Robin Miller’s Mailbag for November 13, presented by Honda Racing / HPD

Welcome to the Robin Miller Mailbag presented by Honda Racing / HPD. You can follow the Santa Clarita, California-based company at: hpd.honda.com and on social media at @HondaRacing_HPD and https://www.facebook.com/HondaRacingHPD.

Your questions for Robin should be sent to millersmailbag@racer.com. We cannot guarantee we’ll publish all your questions and answers, but Robin will reply to you. And if you have a question about the technology side of racing, Robin will pass these on to Marshall Pruett and he will also answer here.

It almost goes without saying that Roger Penske’s purchase of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and NTT IndyCar series was one of the biggest stories not only in RACER.com’s history, but also for open-wheel racing and its followers. The reams of emails have been divided into comments and questions – just like last week with Hinch. I’m sorry if we didn’t use everyone’s, but as you can imagine there was quite a bit of duplication, so I tried to represent as many different opinions as possible. And the normal Mailbag resumes after the Penske questions. Thanks for everyone’s participation over these past two weeks. Robin.

My favorite saying during IndyCar races has always been A.B.P. – Anybody But Penske! I don’t hate Roger Penske, I was just tired of so many wins for his team. I was also tired of so-called racing fans loving the Penske team because it was easy to love the winner. I am an underdog lover, although I greatly appreciate Roger Penske and all he has done for the sport.

Yes, Penske deserves the wins, yes he is the best, yes he has the best team, yes to all of it.  And even though lately IndyCar has become much more of an even playing field with the current car and engine packages, Penske still beats everyone else. Well, imagine me falling off of my chair the other day when I read that Roger bought the Speedway! I was shocked and elated! Hip hip hurray! Now things will improve! The sport I have loved since 1967 may just finally take its rightful place among the stick and ball sports. And who better to do this that The Captain! My friend and I are ecstatic! So, anybody want to buy my “A B P “ T-shirts? Maybe I should change them to N.B.P. – Nobody But Penske!

Sean Raymond

It’s always been said Wilbur Shaw and Anton Tony Hulman saved the Speedway. It may be said someday that Roger Penske saved IndyCar racing. I can’t think of anyone better suited than The Captain (and his people). His phoning A. J. and Mario tells me most of what I need to know in a positive way!

Ron Carbaugh, Eaton, Ohio

There is no person better on earth that can continue the stewardship of the iconic IMS. Roger’s heart, knowledge of motor racing and impeccable business savvy will not only benefit IndyCar, but all of motorsports. All his businesses have been extremely community friendly and he has a huge heart for people.

Stephen Janny, Nazareth, Pa.

Thanks for your Penske purchase story. Coming from you, I can accept that this is the best news of the past 50 years in Indy. I believe Penske has always demonstrated due diligence, paid his dues, done his homework, busted his butt to get it right, or however we choose to phrase it: he is a winner, a dedicated hard worker, he builds people up, and sets and maintains exceptional standards. When dampers (shocks) were not adequately developed for superspeedways, he built up a group of over 20 crewmen dedicated to shock development and management.

When teams were foundering in gear-set and final drive ratio selections for Indy, he realized that many teams were trying to find out what ratios his research had led him to use for the upcoming Indy 500, so he ordered and paid for gear sets from Xtrac for 21 (!) different ratio sets and final drive numbers to mask his choice. What’s the point of dragging out that history again? It is validation of his approach, understanding, and commitment. He is not a “checkbook racer,” not a guy that just throws money at issues and problems. He is a problem solver. It’s time for a party.

Rick W., California

I was a CART safety team volunteer for years but I gave up my Indy 500 tix in 1996 (after 21 years) vowing to never come back until T.G. got his personal checkered flag and the Speedway was sold. I never again bought products from IRL sponsors. Economacki/ Speed Sport News; Indianapolis Star subscription for May only; RPM Tonight were all in my rear view mirror. I just consoled myself with my love of F1 since the bloodbath years of the 1960s to the present time. Stewart, Emmo and Hamilton kept me going from era-to-era, but still there was that huge void with no Indy racing sanity in sight. And then, last Monday my 60-year-passion for Indy racing was again restored!

