for Team RLL at the Indy rookie test. Do you have any Team RLL news for their No.1 fan?
Rahal Letterman Lanigan has owned IndyCar’s silly season over the past few days. Phillip Abbott/Motorsport Images
Q: Inquiring minds want to know: What is the story behind Will Power running the No. 22 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet (rather than the No. 12) in the test at the Milwaukee Mile?
George, Colorado Springs, CO
MP: Team Penske tells me using the No. 22, which is what they’ve been running in hybrid tests for months, is to differentiate the car from its full-time cars.
Q: With testing now having started for the new hybrid engine, I am wondering why it is always the top teams in the series who seem to get the chance to test? What about a slightly more level playing field? Is this because teams have to finance the test and say no or because they are not invited?
MP: The teams who test for Chevy are chosen by Chevy and the teams who test for Honda are chosen by Honda. Both manufacturers have no interest in leveling playing fields in testing; the entire purpose is to create as unlevel of a playing field as both brands can manage.
Said another way, if you were choosing people to conduct important research, would you select the C and D students and be happy with the mediocre results? That’s why Chevy and Honda don’t ask the mid- and bottom-tier teams to handle testing.
Q: Has there ever been a whisper of Hyundai as an IndyCar engine supplier, badged as a Genesis, considering Bryan Herta’s success with Hyundai and place in IndyCar with Andretti? Strong connection that maybe opens doors with Roger Penske for discussion, it would seem.
BVS, Sussex, WI
MP: Yes, I’m aware of at least one pitch/meeting being held in recent years, but it wasn’t of interest to the brand.
Q: Glad to hear that Tatiana Calderon is being considered for Andretti Global’s IndyCar team and Jamie Chadwick is returning for another season in NXT, but what has happened to Simona de Silvestro? Simona is a proven IndyCar racer and was one of the most popular drivers when she raced in that series. She was Beth Paretta’s chosen one when she attempted to put together an IndyCar team. I don’t hear any mention of Simona as part of the diversity movement. What gives?
MP: She recently raced at the Bathurst 1000 after undergoing an emergency appendectomy before flying to Australia and continues to serve as the test and reserve driver for Porsche’s Formula E team.
Simona’s an amazing driver, and I’m sure she’d love to be here racing, but I’m not aware of her being on the ground and trying to make something new happen. I know Tati and Jamie have been actively working to be here, which appears to be having an effect on creating opportunities.
If the rumors I’ve heard about the National Guard wanting to increase female recruitment through sponsorship involvements with one or both women are true, we just might have a new runway for some next-generation drivers. The fact that Simona remains the first and best option here isn’t a good thing; I wish she was a full-timer, but even more, I wish we had five or 10 more Simonas who are ready to step in and add to her legacy.
Q: I used to lament the early fall end to the IndyCar season but this year I added an NHRA event at the end of September — the St. Louis Midwest Nationals — to my race attendance calendar. That gave me a smaller NHRA event and NASCAR in June, Nashville IndyCar in August, and NHRA in late September. I look forward to next year’s live events already!
MP: IMSA kicks the party off in January at Daytona, then we have IndyCar at St. Pete, and the party will keep rolling.
Q: I can’t believe Thermal Club said “and it includes lunch for three days” to help justify their $2000 GA ticket. Someone has a sense of humor, or more likely, no idea what they are saying. I am surprised they didn’t say “they can eat cake, too.”
MP: I mean, if you paid for the equivalent of a Super Bowl ticket to watch an IndyCar test in the middle of nowhere for two days, and were treated to a non-points all-star race on the third day, and it didn’t include lunch, you’d be pissed, right? I’m mainly curious as to why the $2,000 doesn’t come with breakfast, too.
Q: I completely concur with you that Pipo Derani ran Felipe Albuquerque wide at Petit Le Mans. On the other, I think Ricky Taylor dive-bombed the 31 few years back and put both of them out of contention at Turn 6. Running your competitors wide seems to be the norm these days. You see it every weekend. I hope IMSA and IndyCar sits the drivers down before the season starts and cracks everybody across the knuckles with a ruler.
After an impeccable drive at Petit, Colin Braun should be on every team’s radar. Has he found a home yet?
