Thursday, November 13, 2003
Updated: January 12, 5:51 PM ET
Robin Miller answers user mail
By Robin Miller
Special to ESPN.com
Check out what questions RPM.ESPN.com users had for Robin Miller -- and Robin's answers:
What is the scoop on the OWRS and CART situation including car count, drivers, and the possibility of a title sponsor?
Robin Miller: Good question. CART finally put out a schedule today but that's the easy part. The critical part is how many cars can materialize by the season opener if the new owners don't provide millions in support money like this year. Paul Newman is still working on a title sponsor, I'm told. I'm attempting to find out the facts and write something for next week on ESPN.com.
Will Honda start moving its IRL engine deal away from Ilmor? Mercedes controls it these days, right? Roger (Penske) doesn't have shares in it anymore, I don't think.
Robin Miller: Ilmor and Honda are partners on the IRL engine but Mercedes isn't involved, at least directly. Not sure how much longer Ilmor will be Honda's partner. As for Penske, don't know what he does or doesn't own but he's Toyota's boy.
Jim Rayl, Jr. introduced me to you back in the month of May at IMS. You're right, he can't play any defense and never will be able to! My two-part question follows: Is there any merit to OWRS merging with the IRL? If so, is this due to Tony George being interested in racing at venues such as Montreal, Long Beach, Mexico City, Australia, and downtown Miami?
Robin Miller: Don't know if merit is the proper term but common sense and survival certainly come to mind. I think the new CART owners understand the urgency to have one strong series again and I would hope Tony George grasps the obvious some year. But don't bet on anything approaching a merger, at least not in the near future.
Has another driver -- regardless of the series they race in -- been more dominant than Steve Kinser? It is absolutely amazing that at 50-something he is still taking it to people half his age -- 496 A-main wins, 12 Knoxville Nationals -- he has won everything there is to win in a sprint car multiple times, and at a point when you would think he would be getting towards the end of his career, he is only getting stronger (25-plus wins this year alone). And when NASCAR drivers are complaining of 32 races a year this guy does over 100 nights a season without the aid of a private jet. I find this amazing, and I know it's hard to compare drivers from different series, but assuming whatever you race, you are racing against the best competition that particular group has to offer -- has anyone else come close to Kinser for career numbers and complete domination of their particular sport?
Robin Miller: Nope, maybe Dick Trickle in his short-track heydays but nobody has had Kinser's longevity and success. He is truly an American treasure who deserves more attention from the national media but seldom gets a mention.
Back in 1998 or 1999 Ricky Shelton came to Indiana and won in his first ever appearance at Winchester in the Willoughby/Kuntz midget. Whatever happened to Shelton? He kind of dissappeared after a few seasons in the midgets.
Robin Miller: He got a little sideways with the law, I'm told, and is back in California. Had a real nasty flip at 16th Street Speedway also.
Robin, in your view what went wrong with Buddy Rice this year? Was it his inability to work on the setup with his engineer? Single car team? Or an owner who may be hard to drive for? He ran well the previous year.
Robin Miller: I think the (owner Eddie) Cheever factor and a single car team. Alex Barron didn't do much better and Buddy is a good racer. He got screwed over by CART owners and never got a chance to do what he prepared for -- Champ Cars. Hope he lands somewhere in 2004.
Just wanted to thank you and express appreciation re: your superb article on Flying Cars, Engineers...I am livid at the treatment you received on Dave's (Despain, Speed's Wind Tunnel) show from the 'denial' about their fence 'doing its job.' It did not and I resented the way you were seemingly shut up. It was wrong. Hopefully you can get back on Dave's show to make the record clear. One other thing please: Dave made a point about CART 'Deaths' vs IRL 'Deaths' thus making CART look much worse re: safety. I don't see it this way at all and your stats on accidents should point this out clearly. It's my feeling that 'Bad' accidents should be the TRUE subject...the DEGREE of driver injury is most often a product of pure luck. Kenny's accident is one of many examples. DESTROYED cars should be a far greater indicator of the danger involved. Another example would be Memo's horriffic CART accident in hitting the bridge a couple of seasons ago...a BAD wreck, clearly. Would like to see some comparative stats on simply 'bad accidents' for both series, I believe it would (be) appaulingly graphic Robin. Please continue to bring this very serious problem to the forefront; those of us that love our racing truly need you. Hope to see you back on Dave's fine show. You DO make a difference.