Anyone writing to you with a note of caution or negative response of Roger buying the Speedway or IndyCar is frickin’ crazy. This is the guy who will manage everything as a business, not a sport. There is no other way to approach motorsports to ensure its survival in our world today. In doing so, IndyCar has its only chance to survive. Thank you so very much for your devotion to AOWR/ Indy and best wishes for you personally and professionally as we enter a period of optimism we haven’t had in nearly 25 years.

Patty Anderson, Omaha, Nebraska

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MILLER: Filling in the gaps on the IMS sale

Way back in the early 1980s there was a rumor that the Indianapolis Motor Speedway was for sale. Tony Hulman, the man who rescued what became the most famous race track in the world, had died in 1977 and his only offspring, daughter Mari, wasn’t interested in running the day-to-day business so it seemed feasible.

My pal David Cassidy, who did a little bit of everything for Mr. Hulman during his employment, had told me once that Mari Hulman-George was the majority shareholder and only person that could sell the track. Now, Mari was a kind, thoughtful lady, but she detested the limelight and never gave interviews, so I had to resort to ambush one day as she left the Speedway Motel after lunch. After I posed my question, she replied: “The Speedway isn’t for sale now, and it will never be. It’s for my children and grandchildren.”

And I must admit that after decades of that rumor surfacing but never materializing, most of us never thought IMS would never be sold. With Mari’s four children on the board of directors, plus all the grandkids waiting in the on-desk circle and their children coming along, it appeared as though as the Hulman-George family would continue to run IMS forever.

But that all changed last week when Roger Penske purchased his beloved Speedway, plus the IndyCar Series and IMS Productions.

Besides the widespread relief that IndyCar’s most successful competitor and one of the country’s most savvy businessmen is now at the controls instead of someone with no passion for 16th & Georgetown, there were almost as many questions as positive posts on the internet:

Was it a family decision to sell, or the board of directors?

How much did it sell for?

Were there other prospective buyers in addition to The Captain?

What did R.P. get for his purchase?

Did the family sell because they needed the money?

Is it just a coincidence the sale came one year after Mari’s death?

What happens to the current staff?

Is Hulman & Company gone forever?

Can we bring the Apron back?

Hulman George matriarch Mari, who died last November, maintained that the Speedway would remain under the family’s ownership. Image by LAT

Mark Miles, the president and CEO of Hulman & Company, has been giving interviews 24/7 for a week, and as much as Mark loves to talk, even he’s got to be a little weary. But he was kind enough to spend 30 minutes with RACER.com in the parking lot of Channel 20 last Thursday after taping a segment for Inside Indiana.

RACER: Was it a family decision to sell, or the board of directors?

MILES: “Both. The board of directors voted to recommend the transaction to the shareholders, who are all family members. And the shareholders voted unanimously.”

RACER: We’ve heard everything from $250 million to $2 billion as the price tag.

MILES: “I’ve heard everything from quite low to ridiculously high, but I’m not going to give you a hint or say anything about the price. How’s this? Federal law says anything over $90 million has to be approved by the U.S. Justice Department, so there’s a number for you. At the end of the day it was worth what somebody was willing to pay for it.”

RACER: Three days before it became official, I heard that Liberty Media was one of the main players. Is that true, and was anyone else interested?

MILES: “We had an investment banker involved, Allen & Co, of New York City one of the best in sports and media, and we started out looking at who is interested in what. Late in process we were still talking to one or more groups that could have been a limited investor or a partner for purpose of big time real estate development. And I will tell you before we talked to R.P., there two firms very capable of transacting and they were very much in progress. But Tony (George) wanted to reach out to Roger because we always cared about stewardship. R.P. said instantly he was very interested and that really determined the outcome. Roger and I negotiated the price. The value the family could take was always going to be an important issue for sure, and the fact we had and unanimous vote of shareholders in my mind is entirely because we had Roger Penske.”

RACER: What’s included in the purchase?

MILES: “IMS, IndyCar, IMS Productions, the museum and the Coke lot, but not the building. And it’s the museum building, but not the collection or operation of the museum.”

