Robin Miller’s Mailbag for November 20, 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.

Q: My question comes from the recent trend of talented drivers being left without a seat in IndyCar. There are obviously big names like Hinch and Daly, but there have also been several Indy Lights drivers end up in other series because nothing was available upon graduation. I know there are a ton of factors that contribute to this, the biggest being sponsorship dollars, but I’m curious about the impact of so few owners on the grid. With the recent Penske ownership news, this issue seems more relevant than ever before.

Should the cost of ownership be lowered to entice more people to get involved in IndyCar and therefore open up more seats? Or should the cost actually increase so as to make the teams that are on the grid more competitive? If you’re Roger Penske, is your focus to get more owners into the fold, or to make the racing even better? Or is there some happy medium of being able to do both? Thanks for your insight!

P.S. If I had an extra $15 million lying around, I would be ordering some Honda engines and signing Hinch and Daly up tomorrow! But alas…

Tyler from Michigan

RM: As long as drivers have been buying rides (since the ‘80s), good ones have been left on the sidelines and that’s not going to change. The fact Colton Herta, Oliver Askew, Pato O’Ward and Spencer Pigot all got rides without bringing money is still rare but encouraging. And I think Jay Frye, IndyCar and Dallara have done their best to at least keep costs somewhat reasonable. But considering how much it costs and how bad the purses are, it’s amazing there are 22-23 full-time cars. Raising the purses and Leaders’ Circle might be one way to entice more participation, but right now it’s the one major series where a Mike Shank can come in with the right people and be competitive. That’s the major selling point.

Q: I see that Spencer Pigot has been dumped by ECR. It sucks for him, but he’s had a decent shot at it, and VeeKay looks like a badass like Colton and Pato. Though I do wish that Ed would either stop driving or run a third car so he could still do the ovals. That way he fields two cars driven full-time by young hotshots. What’s your view on this development?

Jordan, Warwickshire, UK

RM: I think Ed has given American racers like Spencer, JoNew and J.R. Hildebrand a fighting chance, but he’s not made of money and needs some help like everyone else. If he would hire Veekay and Conor Daly retains Air Force that would be a good pairing for 2020, and then he still gets to run Indianapolis. But I applaud him for “hiring” these Indy Lights champs through the years.

Q: With Pigot now officially out at ECR, a move to Foyt seems seamless. He’s young, American, has shown some really strong potential, and is a Chevy guy. Is this anything that you are hearing as a possibility?

Cade F.

RM: I talk to A.J. once a week and he and Larry haven’t made a decision yet, but I think they’re looking for a driver with money to go with Charlie Kimball and T.K. (who would share a ride). Just a guess.

Q: I wonder if the IndyCar community is concerned about a big drop-off in attendance in Toronto if there isn’t a Canadian driver? That has rarely happened.

Gary Wood

RM: Not sure, but I imagine it’s got the attention of promoters Kevin Savoree and Kim Green, and I think Hinch will have a ride for Indy and Toronto, at the least, and it would behoove IndyCar to invest in making sure it happens up north.

Q: The Derek Daly article about the two kinds of drivers got me thinking about A.J. Foyt Racing. Based on the assumption that Tony Kanaan is a “reflex” driver and Conor Daly is a “feel” driver, wouldn’t it make sense to pair them up for Kanaan’s last IndyCar season for both their immediate and future needs? Let’s also assume that McLaren has their eye on Simon Pagenaud for 2021 when his contract expires with Penske. If McLaren lets go of either O’Ward or Askew to pair with Pagenaud, they would have both types of drivers. Foyt could then snatch up the freed young gun and have both types of drivers with huge potential for the future. Possible?

Mark Zac, Long Beach, CA

RM: That’s what T.K. was hoping before A.J. dropped Conor, but it’s not going to happen now. And Pagenaud was just a hunch about 2021, but now that McLaren has two youngsters I don’t think the 2019 Indy winner is in the frame. I know A.J. was interested in Pato and Ferrucci, but I don’t think they were interested in his team.