Los Angeles, Calif.
Robin Miller: First off, thanks for the kind words and support. Dave Despain had to present the Texas/IMS party line and rather than calling them both liars, I tried to discuss the potential disaster and some possible solutions. But you have no idea how much damage was done at IMS, according to the two eyewitnesses I've talked with. Like I said in that column on ESPN.com, there was debris in the grandstands in all three of those airborne accidents. The more engineers I talk to, the more I'm convinced something MUST be done ASAP. I've got all the IRL/CART injuries since 1996 and the numbers are -- 76 drivers in IRL with serious injuries in 87 races compared to 36 serious injuries in CART in 149 races. Serious injury constitutes concussion, burns or broken bones.
I think you are the guy that used to be Robin Miller. How about some story on the downward spiral of CART. The guy that used to be Robin Miller would have jumped on that. Just follow the money till there is nothing left. Who got it? Where did it go ? Why did they fall on their face...really? I know you can do it.
Robin Miller: I think you're the guy who used to keep track of Dick Simon. I've done several stories for ESPN.com on CART's downward spiral during the past two years and right now I'm trying to find out just how bad it truly is looking for 2004 (car count). Most of the money went to team owners and television in 2003 and that's been reported every quarter. They fell on their face because whether it's USAC/IRL/CART the leadership has always been poor.
What do you know about (Jacques) Villeneuve in 2004, and what do you know about the Penske-Jordan buyout rumors?
Robin Miller: Jacques isn't going to be in F1 in 2004 and I can't imagine anybody taking a shot on him after sitting out one year. The Canadian papers said people were going to collect money to buy him a ride but he scotched that idea. No truth to Penske-Jordan hookup.
In the American Heartland, corn growing Ethanol producers have made a proposal to the IRL to replace Methanol as the racing fuel for the series. Without a whole lot of re-tuning it is supposed to work. The net net would be a little loss in power. Do you think that would be a step in the right direction for the IRL?
Robin Miller: In terms of slowing the speeds, probably not. In terms of good public relations, probably, although I don't know enough about ethanol or its plusses and minuses. If it was good (financially) for farmers, it certainly could be positive PR for Indy car racing.
What do you think of Ganassi taking (Darren) Manning for next year? I am sure he is a good driver but has not much oval experience and Chip is not the most patient owner in racing. Look at (Tomas) Scheckter, he didn't last. There are some much more experienced oval guys out there.
East Lansing, Mich.
Robin Miller: Alex Barron seemed like the natural choice but Ganassi loves his mantra of being a "talent scout" and picking out unknowns (in the USA) like Zanardi or Montoya. Manning is a gasser and was very impressive this year in CART with an old car. I don't imagine he demanded a lot of money either and that's always high on Chip's list. You're right, he's not very patient but I think Manning is a good choice because he's skilled and he's hungry.
You're all wet Miller. Race cars are supposed to be fast. Indy cars should be the fastest cars in the world. When you see brickyard lap times over 240, you're going to see the crowds back. Risk is part of the deal with auto racing. Funny how it's always the old guys that think the cars are going too fast. How old are you anyway?
Robin Miller: I'm 54 years old, been covering Indy since 1969 and going to it since 1957. I agree that Herk and Parnelli breaking 150 mph barriers and Sneva going over 200 for the first time were all big deals that drew big crowds. But, judging by the pathetic attendance at Indy nowadays except for carb day and race day, I don't think anybody cares if cars go 250 or 205. Especially when the field is limited to 33 cars like last year because IMS didn't want Sarah Fisher or little Foyt to get bumped. Yes, Indy car racing is risky but we're talking about flying cars and the fans being at risk and that is totally unacceptable. If a car goes into the grandstand and kills 100 people, it's all over.
What is the story with Chris Pook? He came in with impressive credentials and support from the CART community. He made quite a few good things happen straight away such as the deals with Bridgestone, Ford, etc. Then he seems to have disappeared from the radar screen. What happened with him?