Jonathan and Cleide Morris, Ventura, CA
MP: I understand Colin does have a new home for next year, which is great news, but I haven’t yet heard where. Yeah, if you’re keeping score, the 10 and the 31 have a troubled history, but do we judge bad behavior today through the lens of all the previous acts, or do we call it as it happens without the baggage? If it’s with baggage, the 31 will have a target on it at the Rolex 24 At Daytona and the 10 will have a green light to pitch it into a wall at 150mph or more. And that’s not racing; that’s motorized vendettas.
You’ll be seeing more of him… somewhere. Michael Levitt/Motorsport Images
Q: I’ll pass on even attempting to try to get a ticket for Thermal. There is no way I’d ever pay the asking price of $2k per person for any race. This has all the appearances of a money grab.
MP: I can tell you this: Every IndyCar driver should wait at the specific parking lot the track has set aside for ticket buyers and shake their hands, because there’s no doubt about whether those are IndyCar most committed fans. Granted, there might be more IndyCar drivers than fans in that parking lot, but hey, they deserve all of our respect.
Q: I hate track limits. Can you explain the reason for them on a track like COTA? Also, why do they have penalized cars starting from the pit lane and not the back of the grid? I understand they are penalized, but starting from the pit lane penalizes the fans, too.
Steve Coe, Vancouver, WA
CHRIS MEDLAND: So, at COTA there are definitely corners where running wide would be quicker. The speed you could take through Turn 11 or Turn 12 and use the run-off would be a big help, and then the last two corners would be the same.
The problem is, the track is designed around the layout it has and the run-off areas and angles of barriers, etc., are part of the FIA homologation process to ensure it is safe. If you just said “no track limits, go for it” then certain places would have cars running at speeds and angles that are highly dangerous if it went wrong.
Plus, as a track that also has hosted MotoGP and NASCAR, there are very different types of racing that need to be catered for, so curbs or run-offs can’t always be made to specifically penalizing in an F1 car. I think the FIA just about found the right compromise in Austin by widening the white line slightly in a few places, although they weren’t always so hot on drivers cutting certain corners.
As for the pit lane start, it’s because you’re not racing the same car you qualified, so you’re essentially excluded from qualifying. Otherwise teams would all run very different cars in qualifying, change loads of things for the race to be better in race trim, and all line up in the same order they qualified in if you don’t mandate a pit lane start. That might sound like it’s fine, but it would be hugely expensive — that’s the main reason we have parc ferme in the regulations. Plus, if a couple didn’t make changes then you get a totally different grid and it becomes confusing for fans, and qualifying becomes almost redundant.
Q: Do you know if there’s a chance of the NASCAR playoff format being changed in 2025 when new TV deal comes? Although I’m a forever NASCAR fan, I have some issues with the current format — the biggest one is the fact that Championship 4 is just one race, which is too small of a sample size. If they want to have elimination, why not at least extend the playoffs to 12 races and making Champ 4 a three-race round? Or split 10-race playoffs into two halves: Semi-Finals and Finals? In such a case we’d still have elimination, and it’d be hard for one driver to pull away, but at least we’d be more assured that the right driver won the championship
KELLY CRANDALL: No, I don’t believe NASCAR is looking to change the format of the playoffs. There has been no indication they feel something needs changing. NASCAR has been very happy with the winner-take-all format and how drivers and teams need to survive three race rounds. When the format was introduced in 2014, it was about making every race matter and keeping people interested in watching late in the season. It has raised the tension and stress level in drivers, who admit that it’s a system that takes years off their life. And while there is always going to be fantasy booking of how the postseason should break down, as you also suggested, for now, it seems to be full steam ahead the way that it is.
THE FINAL WORD
From Robin Miller’s Mailbag, October 29, 2013
Q: Watching CART on YouTube. Bigger, faster, better, like the Six Million Dollar Man. I’ll admit I haven’t been to an IndyCar race, but why should I go? Spending $80 to watch Indy Lights? The drivers are talented, but has it become just a job? Certainly for Montoya, NASCAR was just a job. Will he wake up in an open-wheel? I have my doubts.
There have been some good races but only good compared to what we’ve been inflicted with. While I’m ranting, IndyCar’s best ratings came with Paul Page. Get a clue.
ROBIN MILLER: I’ll admit the cars and engines don’t take my breath away anymore but the racing has been so damn competitive it doesn’t bother me that much. But you speak for a lot of people who write in or stop me in the pits. Montoya will be very interesting to watch in 2014. No offense to Paul, but I think Nigel Mansell, Emmo, Mario, P.T., Rahal, Mikey and Little Al had a lot to do with CART’s ratings in the ’90s.