RACER: A lot of people think after selling Clabber Girl last May and now IMS, the Hulman-George family was in desperate need of money. Is that the case?

MILES: “No.”

RACER: The sale came almost a year to the day that Mari passed away so was that by design or simply symbolic?

MILES: “Really the timing was only a coincidence.”

RACER: Will there be sweeping changes internally on both sides of 16th Street, or is more of Penske’s style to observe for six months to a year before making any personnel moves?

MILES: “What Roger has said time and time again is that they’ve got a great team, and we just inherited a great senior team, and their No.1 job is to figure out how to help you. I can’t tell you the number of sponsors they have in all their series, but it’s more than the total sponsorship of IMS and IndyCar combined so they know how to sell, and that’s exciting from my viewpoint.”

RACER: What about you?

MILES: “Roger tells me I’m CEO of the new company – Penske Entertainment.”

RACER: Does this reinvigorate you?

MILES: “Hell yes, it’s like push-to-pass because Roger brings so much energy, work ethic and enthusiasm. It’s sensational.”

RACER: What about Jay Frye and the racing side? Has Roger talked to you about them and is he happy with their work?

MILES: “Roger has been publicly, privately and consistently very positive in his assessment of IndyCar under Jay’s leadership. He’s said the expectation is that Jay will continue in his current role. “

RACER: Is Hulman & Company done?

MILES: “Hulman & Co. owns buildings in Terre Haute and things that aren’t racing, so we’ll spin them out into a new company. What’s left is Hulman & Co.”

RACER: Danny Sullivan called and requested one thing from you and his former boss: “Bring back the Apron to make the racing better, especially NASCAR.”

MILES: “I’ll take that up with Roger but not right away.”

RACER: Tony George was understandably emotional at the press conference and in his staff meeting but I think he deserves credit for seeking out The Captain.

MILES: “I thought he said it perfectly – that his family had taken it was far as they could – and it was Tony that said we must ask Roger before we agree to sell to anyone else. That turned out to be the best suggestion possible.”

Indy legend Sonny Meyer has died at age 89

He was a master engine builder, innovator, chief mechanic and behind-the-scenes wizard at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for more than five decades. But Louis “Sonny” Meyer, Jr. (at left in photo above, with constructor David “Quin” Epperly), who passed away Saturday at the age of 89, never bragged about his many accomplishments and was always content to blend in with the scenery and let the results speak for themself.

It’s estimated that Meyer was directly involved in preparing the winning engine at Indianapolis a total of 15 times.

“Sonny was a damn smart mechanic, excellent engine man and good guy,” said A.J. Foyt, who worked with Meyer on Ford engines in the 1960s. “They don’t make ‘em like that anymore.”

The son of Indy’s first three-time winner, Louis Sr. (“Louie”), young Meyer got an early start in motorsports when his father purchased the Offenhauser engine business in 1946. Learning everything there was to know about the Offy, Sonny showed a great mechanical aptitude and became coveted in Gasoline Alley.

Father and son introduced the supercharged midget engine to Indy in 1949-’50 with Tony Bettenhausen, and Sonny worked on Bill Vukovich’s crew in the early 1950s before becoming a chief mechanic for Bettenhausen in 1958. That was also the year Meyer introduced pneumatic air jacks to Indy cars.

He was crew chief at Indy in 1962 when Troy Ruttman charged from 30th to second; helped Joe Huffaker with the MG Liquid Suspension cars; then dove into the Ford program when his dad purchased it in 1964. Ford powered Foyt to his third Indy win in 1967.

The Meyer-Drake engine became a major player in the 1970s as Sonny set up shop at Patrick Racing and cranked out big horsepower in between fighting daily with chief mechanic George Bignotti.

“We tolerated each other and it wasn’t always easy; but we managed to survive,” recalled Meyer with a smile a few years ago.

In 1973, Gordon Johncock captured Indy for Patrick in a car and engine built in-house off West 38th Street. Sonny fueled the Wildcat on pit stops after putting together the winning engine.