Robin Miller: Pook came into a disaster and managed to cut a deal with Ford/Cosworth and then spent the CART kitty to ensure 18 cars on the track at every race. Chris is very smart about certain things and understood the promoters and sponsors' needs much better than anyone before him. But he also said some stupid things -- like we don't need to race where there are port-a-johns and picnic tables and Toyota Atlantic drivers weren't prepared for Champ Cars -- and belittled former owners. He needed a spokesperson like Mario Andretti. He's out when the new owners come in but he'll still get paid for a few more years like most CART CEOs.
Forget this rivalry stuff. Forget competing with each other or NASCAR. CART and IRL must merge. How/when will it happen? Thanks.
Robin Miller: If I knew that, I'd be running the show. Like I said in an earlier answer, most everyone involved understands the necessity to be united. But it's not likely in the near future.
Robin, I think it's safe to say that Long Beach is the crown jewel on the CART series. If CART folds, what race series would fill in Long Beach? The huge crowds, the ties with the Hollywood crowd (vis-a-vis the celebrity race), proximity to the beach and how it looks on TV would be an attraction for any series.
Long Beach, Calif.
Robin Miller: I've heard Bernie (Ecclestone) wants to bring F1 back if CART folds and I'm sure Toyota is pushing the IRL. I think Long Beach could have a tractor race and draw 50,000 so, yes, it's obviously a very desirable venue.
Why is it that the fans of different racing series insist on being critical of other series and their followers? I've been a fan of all types of racing and attend most of them and respect each for what it is. Everywhere I go someone has to be critical of another series/type and their fans. I'm careful not to wear a Schrader shirt to Mid Ohio and leave the Williams F1 stuff at home for the Chili Bowl. I think that all concerned would be better off being less judgmental and see racing for the wonderful sport that it is; be it fenderless, doorless, on dirt, asphalt, concrete or in the air. What do you think?
Robin Miller: I think you make a very valid point -- there does seem to be more resentment and less crossover than ever before. Probably the IRL/CART war and NASCAR's runaway success fuels the fire. I grew up loving midgets, sprints, Indy cars, F1, sports cars, AMA flat track bikes and USAC stock cars. Now I love to watch European motorcycle races on road courses. Drivers from different series admire each other's work and some fans do too. Just not enough.
Will Dario (Franchitti) make the jump back to Champ Car next year? And, who will be the next American other than AJ Allmendinger to make the Champ Car leap? Some rumors have shown up to 25 cars in the field next year. Could it be true?
Robin Miller: Dario wanted to come back to CART but he had no solvent offers and I believe he'll be announced with Andretti's IRL team next week. AJ is the only American I know of right now but Rocky Moran Jr., Jon Fogarty and Alex Gurney would be nice -- along with Memo Gidley and Buddy Rice. I think CART would be thrilled to have 18 cars again.
Robin, how does the death of Tony Renna affect American talent in open wheel racing, if at all? JJ Yeley is rumored to Joe Gibbs' third Cup team and other notable USAC names are not in the Mill for rides. Also F3000 seems to be the new feeder system for CART, will that change if the new ownership goes through? At least we can depend on (Sam) Hornish, (Jimmy) Vasser and (Ryan) Hunter-Reay.
Robin Miller: I don't think Renna's death had any affect in that regard, except he was replaced by a foreign road racer from CART. Nobody in the IRL showed any interest in Yeley (which is unbelievable) so he's going south. And nobody seems interested in Tracy Hines so he'll probably go to NASCAR also. CART doesn't believe in its own feeder system as evidenced by my previous answer above. Hope Vasser and Hunter-Reay have rides but nothing secure just yet.
Paul Tracy can celebrate winning the CART championship? PLEASE! I call it a hollow victory. It is pretty easy to win a championship after all the fast drivers and good teams went to the IRL. CART's season last year was a JOKE. I would like to see Tracy win a championship againt De Ferran, Zanardi, Montoya, Andretti, Castroneves, DaMatta or even Kannan, Brack or Franchitti. Tracy was never even a threat to any of them. He won the championship by default.
