In the seven decades the Unser family has been represented at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, few people have been as outspoken on as many topics as Bobby Unser.
Uncle Bobby, a three-time winner of the 500 in three different decades, has never been one to mince words or shy away from telling his side of the story without reservation.
Recently, Bobby sat down with More Front Wing to discuss myriad topics regarding the Indianapolis 500 and Indy car racing in general. Immediately, his disappointment with the current state of the Indianapolis 500 became apparent.
Starting with the new qualification procedures, Bobby opines, “I can’t imagine how they could have made it any worse. What is [INDYCAR President of Competition and Operations] Derrick [Walker] doing? It can’t come from [Hulman & Company CEO] Mark Miles. It damn sure doesn’t come from [IMS President] Doug [Boles]. There’s only one guy next. And [INDYCAR VP of Competition] Brian Barnhart. There’s the two guys that are an issue. Both of them should be smarter than this.
“I am so disappointed in [Derrick Walker] right now I cannot believe it. He’s the one – and he may have had someone come from above him that really forced him into this stuff – but he’s getting the blame for it regardless.”
In Unser’s mind, the qualifying changes are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the problems INDYCAR is facing. Most painful for the long-time racing veteran is the loss of many of the most cherished traditions of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. “You’ve got to stop changing the traditions,” says Unser. “It’s all they have anymore.”
As to why Indy car racing has been on the decline, Unser shares a belief held by many long-time race fans and laments the era of spec-car racing. “They did their studies,” he says. “They found out the fans don’t like spec cars. They want a car to be different. And NASCAR did studies and they found out the same thing. They don’t like spec cars in NASCAR, and they don’t like spec cars here. But [Indy Racing League Founder and former IMS President] Tony George did, so he did contracts and did it for some ungodly amount of years.
Unser also had some pointed words about where Danica Patrick may have found her open-wheel racing success.
“Brian Barnhart says, ‘I’m gonna make it to where everybody runs the same speed, and I’m going to put the cars close together,’” he says. “It’s a suicide deal and not fun for the spectators. I mean, a pretty girl became famous because she could draft in the pack. I’m not knocking her or trying to raise her up. She can’t hack it. She ain’t gonna win in NASCAR. She wouldn’t win over here if you got rid of the pack racing and the spec cars.”
However, in spite of the current issues troubling Indy car racing today, Bobby still believes the ship can be turned around. To his mind, the key is allowing open specifications and requiring drivers to be more involved in actually driving the car.
“Every computer ought to be gone,” he says. “Get the computers out of here. Get them out of the pits. No more guys standing around looking at a computer, talking to the engine. I mean, get them gone! Let’s go back and do racing. Take the automatic shifts out. Take the automatic clutches out. Get rid of all that stuff.”
Furthermore, Unser believes opening the specifications to all manufacturers will bring money and credibility back to the IndyCar Series. “Any engine manufacturer, if it’s 158 cubic inches, it’s the rules. Not that you have to have six cylinders, or two, or eight, or twelve. None of that. It’s open. Chevy wants to run. Toyota, Honda, whoever wants to run. Bring them over from England. I don’t care where you’re from. It’s an open deal. It creates money. It creates sponsors. It creates a reason to be again.”
Bobby Unser spoke to More Front Wing on many more topics ranging from the drivers of his era to Kurt Busch to USAC’s current position of national relevance. For the full audio of the interview, click on the player below.