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MILLER: Roger Penske didn’t ask, but here’s my IMS to-do list

In the two weeks since Roger Penske’s blockbuster acquisition of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and NTT IndyCar series, he’s undoubtedly been bombarded with suggestions on personnel, rules, upgrades and schedule additions. The Captain even said he had a top 10 list of things needing attention, and that opened the floodgates at RACER.com because everyone has an idea or opinion they want to share.

R.P., his son Greg, Bud Denker, Mark Miles and Jay Frye will spend a couple of days in Indianapolis this week kicking around ideas in what figures to be the first of many meetings on the future of IMS and the series.

And rest assured, there will be changes – visually and internally – during the next year as the smartest man in the room applies his experience and calls on his Penske team to pluck the potential out of open-wheel racing and IMS.

The Indianapolis 500 is R.P.’s baby, and you would imagine it’s going to get the most attention – as it should. Not that Roger needs any help from someone who flunked out of Ball State, but here are 10 ideas that I think might be worth considering come this May:

The purse has been the same for a decade and it’s woefully short of serving the “greatest spectacle in racing,” with nearly a third of the field getting just $200,000 for a month that eats up their budget (an $80,000 tire bill for starters). R.P. knows everybody that’s somebody, and his people can surely find a $5 million title sponsor. And that can all be dumped in the purse. The Menard’s 500 at Indianapolis doesn’t bother me in the least if it gets the teams a well-deserved raise. John Menard is worth $11 billion according to the latest list from Forbes, so get the man who sponsors Simon Pagenaud to ante up at the place he loves. And find $1 million for qualifying so the risk vs. reward factor justifies the Fast 9.
Bring back the Apron. That’s Danny Sullivan’s plea, and it’s a great idea because it instantly makes the racing better – and might even help make the Brickyard 400 watchable. Just Google “Johncock and Rick Mears 1982” or “Mears and Michael Andretti 1991” if you’re too young to understand what Indy’s been missing for 25 years.

If the track cannot be widened, then at least put up a safety fence on the pit wall like MotoGP had here during its run, then fortify the fence behind the pits. Indy has dodged bullets for decades with the ever-present possibility of one car running over another’s wheel and being launched into the pits or Tower Terrace.
Overhaul the restrooms and pave all the roads and parking lots. Bring them up to Penske standards.
Let the mechanics park inside the track, closer to the garage area, instead of out behind Turns 3-4; and move the media back inside as well. Put glamping in the Coke Lot.
Widen the area on Georgetown Road behind the main grandstands. The fact that nobody has ever been trampled to death before or after the race is a miracle.
Mark Miles was instrumental in the gambling referendum being passed to include IMS, so go with him to the State Legislature and try to get parimutuel windows installed at the track. They could be open for qualifying and race weekend, and it would be a boon. Then, take a percentage of the handle and share it with the competitors after Penske Entertainment gets its cut.
Don’t charge fans to park for practice or qualifying. Just be glad they showed up.
Tear down the museum and build something worthy of the most famous race track in the world. And take all those cars that are hidden in the basement and show them off. (Why the hell else would you have them?)
Keep the dirt track but run the BC39 in May the week of the race when it’s got an open-wheel audience. Then give the winner a ride in the Freedom 100 after a day of testing.

INSIGHT: IndyCar or F1, McLaren’s youth pivot is no accident

A young driver dropped from the Red Bull program, partnered with an exciting young rookie talent. Sound familiar?

I could be describing either of McLaren’s Formula 1 or IndyCar driver line-ups, and that’s no coincidence.

The way Arrow McLaren SP went about its U-turn with James Hinchcliffe has rightly grabbed the headlines, but it also means that the exciting pairing of Pato O’Ward and Oliver Askew has been somewhat overlooked.

