Should Driver’s Concerns Worry Fans?

Like most of the readers of this site, part of my weekly routine is reading the Racer Mailbag. Marshall Pruett has graciously accepted the challenge of continuing what the late Robin Miller started – a forum for fans to directly ask questions to an IndyCar insider.

I think Miller started this even before the days of the internet, where fans could actually send a question by US Mail to The Indianapolis Star and he would compile and answer at least a few of them in the paper. I used to subscribe to The Star during the Month of May in the late 80s and early 90s, and I would see such a forum then, but it may have only been a seasonal May thing.

When I finally realized that the internet was more than just a fad, I finally broke down and bought a computer in the late 90s. By then, Robin Miller’s Mailbag had a regular presence on The Star’s website. Every two or three days, there would be a collection of questions that Miller would answer in his unique way. When he was fired by The Star and went to ESPN in the early 2000s, Curt Cavin continued what Miller had started at The Star, and Miller began a similar version at Fans now had two mailbags to visit on a regular basis.

Somewhere in the late 2000s, Miller migrated to Speedvision, what was eventually known as SPEED. When FOX bought SPEED and shut it down in 2013 to start FS1 – Miller went over to, where he stayed until he passed away a little over a year ago. Throughout that time, Miller always interacted directly with fans through a version of the Mailbag. Marshall Pruett has kept the tradition going through the same forum, simply known as the Racer Mailbag.

While I’m extremely grateful he has chosen to keep the forum going, I’ve not always been crazy about Pruett’s tone with some of his readers. Miller could certainly disagree with readers, but he did it in a humorous way that even the person asking the question could laugh at. He shut me down on a couple of questions that I sent in, when he was still with The Star, but he did it in a comical way, where I couldn’t help but laugh. Pruett does it in a way that can sometimes be a little condescending to the reader. I’ve always thought if you put your readers down enough, the questions will eventually dry up. Who wants to be made to look stupid in print to a world-wide audience?

That being said, I thought Pruett made some interesting comments in Wednesday’s Mailbag that I wish he would have gone into more detail on. I’ll post a link here, but I’m not going to copy and paste the entire exchange. It was the very first question in this week’s Mailbag, but the gist of it was that the reader was concerned about the “Everything is Fine” mentality with the new ownership group with IndyCar, while other series were making changes to grow their respective series. Some of his complaints were things we’ve been hearing for over a decade. Specifically, he cited the dearth of new engine manufactures, cheap and lazy merchandise designs and the comical re-branding of Indy Lights to Indy NXT.

Pruett agreed with the reader, reinforcing every complaint, but it was what he added that made my ears perk up. I guess ears don’t really perk up when you are reading something silently, but you get the idea.

Pruett noted that the amount of drivers he has spoken to with legitimate concern about IndyCar’s health, is alarming. He went on to say that it has been many years since he has heard this level of worry.

Pruett gave examples to point out that IndyCar is not necessarily doing anything wrong, they just aren’t making the strides that other series – Formula One, NASCAR and IMSA – are in amassing new fans.

This is where Marshall Pruett needs to give us more. If drivers are telling him this, he doesn’t need to name names; but he should tell us specific concerns that the drivers have. Drivers know other drivers in other series. While a driver may not hold an MBA in Marketing, they know what works and what doesn’t. If a driver has an idea what the series should be doing to grow, it seems like it would be malpractice for the series to dismiss what the drivers are saying.

As a fan, this level of worry from the drivers is concerning to me. There have been several things that have happened since Penske Entertainment took over that I have not agreed with, but I figured they are a lot smarter than I am, so I kept my mouth shut and didn’t go public with my concerns. But when I read that the drivers are more worried than they have been in many years – that worries me.

I’m sure the worries and concerns of these drivers were mentioned to Pruett off the record, but I feel like these concerns need to be made public. It sounds as if these are major issues regarding the direction of the series that the drivers are worried about. If IndyCar is not going to listen to the drivers, shouldn’t they at least listen to the fans? I would think they should listen to both.

