Qualified Enough to Comment

I am about to contradict myself…sort of. This is my site, so I reserve the right to be inconsistent every now and then. For years, I have felt free to comment on various drivers skills, or lack thereof. Over a decade ago, I wrote a scathing commentary on driver Dennis Vitolo – calling him the worst Indianapolis 500 driver over the previous twenty years.

His son saw it and sent me an equally scathing e-mail; saying, in effect, until I crawled into a car and qualified for the Indianapolis 500 myself – I had no right to comment on Vitolo or any other driver. I responded, in what turned out to be a fairly heated e-mail battle, by countering with my usual analogy for these situations. Just because I don’t know how to cook, does not mean I don’t know the difference between a good meal and a bad one.

I’ve never played quarterback in the NFL, but I feel qualified enough to say that Peyton Manning was a much better QB than Jim Sorgi or Curtis Painter.

Anytime I make a disparaging remark on social media (or on this site) about a driver, quarterback, coach, performer or actor – there is always some troll that tries to shut me down with the tired old “…walk a mile in their shoes” retort. I’ll always respond with the cooking analogy. I don’t need to be a restaurateur to know that St. Elmo Steakhouse is a better dining experience than Applebee’s.

So where am contradicting myself?

Did you see the Racer Mailbag last week? The very first question was from a reader named Brian Wilson, who had a ridiculous suggestion regarding the IndyCar two-seater that is operated by The Indy Racing Experience. I am assuming he is not the Brian Wilson from The Beach Boys, but if Mr. Wilson is a regular reader here – my apologies for calling you out.

His suggestion was that the two-seater should be side-by-side, like the ALMS Porsche that Roger Penske drove at Goodwood this past summer. He thought the passenger should sit next to the driver, in order to see better. He said “I firmly believe that the existing two-seater just plain sucks. The passenger cannot see crap.” While I think this was a silly suggestion, it was Marshall Pruett’s response that caught my eye. Pruett outed the reader by revealing that in a subsequent e-mail from Wilson, he admitted he had never ridden in the two-seater.

Here is where I will contradict myself. I’ve never driven in the Indianapolis 500, but I feel qualified to criticize some drivers that have. I’ve never played in an NFL game, but I can offer up unsolicited negative comments on those that do. I use my good/bad meal analogy as justification. But now, I am about to jump all over the Mailbag reader for criticizing the IndyCar two-seater when he has never been in it.

I am not bragging, but I have partaken of The Indy Racing Experience three times. In 2008, my two brothers chipped in and bought me the IndyCar self-drive for my fiftieth birthday. Susan and I drove up from Nashville one beautiful day in October, for me to drive three laps in a 2000 g-Force (Juan Montoya’s back-up car). It was one of the most memorable experiences of my life to drive an Indy car down the main straightaway across the yard of bricks. Although it was over thirteen years ago, I remember it like it happened yesterday.


Five years later in October of 2013, Susan and I both got to ride in the IndyCar two-seater at Fontana – the night before the season-finale. Logan Gomez was Susan’s driver, while I got Davey Hamilton. I can think of a million adjectives to describe my two laps around Fontana that night. Terrifying and exhilarating come to mind, but to say it “just plain sucks” is not the way I would describe it. I’ve never felt g-forces in my life, like those I experienced screeching out of the pits. Throughout the long continuous Turns One and Two, and again in Turns Three and Four – I always had the sensation that the back-end was just a hair away from coming around. I don’t think I’ve ever had such a rush in my life!

2013 Fontana F019

2013 Fontana F093

Just seven months after that memorable night, I had the opportunity to ride in the two-seater at Indianapolis, in the late afternoon of Carb Day 2014. Tristan Vautier was my driver. I didn’t know until I climbed out of the car that it was Vautier’s first day to ever drive the two-seater. While I was prepared for the g-forces that slammed my head against the back of the car as we left the pits, I was not expecting to be slammed against the right-side of the cockpit each time we entered one of the four, relatively flat 90°-turns.

2014 us before

As I climbed out of the car, I felt exhausted after only two laps. I could not imagine doing that 800 times in a race, while battling for the same piece of real estate with another car just inches away. It gave me a whole new appreciation for what these drivers do. Anyone who says that IndyCar drivers are not athletes, has no idea what they are talking about.

So while I feel justified in comparing bad drivers to good drivers, when I’ve never driven in a race, I think reader Brian Wilson should refrain from making specific derogatory comments about the current IndyCar two-seater, until he has ridden in it. I can assure you, he is dead-wrong when he says it “just plain sucks”. While the view is not fantastic looking straight ahead, you can see enough. You can also get the sense of pure speed when you glance to the side and see the wall gliding toward the car at an alarming rate.

From 2008 through 2014, I rode in the cars of The Indy Racing Experience three times. While it has been seven and a half years since I last crawled out of the two-seater cockpit, those memories are seared into my brain for the rest of my life.

In full disclosure, I am fortunate enough that I did not have to pay for any of my experiences. My brothers bought my Indy car drive in 2008, and this blog enabled my two-seater rides. But even if I did pay out of my pocket, I would feel the same. Susan did not get to share my two-seater experience at Indianapolis. While she kept a smile on her face, I know she was very envious.

The 2022 dates are to be released December 3. If you are interested in such a thrill for yourself, check it out here. I know from my own experience that it is not cheap, but it will be worth it for a lifelong memory. Unlike Mr. Wilson, I feel like I’m qualified enough to comment on the IndyCar two-seater. It doesn’t just plain suck.

George Phillips

7 Responses to “Qualified Enough to Comment”

  1. I don’t think you’re being inconsistent at all. To use your restaurant analogy (which is also the analogy that I use in these cases), you don’t need to be a cook to know whether a restaurant is serving good food, but you do need to have eaten at that restaurant.

    • Rick Johnson Says:

      LOL. Good point, Big Mac.

    • billytheskink Says:

      Very much agreed, good analogy.

      I actually did not think the suggestion of a side-by-side two seat race car for passenger experiences was necessarily a bad one… but Pruett was right to point out that such a car would not really be sellable as an Indycar.

  2. Rick Johnson Says:

    George, I’ve had the very good fortune to have ridden in the two-seater four times at IMS (2006 with Jeret Schroeder; 2009 with Stephan Gregoire; 2012 with Logan Gomez, an Indy Lights driver, and the ultimate experience – 200 mph with Mario in 2016). It hardly sucks. It was the thrill – well, four thrills – of a lifetime. It’s true that you can’t see directly in front of you, but that doesn’t really detract from the experience. I’ll always remember the various sensations…accelerating out of pit lane, the g forces going around the turns and marveling at how much stress is placed on the right front tire, the speeds down the front and backstretches.

    I wish everyone could experience that – at least everyone who wants to – especially the person who wrote in the Mailbag…I think he’d be singing a different tune as he was climbing out of the car.

  3. James T Suel Says:

    George I tend to agree with you. I also have had the two seater ride and the 3 lap deal driving at the speedway. All were great experience. I have never driven a Indycar in a race, but in the 70s I did run sto,ck cars and modified s. Also it’s your site, so you sure are entirely able to state your opinions on drivers. I do!

  4. Matt B. (Dayton, OH) Says:

    Great post George. I like the way you think.

  5. any shared ride is good.

    i have done the NASCAR side-by-side
    (the side next to the wall) four times.
    i have flown in an acrobatic biplane
    in the rear seat once. only once.

    not once did it suck.

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