Gil de Ferran is leading the IndyCar project from McLaren’s side, and sees similarities in the way Arrow McLaren SP chose its drivers to the way it landed on Carlos Sainz and Lando Norris, even if he insists the subsequent impressive results of its F1 pairing did not play a part in the IndyCar decision.

“Funnily enough, I wouldn’t say the success of the F1 line-up was a huge factor,” de Ferran tells RACER. “You may find that hard to understand, but I guess we looked at it in a different way. Although they are young – and in the case of Oliver, a total rookie – these two guys are very accomplished drivers. They’ve been winning races and championships for many years now, ever since they were young kids. So I would say that it was more the quality and the prospect of having two guys that we think are very accomplished and have hopefully a very bright future ahead of them than anything else.

“Obviously we work hard on having a good relationship with our drivers, as we did in Formula 1, and we intend to do the same thing here. To have a good relationship with the drivers, to hopefully provide an environment where they both can flourish and perform to the best of their abilities… I guess there’s a parallel there.

“It’s an example of the culture and willingness to put faith in talent, regardless of age and experience. And also like I said, to be very focused on creating a good environment, not only so the drivers can flourish and be the best they can be, but also the whole team and all the people that work in the team. I think there are a lot of cultural parallels there that we will try to enhance and develop, whatever program we’re involved in.

“Obviously Carlos and Lando are doing extremely well, and that’s not only thanks to them – who are both doing a very good job – but also a lot of the people in the team. It’s been a good journey on the F1 side, and hopefully this project will gives us an equal or greater amount of satisfaction.”

Arrow McLaren SP has entrusted the project to the last two Indy Lights champions, but the difficult decision to replace Hinchcliffe clearly didn’t come on a whim: negotiations with O’Ward started back in March this year.

“It was Long Beach time,” O’Ward explains to RACER. “It kind of stayed open all year. When I signed with Red Bull it kind of died out a little bit, and then towards the end it was like, ‘Hey, what are you going to be doing for next year? Are you leaving Red Bull? Are you staying with Red Bull?’

“The whole point of me being in Red Bull was getting the super license and moving up to a Toro Rosso seat. That was the purpose of my contract. But we never got the super license, so that’s really where we got into a difficult position. And Helmut , head of Red Bull’s driver development program] told me ‘this is your future’, so I was scouting out my options. And honestly, my best option was to be in IndyCar with McLaren.

“I have to start a life. I have to start really a career doing this as a job, not doing it as a junior driver or how a junior series operates.”

O’Ward’s availability was confirmed late, and by then Askew had already been lined up. When you consider that Colton Herta was originally top of the team’s list, it should come as no surprise it wanted to opt for youth.

“I’ve known Gil for a long time, three or four years, so we’ve stayed in touch and when this all developed I’d go to see Sam (Schmidt) every once in a while and be in the IndyCar paddock as well,” Askew says. “We kept our options open for a long time, and I think that was really important.

“I think we’ve found a home, and we are surrounded by a lot of really great people, and I think it’s the perfect place for me to grow and learn. That’s the most important thing for my rookie season. I feel pretty lucky to have won the Indy Lights championship, and then you normally just get three or four races and it’s hard to move on from that, because there’s so much more to learn beyond three of four races. So it’s a huge opportunity for me, and I’m really glad it worked out.

“We had quite a few avenues to explore. It definitely gave me confidence, and I think we made the best decision here. To be paired with Pato – who I rate highly – and we have great engineering staff as well and great driver coaching. Robert Wickens is planning to be helping us out on the side, so it’s a great place.”

The last sentiment is one that is shared by O’Ward, and once again provides another parallel to the F1 line-up, where Sainz and Norris have enjoyed a positive relationship despite often being closely-matched on track.

“Of course I’m happy,” O’Ward says. “I’ve known him since karts and I’ve always rated him highly. He’s always been up and competing at the front, and I want the best teammate by my side. I want someone to give me a hard time, I want someone that pushes me. I lived that with Colton, we’re both friends, we get along very well, but we were both really, really pushing each other, and I think having that collaboration within the team, we created a package that was unbeatable.

