Fastest Seat in Sports Hits a Speed Bump

There will be a big change at the tracks next season for the NTT IndyCar Series. Honda announced on Monday that they will no longer support the two-seater program that has been advertised as the “Fastest Seat in Sports”.

This has been a great program through the Indy Racing Experience, which is housed alongside the Dallara Factory on Main Street in Speedway. The two-seaters have been a part of IndyCar races for the past fifteen years. Celebrities and lucky winners have gotten the honor to ride in the back-seat of the specially built two-seat IndyCar, with a professional, and sometimes legendary, driver at the wheel.

The most visible driver for this program has been Mario Andretti.

Unfortunately, a story surfaced this past weekend that Mario had been relieved of his driving duties by Honda. The fact that Mario will turn eighty-one in February was cited as the primary reason. This story was found to be totally false after it was refuted by Honda and Andretti himself. However, the reporter must have been close to the truth with his assumption, when it was learned that Honda was ending its backing of the program.

The Indy Racing Experience is a unique program. I am very fortunate. I have ridden in the two-seater twice – once at Fontana and once at Indianapolis. Susan got to ride in it at Fontana as well. She barely missed getting Mario as her driver. Some clown jumped the line and she ended up with Logan Gomez as her driver. No offense to Gomez, but that’s quite a step down, when you were oh so close to getting to ride with Mario Andretti. Davey Hamilton was my driver at Fontana, while Tristan Vautier hauled me around Indianapolis in 2014. I later learned that was his first day to ever drive it. He did a great job, but I’m glad I didn’t know that until later.

I’ve also had the honor of driving the one-seater around IMS. In October of 2008, my brothers chipped in and bought me an Indy car drive for my fiftieth birthday (don’t do the math). I got three laps in a car that served as Juan Montoya’s backup in 2000. It was over twelve years ago and lasted less than ten minutes, but I can still mentally piece together every second I spent in that car. It was an unforgettable experience.

I don’t think Honda has anything to do with that program, but they certainly did with the two-seater that we saw pacing the field at every race for the last decade or so. I was told that the one-seater will do about 125 mph. The two-seater will do about 185 mph. That’s a big difference when you are talking g-forces. The load on my neck was noticeable after three laps at 125 mph in the one-seater. When you go into a turn in the two-seater, your body is slammed against the inner walls of the tub. It was more pronounced at Indianapolis because of the turns. I felt like I had been beaten up after my two-seater ride at Indianapolis. It gives you a whole new appreciation for what these drivers go through lap after lap. Anyone who says drivers are not athletes (Donovan McNabb) is crazy!

Fortunately, IndyCar says it will continue the program in 2021 and a new sponsor would be sought after. You would think Chevy would be a no-brainer, or perhaps this could serve as a natural advertising platform for a potential third engine manufacturer.

The Chevy Two-Seater Program seems a much more natural fit than something like the Burger King Two-Seater or the Mi-Jack Two-Seater; but what do I know?

Honda has made it clear that this does nothing to lessen their commitment to the series. They recently signed an agreement that will keep the Japanese auto manufacturer in the series for several years to come.

I hate seeing this happen, though. Honda had become synonymous with the IndyCar two-seater. Honda has been such a good friend to IndyCar, I don’t like any sign from them of pulling back sponsorship. I drive a Honda, strictly due to their sponsorship of the series. I have not forgotten how Toyota and Chevrolet pulled out of the series after the 2005 season. That move left Honda as the sole engine supplier to the series until 2012, when Chevy returned and Lotus had their brief foray in IndyCar.

Many have chastised Honda for the way they bungled this announcement, what with the false Andretti story leaking out. I don’t really blame them for that gaffe; and I certainly don’t begrudge them for no longer backing the program. They’ve been a phenomenal partner to IndyCar for a long time. For six seasons, Honda carried the load. They desperately wanted competition, but for six years they were it. Fans today seem to forget that Honda stood with the series in those lean years. I haven’t forgotten and there will always be at least one Honda in my driveway.

I’m glad that the two-seater program will live on in 2021. Hopefully it will go way beyond then. If you ever get a chance to do anything through the Indy Racing Experience – do it! It is a unique program, and I don’t think any other racing series has one that puts a fan on the track at the start of a race.

I’m just hopeful that Mario Andretti will still be a part of whatever the new program looks like.

George Phillips

3 Responses to “Fastest Seat in Sports Hits a Speed Bump”

  1. Alan Stewart Says:

    I’m not putting a bunch into this whole ordeal after a couple of years ago as we were leaving Carb Day I saw the cowling being lifted off an Arrow two-seater … to my surprise it wasn’t a Honda powered engine underneath (despite what all the body branding says), but a big fat bowtie, instead. It’s all just a label and as long as the program is alive I don’t see it making that big of a difference who sponsors it.

  2. Jack Phillips Says:

    George, I agree with you about buying a Honda simply because they sponsor Indy Car Racing. Last week I bought the first new car I’ve bought in 21 years. It was a Honda. I test drove Nissans, Subarus and a Buick. One of the main reasons I bought the Honda was that they support racing, and the others don’t.

  3. Discodavid26 Says:

    Think possibly every one thinking too much into this while mario is more then capable at 81 to still drive the thing…… however there still will be a day when it will be Beyond even him…… and it might even catch Honda by surprise …… and Honda probably aware off this combined with the current social distancing rules and/or the need to tighten the budget slightly in these economic harder times…… made it simpler the preferred time to pull the plug……

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