The way I see it, IndyCar has five constituents they need to satisfy and each should carry the same weight in importance – drivers, fans, team owners, sponsors and the TV partner. I understand it’s a difficult balance and you can’t be all things to all parties at the same time – but you cannot ignore the concerns of one or more of those groups either.

I don’t know if Marshall Pruett has ever visited this site, but I know that he is aware of it through a conversation he had with Mrs. Oilpressure this past season. My hope is that he will somehow be made aware of this post and find a way to make these driver’s concerns public, where fans will learn about them as well as IndyCar.

George Phillips

Please Note:  Today is Veterans Day. Susan and I would like to wish a Happy Veterans Day to all of those who have served in our armed forces. I am off work today (Friday), giving me a three-day weekend. Therefore, I will take a break from this site for a day as well. There will be no post here on Monday Nov 14. I will return here on Wednesday Nov 16. Enjoy the weekend! – GP

13 Responses to “Should Driver’s Concerns Worry Fans?”

  1. I feel it is much more important to approach Penske Entertainment with these concerns. They are the owners and risk takers. They need to get their act together. The present strategy appears to be one of balancing the books. Maybe that will kill the series but it’s their call so knocking on their door seems to me the best idea.

  2. Send your thoughts to Penske.

  3. James T Suel Says:

    I think you raised some very important concerns. I was very happy when Penske took over. But I belive they are making some bad mistakes. There is no dout they should listen to drivers and the fans .These concerns should be presented to Penske entertainment. Iam a old school racer ,but I think they are making it to clean ,for lack of a better word.

  4. John Oreovicz Says:

    Fans ought to worry. I’ve followed Indy car racing a lot closer than most folks have for the last 50 years, and I believe the series is in deep trouble. 12-year-old cars with no new chassis or visible technical development on the horizon, the same old ho-hum schedule, a crippling 5+ month offseason…the list goes on. Mr. Penske picked a bad time to put on his “thrifty team owner” hat when NASCAR, IMSA, F1 and every other major series has something new and exciting to offer.

    • billytheskink Says:

      Penske didn’t pick the best time to buy the series, really, but I’m not sure how that could have been avoided. I expect the effects of 2020 are still being felt in the Indycar offices by orders of magnitude more than in F1 or NASCAR.

      That said, it really has been disappointing that Penske’s Indycar hasn’t done more to excite fans.

    • Tim Nothhelfer Says:

      There is another constituent, an invisible elephant in the room…. the OEM manufacturers.
      New ICE engines are not being developed anymore, the business model for them has changed.

  5. billytheskink Says:

    Penske’s leadership group has been quite conservative thus far, as well as quite a bit less chatty about the future. I’m not arguing that is a good thing or a bad thing, just noting that Indycar’s leadership has held their cards much closer under Penske’s ownership than previously. Is this because they have no major future plans due to disinterest or financial issues? Maybe, maybe not. I think it is good to remember that we as fans (folks without a financial stake in the series) are basically asking to see parts of what would be an internal business plan in most industries. It also may serve Penske well to remember that sports-entertainment is different than most industries and revealing big plans is a good way to generate fan excitement and press… that is, when you can deliver on your plans.

    • billytheskink Says:

      I would be curious to know more about what Marshall Pruett heard from drivers and just how widespread the rumblings actually were. I don’t think this situation is quite like the Will Buxton aeroscreen tweet from last year (where multiple drivers came out to refute his claim that most of the drivers he talked to wanted to get rid of the sceen), but I also would not be surprised if Pruett ran a little bit further with some driver statements than they meant when they said them.

  6. Scott K Kenney Says:

    I wonder how you guys would rank in importance the five constituents: drivers, Fans, teams, sponsors, TV partners?

  7. Marshall is extremely smug in my opinion, but I still listen to him and what he has to say weekly. I think things are just stale, like why do we have an engine cap still? Imagine in the 80’s being capped at 33 cars, it provides no room for growth, only takeovers. The car has grown old and tired. I am tired of the vets running in the back like Helio and Tony but when they are gone, who fills in?

  8. TV, and everything else is last.

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