Welcome to the RACER Mailbag. Questions for any of RACER’s writers can be sent to email@example.com. Due to the high volume of questions received, we can’t guarantee that every letter will be published, but we’ll answer as many as we can. Published questions may be edited for length and clarity. Questions received after 3pm ET each Monday will appear the following week.
Q: The 2023 IndyCar season has begun, and the countdown to the Indy 500 has also started. My last Indy 500 was 1995, and I will be returning this year with my adult son (his idea). It will be his first Indy 500!
We’ll be in Indy from Wednesday to Tuesday. Wondering if you’d be kind enough to assist with our itinerary to maximize our Indy experience? We already have our Bronze badges, and tickets to the museum, Kiss the Bricks Tour, Carb Day, Legends Day, and race day. But what about places to eat, to run into retired drivers/legends, team factory tours, and anything else you might think of?
Rich & Vance in Missoula, MO
MARSHALL PRUETT: Charlie Brown’s in Speedway is a perfect place to catch a few legends having breakfast. The Foyt Wine Bar, on the same Main St stretch, is worth a visit. Across the street is the Dallara factory, so I’d pop by there as well. Get a burger at the legendary Workingman’s Friend, get in line for breakfast — and bring cash — at Long’s Donuts. There’s sure to be some racing going on at Indianapolis Raceway Park. There will be a racing memorabilia show somewhere — details to follow — but wait until I get there first to get the good stuff, and downtown, there are some staples like St. Elmos’s and Prime 47 that should satisfy any carnivorous needs.
Q: As I age my memory isn’t what it used to be. Am I wrong that Texas Motor Speedway was supposed to undergo a rebuild?
MP: I had a similar thought last year, asked, and was told no.
Q: Please clarify the rule for lanes on pit road.
MP: Give this a read, Luke.
Q: Is there any rule for entering your pit box from the outer pit lane, or is it just a guideline that you should be in the close lane if you are entering your box, and outside lane if you are done? Rossi, Hinch, Townsend Bell, the RACER comment section and myself all feel that Rossi’s crew did nothing wrong in releasing him as there were no cars in the close lane.
Beyond that, what a banger of a race! Attendance looked up, too.
Tyler in Milwaukee
MP: I’m guilty of being led down the same incorrect path on the yeas and nays of pit lane procedures, which was dumb on my part. Breaking the situation down, the three drivers pitted directly behind Kirkwood’s pit box — Alex Palou was closest, then Scott Dixon, then Rossi — stopped in line and left in line, which made for a tough situation for Kirkwood who needed to start turning to make it into his box.
He didn’t know those three stopped at the same time and were leaving at the same time, and with no opportunity to start his turn-in process early due to cars being in their boxes, he had to go father down the lane before cranking the steering wheel to the left. On the path he was on, he would have slotted in directly behind Dixon as Dixon charged away, but he couldn’t see Rossi and didn’t know Rossi was charging away as well. But, as I wrote in the story that’s linked above with Luke’s question, IndyCar’s rules give the driver in the fast lane — Kirkwood in this example — all of the importance and priority.
In other words, if the outside tire changer or car controller knows a driver is due to turn in momentarily from the fast lane, that person must, by rule, give way to that driver and wait to send their own on their way. The rules stipulate nothing about teams being free to send their drivers if the closest lane — the transition lane — is clear, so on that basis, IndyCar penalized Rossi.
Q: I’m sure you’ll receive a lot of comments on the Rossi incident and resulting penalty, but Kirkwood was 100% at fault. If I’m Rossi’s right-front tire changer and I look up pit road and see a car in the outside lane, I would assume they are leaving, not entering the pits. That was not an unsafe release. Why was Kirkwood in the outside lane so close to his pits?
The fact that Rossi’s race was ruined and Kirkwood got away with no penalty is just not right.
That said, it was one hell of an exciting race and finishing the last lap under yellow did not distract from the show.
Jim Doyle, Hoboken, NJ
MP: Thanks for sharing your thoughts, but as I wrote in the last response, the rules — even if they could use some improvement — made it easy for IndyCar to find Rossi at fault. I’d have been happier to see the referee’s whistle go unused.
Q: I have seen NASCAR’s “Lucky Dog” rule get a lot of criticism from racing purists over the years, but rarely see anything about IndyCar’s wave-around rules which are much more egregious. If the drivers a lap down want to get the wave-around, they should not be able to pit during that caution. In the case this week, the wave-around drivers were in a better fuel situation than the leader. Pato and Josef would have been better off waiting until the last caution lap to pit.
Brandon, St. Peters, MO
Q: I hope this question is taken as just curiosity and not as a knock against Graham Rahal. I was wondering if Graham’s record over the past few years will hurt his chance of being a successful owner? I grew up about 15 miles from Mid-Ohio, so I have always been a Rahal fan, starting with Bobby, and then Graham when he started driving. I got the chance to meet and have my picture taken with Graham a few years ago at spring training at COTA, and my wife can’t seem to understand why that picture is the wallpaper on my laptop and PC. But anyway, my question has more to do with how his declining record affects getting sponsors, drivers etc. Is it time for Graham to retire from driving and start taking on an owner-type role?
MP: Graham’s among the only current IndyCar drivers who stand out as ready to lead a team. Make no mistake, he’s going to continue his father’s legacy by moving from the car to an executive role within RLL, and with his well-known business acumen in mind, Graham will continue to be one of the financial engines that power the team. It’s been five years since he won a race, and yet, his car and all of the sister cars are overflowing with sponsors. He’s not the only one responsible for that, but if winning was the only value he and the team offered to sponsors, they’d be in a hard place, along with most teams in the series that aren’t named Penske or Ganassi.
So, no, I don’t foresee Graham’s years-long pursuit of another win as a limitation that would keep sponsors or quality drivers from wanting to be part of RLL. Every team goes through a lean patch; although I didn’t think last year’s would continue into 2023, they’ll soon find the target. And while I don’t think we’ll see Graham going full-time for more than a couple of years, I wouldn’t want to see him stop without getting another win. It’s there. He’s more than capable. And as the son of a guy with a big legacy, he also knows that hanging up his helmet while frustrated is not something you want to have following you for the rest of your life.