“I was lucky enough to work on the same team with Sonny, and if you were around him for five minutes and kept your mouth shut you were going to increase your racing knowledge ten-fold,” said Tim Coffeen, who worked with Patrick, Machinists Union and Newman-Haas during his 30 years in IndyCar.

“He was brilliant and just a humble, wonderful man.”

Following his tenure at Patrick, Meyer went to Vince Granatelli and then John Menard to develop the V-6 Buick.

He was inducted into the IMS Hall of Fame in 2013.

Sonny is survived by wife Sue, daughter Pam and son Butch.

Alonso/Andretti for 2020 Indy?

Michael Andretti admits he’s talked to Fernando Alonso about running the 2020 Indianapolis 500, but right now it’s a long way from being a done deal.

“We’ve talked about it and I’d love to have him drive for us again. But a lot of things would have to happen,” said Andretti, who gave the Spaniard his first IndyCar ride at Indianapolis in 2017.

“He has to decide what he wants to do and he could still end up with McLaren; but there’s other stuff,” Andretti added. “It’s a possibility, but not a good possibility.”

The “other stuff” is, of course, the Honda roadblock. After referring to his Formula 1 motor as a “GP2 engine” during his final year with Team McLaren, the two-time world champion fell out of favor with the Japanese automaker. In his return to IMS last May with McLaren, Alonso was in a Chevrolet because Honda refused to power either the team or driver.

And it’s believed that when McLaren CEO Zak Brown made an offer to partner with Andretti last summer for the 2020 IndyCar season, Honda of Japan was approached about forgiving and forgetting but refused to budge. Andretti Autosport stayed with Honda while McLaren’s first full-time assault in the NTT IndyCar Series next year with Pato O’Ward and Oliver Askew will be with Chevrolet.

“I’d love to get back together and and try to get him his first win at Indy,” said Andretti, whose cars have pulled into Victory Lane five times. “We’ve talked about it many times — and also about him driving other things for us — but right now its just talk.”

Alonso was Rookie of the Year at Indy in 2017, starting fifth and leading 27 laps before blowing up. But he missed the show last May in McLaren’s muffed return to the Speedway.

Andretti is set to campaign four full-time cars next season, with Alexander Rossi, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Marco Andretti and Zach Veach. James Hinchcliffe could be in the mix for an Indy-only ride if nothing materializes full-time for The Mayor.

Robin Miller’s Mailbag for November 6, presented by Honda Racing / HPD

Welcome to the Robin Miller Mailbag presented by Honda Racing / HPD. You can follow the Santa Clarita, California-based company at: hpd.honda.com and on social media at @HondaRacing_HPD and https://www.facebook.com/HondaRacingHPD.

Your questions for Robin should be sent to millersmailbag@racer.com. We cannot guarantee we’ll publish all your questions and answers, but Robin will reply to you. And if you have a question about the technology side of racing, Robin will pass these on to Marshall Pruett and he will also answer here.

This is a Mailbag for the ages, because all the letters about Roger Penske started flooding my inbox as I was answering all the James Hinchcliffe emails from the previous week. So we’ve decided to run a couple of Penske comments today, and next week will be largely about The Captain’s takeover of IMS and IndyCar. And what we’ve done in this edition is to let fans voice their Hinch thoughts in the first part of the Mailbag, and then switch to the usual Q&A format to cover some questions about The Mayor’s future and then the normal flow of IndyCar stuff. Thanks for the support and interest. Robin.

Q: Holy smolie! Who saw this one coming? If the Speedway had to be sold, I’m glad it’s staying in the ‘family’, if you will. Mr. Penske should be an excellent steward of the Speedway, and IndyCar in general should be in great shape in the coming years. Thank God it wasn’t sold to the France family! That said, I am slightly concerned that rules could be enforced that might be in Penske’s favor.  In my opinion, that should not be allowed to happen. Overall I think I’m happy with this, and there could be exciting opportunities down the road. Did you have any idea this was in the works, Robin? What are your feelings on the sale?