“So I think it speaks for itself that we’re going to be helping each other. I’m going to help him with as much stuff as I can. I’m very open, because I know if I’m having trouble I’ll be asking him for advice if he’s doing something right.”

It’s a bit strange to say, but O’Ward will be the ‘experienced’ driver of the two, even if he himself still has plenty of learning to do. While he sees the benefits that racing with Hinchcliffe would have brought, the Mexican believes there are advantages to an inexperienced pairing having to develop in tandem.

“I feel like there is definitely an advantage of having a veteran, but when you think about it, everyone has to start somewhere,” he says. “So if two strong rookies can push each other, most likely we’re better off doing that. We can both grow together, push each other, and in my opinion we will grow a lot quicker than having a vet and a rookie, because sometimes the vet really overshadows the rookie in knowledge.

“I have some sort of knowledge and experience that I can bring to the table and I want to help him with, because the goal is to have both cars up there. I want to be up there, he wants to be up there, we both want to beat each other but we both want to be one-two, not one-seven or one-eight, you know? So the team comes first, and I think we’re going to be just fine.

“I think a lot of people emphasize the veteran and the knowledge . Yeah it’s a lot, but honestly once you get the fuel saving down and you get the pitstops right, you’re already where they know. They can maybe go through different scenarios a bit quicker, or know what to do in different scenarios a bit better, but other than that, we’re just going to learn as much as we can when we start racing.”

And that’s a formula that has proven successful in F1. While Sainz enjoys significant F1 experience – he celebrated his 100th grand prix in Austin – he has had to step up to the senior member role alongside a teenage rookie. But the pair has flourished, and Askew wants to learn from that scenario ahead of the new IndyCar season.

“We can look up to these guys, too, because it’s a young pairing with not much experience,” Askew says. “Carlos had his 100th GP at COTA, but still they’re growing together and are one of the youngest pairings on the grid. They’re here for the team, it seems like they’re the most respectful pairing on the grid, and I think we can look up to them and learn from them as far as that goes.”

Ultimately, results will help Arrow McLaren SP silence the critics, and a lack of them will leave the team facing louder questions about its handling of the Hinchcliffe situation. But de Ferran isn’t concerned, because he believes the noise surrounding the driver the team replaced is overshadowing the quality of the two it has signed.

“Obviously they’re talented, and over several years they have proven their worth, otherwise, quite frankly, they wouldn’t be driving for us,” he says. “We’re committed to this journey. Wherever we start – and I don’t know where we’re going to start, I hope we start well but at the end of the day I don’t know – the goal is to stay focused and look for those areas where you can improve and work together, and so on and so forth.

“I’m confident that the talent is there, the capability is there, and hopefully will help as a team and as a group to bring these results to the fore.”

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.”

PFANNER: Seven weeks that changed racing

One cannot underestimate the profound impact of Monday’s blockbuster announcement of Penske Entertainment purchasing the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the NTT IndyCar Series and IMS Productions from the Hulman George family. This seismic event has been thoroughly covered by our RACER.com team of Mark Glendenning, Robin Miller and Marshall Pruett but I am still unpacking and processing what happened this week within those hallowed four corners that have defined American racing to the world since the dawn of the age of speed. A decade from now we may look back at the past seven weeks as the beginning of the pivotal period that reshaped auto racing and created new hope for the future of our sport.

This unprecedented sea change in the landscape of motorsports began with the September 19 announcement of IMSA President and COO Scott Atherton stepping down after a long and successful career that saw him first work with Don Panoz and then Jim France to revive North American sports car racing while overseeing some of the most iconic road racing racetracks in the country. His long and deeply impactful career also saw Atherton serve as central player in the publicly-run company racetrack boom in the 1990s with stints at Penske Motorsports and International Speedway Corporation before his game-changing leadership of IMSA through an era of unprecedented turbulence and challenges.