Robin Miller: While nobody can dispute the fact CART's depth and talent level was greatly depleted this year, there were a half-dozen good drivers to keep Tracy honest. Ganassi obviously thinks Darren Manning has what it takes and Bourdais is very good. Bruno (Junqueira) ran well in 2001 and 2002 (gee I think he also won the pole at Indy) and Vasser, Tagliani and Carpentier are every bit as talented as 80 percent of the IRL. Ryan Hunter-Reay or Anthony Foyt IV? Who would you rather have? I said several times Tracy should win the title because of his experience, his team and his competition. And while he never won a CART championship when it was at its zenith, he did win a lot of races, poles and led a bunch of laps. Only Andretti has led more laps than PT and I don't think anybody doubted his talent -- just his discipline and maturity.
Hope you appear on Wind Tunnel more often as your comments were absolutely on the mark. Cars much too fast, IRL to slow them 5-10 mph. That's a joke. They need to take a minimum 35 mph off, skinny up the tires, Handford devices (named after aerodynamicist Mark Handford, who designed a wing intended to slow open-wheel cars on superspeedways), etc. What is Tony George going to do? Wait until they put one in the cheap seats at Indy at 235. You called it. The insurance people will shut down racing at those joints, as you so correctly noted. I saw Indy when they went 150 and they were outrageous. Sorry to read of Johnny Boyd's passing, saw him, too. All I ask is that you keep telling it like it is. Thanks Robin.
Westhampton Beach, N.Y.
Robin Miller: As long as I've got a forum I'll keep telling The Truth (that's the name of my weekly motorsports show I'm trying to syndicate) and you are absolutely right -- 5 mph won't do squat. The engineers I've interviewed and talked to off the record are all concerned about a car in the grandstands. That's all TGeorge and Brian Barnhart need to know and they must react. Thanks for your support.
Been a big fan of yours, love your honesty and love for the sport. Andretti/Green has announced the extension of Tony Kanaan and the extension of Dan Wheldon, what are the chances of Brian Herta returning? He did a great job there, and I would love to see him get a permenant ride, he deserves one. Thanks.
Rancho San Diego, Calif.
Robin Miller: If Dario Franchitti wasn't coming back, the ride would be Bryan's but it appears Dario will reluctantly be back in the IRL with Andretti/Green (I believe the announcement is early next week) so Herta will test Rahal's IRL car while Kenny Brack recovers. I just can't believe somebody in CART hasn't snapped up Herta. All those street and road courses, he would be a factor in the championship, no doubt. Thanks for your support.
Please get to the bottom of this "CART vs. California Speedway" thing. I'm an upset ticket holder and I want the whole story so I can decide who to be upset at. . .thanks for all your great work, keep it up.
Robin Miller: I think California Speedway had a legitimate reason to postpone (nobody was going to show before the fires, let alone during a crisis like that) and Paul Tracy drove by the track early in the week and said there was fire all around and ash falling down. I'm not sure CART was provided with an adequate makeup date and I'm sure ISC wanted to blow it up and save the sanction fee. But I'm almost glad CART didn't run. The crowd was going to be pathetic and with all those rookies on a superspeedway for the first time, it could have gotten ugly. That race meant nothing -- to anybody. As for who is to blame? Both of 'em. Thanks.
I just read today that CART won't be coming to Portland. I have been a loyal CART fan for as long as they have raced, and this really pisses me off. They always have a good turnout at the races here, and it is almost always a good race. I don't understand why they would drop it, but if they do, they can count on losing one more fan. Since they closed Portland Speedway, which was a shame by the way, we don't have that much racing to see around here. I just find it hard to believe they would drop Portland. I always enjoy your column when I can find it. Keep telling it like it is.
Robin Miller: On the 2004 schedule announced (Thursday), Portland was on but it had a disclaimer about the contract. Hopefully, CART won't be too greedy and Portland can continue its 20-year association. This year's race was actually very entertaining (three passes for the lead on the track, well two that were successful) and I think in time Portland could be built back up to where it used to be. But CART must understand it's not the same product as it was a few years ago and work with the promoter. Thanks for reading.
Robin Miller covers open wheel racing for ESPN and ESPN.com.