Jerry Laake, Davenport, Iowa

RM: I wrote – and I feel like – it’s the best news in 50 years, because of R.P.’s commitment to excellence, worldwide business savvy, ability to pick the right people to run his companies and his undying passion for the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and IndyCar. I knew something might be coming, but I didn’t hear The Captain’s name until 72 hours before it was announced.

Q: Every time one of the France family made a sideways glance to the north, rumors started flying about IMS being sold. How in the world were they able to keep this quiet for this long?

Scott C, Bargersville IN

RM: Because Roger Penske commands and gets respect and emphasizes teamwork. It all happened in six weeks, but just like the Mercedes engine surprise of 1994, he gets his people to buy into loyalty and keep things in-house. Hell, he got Paul Tracy to keep a secret back then.

I think that the treatment Hinch has received is appalling. You said it was going to happen, but why couldn’t SPM have been decent about it and done it before teams were pretty much set for 2020? IndyCar wonders why they constantly have to fight for viewers; perhaps they should just look at the way they do business. Hopefully Hinch will find a ride with a team that doesn’t regularly screw up their race strategy.

Dave, a pissed-off Canuck!

I had planned on writing something toned-down about SPAM and its announced driver line-up, and then I saw this small piece in the LA Times: ‘Zak Brown, the head of McLaren, said its IndyCar team will pay James Hinchcliffe not to drive for them next year after driver Pato O’Ward became available.’ Now, how cold is that announcement!

My first reaction to the article last Monday was, how wonderful for Pato and Oliver. Then a few seconds went by (more than I care to admit) and then I said out loud, “but what about James?” So, what else will SPAM pay Hinch not to do? And this b.s. from Brown about James being in the running for an Indy 500 drive if he does not secure a full-time ride is completely bogus. Does Zak think I truly believe that? This whole episode has been mishandled from the start. SPAM should have had the balls to let James go in the beginning. That would have been honest. I am disgusted.

Deb Schaeffer

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MILLER: Sometimes you break the story. Sometimes the story breaks you

The caller was an old friend with deep connections to IndyCar racing. “Something big is going down at the Speedway,” he said two weeks ago. I thanked him and filed it away under “IMS rumors” because at least once or twice a year for the past 40 years we’ve heard the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is being sold to NASCAR, ISC, Comcast, Roger Penske, George Steinbrenner or the Disney Corporation.

But then late last week I got another tip from someone connected to the Hulman/George family who said either Roger Penske or Liberty Media was going to buy IMS and IndyCar. So I emailed Chris Medland, our F1 beat writer at RACER who was at COTA, and asked if he’d corner any of the Liberty principals for a comment.

I was in Las Vegas, making bad NFL bets and throwing golf clubs, but that second rumor got my attention. So on Saturday I left Mark Miles a voicemail, emailed Josie George and called former IndyCar boss Randy Bernard to see if he’d call the Liberty COO about it.

Silence. No return phone calls or emails, so I figured I’d come home and try and pin something down. By the time I got home Monday morning it was 3 a.m. and I had a terrible cold so I slept until 11:30 a.m. When I turned on my cell phone and had 75 text messages and about 25 voicemails, but before I could look at any of them my phone rang.

“Well asshole, what do you make of this?” inquired my charming friend Antony Joseph Foyt. “What do I make of what? I said. “Penske buying the Speedway.”

For someone in the business of breaking news, I was devastated because I’d been tipped twice but failed to come up with a story for RACER.com. I replied it was great news for Indy and IndyCar, and he agreed. Then he asked if I knew anything about it.

“I heard a couple of good rumors over the weekend but couldn’t get anybody to call me back,” was my response.

He cackled. “I knew about it seven days ago.”

“Well hell, why didn’t you tell the man trying to help you draft a new driver?” I screamed

“I promised to keep it a secret,” he responded.

On Monday night, Miles finally called me back as he was sitting with The Captain out in front of the main straightaway at IMS. “It’s about time,” I chided him. Then R.P. chimed in: “I’m kinda hurt you never called or texted me about this rumor.”

We all laughed and then I said something about this was the best-kept secret since he unleashed the Mercedes engine at Indianapolis in 1994. “I think this one was better,” he responded. “And more exciting.”