On Sunday, September 22 we could not have know that a few well-chosen words spoken by Tony George to Roger Penske would soon change the sport forever. This came on the same day The Captain celebrated Josef Newgarden’s second NTT IndyCar Series title and Team Penske’s record 16th championship in the series.

October 15 dawned with the news that Mazda Motorsports Director John Doonan had been named as the worthy successor to Scott Atherton as IMSA President and COO. Doonan shares Atherton’s deserved reputation for improving the sport as whole not just what was under his direct control. From IMSA to IndyCar to SCCA and NASA, Mazda Motorsport has been the engine of opportunity and fulfillment of the dreams of so many young racers who have changed the face of American racing.

The global racing landscape shifted again on October 18 when the long-anticipated merger of NASCAR and the International Speedway Corporation was completed and announced. This alone would be considered a defining moment for American racing as Jim and Lesa France began a major pivot for their category-leading business holdings. This long-overdue privatization allows for much-needed consolidation, repositioning and refocusing of their business. We will no doubt see the 71-year-old company move quickly to address shortcomings that have been laid bare during the past decade of decline and a cultural shift away from its original badass outlaw racer mindset. This also frees the new combined entity from a quarter-to-quarter management mentality to focus forward to a long-term strategic vision that can embrace the emergence of legalized sports betting and the looming shift of direct paid distribution of live racing events along with a diversification of entertainment offerings at their stadiums and international expansion into lucrative new markets.

When this country’s greatest racing team owner and esteemed business leader was deservedly awarded the Medal of Freedom by President Trump on October 24, little could we have all known what would come next for the man who has come to represent American excellence to the world. On Monday November 4, Roger S. Penske fulfilled his destiny by acquiring the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the NTT IndyCar Series and IMS Productions.

Many will view this momentous Monday as the turning point when racing’s future was assured. I am among those and I am grateful to Roger and his family along with his great team of people at Penske Corporation for all they have done for racing during my 46 years of working professionally in the sport. One of the highlights of my career was the period when Pfanner Communications served as the agency of record for Penske Motorsports during the late 1990s. I saw firsthand how Roger and his son Greg worked with their team of exceptional people to create competitive magic while also relentlessly focusing on customers and stakeholders needs.

During this time I came to appreciate how much Roger loves our sport and how much he respects the good people whom have devoted their lives to nurturing and preserving racing. I saw this same passion, compassion and attention to racing’s fans and stakeholders from Roger’s son Greg Penske, with whom we also worked closely during this period. It is understatement to say that I grew as person and as a businessman during this time. The lasting lesson was that quality attracts opportunity and that results are the true measure of commitment. In this light, it is telling that the great team at Hulman Motorsports that has been ably led by Mark Miles, Jay Frye and Doug Boles will be going forward with Penske Entertainment and that the Hulman George family has been offered the opportunity to become shareholders of the new company.

With these profound changes in our sport during these past seven weeks, we now have a new beginning and fresh optimism as we prepare to enter a decade that will see massive disruptions in the mobility and media sectors as well as the business models that have driven and shaped our sport. Many who work in motorsports have worried about how auto racing will remain relevant, vibrant and viable in the face of such sweeping changes to society during the decade ahead. But I take heart in the fact that racing is about learning and evolving faster than the competition. No one does this better than Roger S. Penske and few have such a complete grasp of the entire ecosystem surrounding the sport.

With so much change in racing’s landscape, anything is now possible. Never before has the racing community had such a golden opportunity to align strategies and resources for the common good. Roger Penske has the character, relationship skills and determination to make this possible and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway can continue to define racing for generations to come. From my personal experience, I know that Roger Penske lives his life knowing that the future is now. It will be fascinating and exciting to see if the rest of us can stay on the lead lap in the race to a better tomorrow for our sport.

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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