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: I have a question for you. Google searching could not provide me an answer. I was in the brainstorming part of coming up with vacation plans and learned that the Unser Museum in New Mexico is now closed. I had no idea it closed and have no idea how long it has been closed. The only answer I could find is that the cars are now in a different museum in Kansas or Nebraska – I can’t remember – but I’m very disappointed to learn that this is an experience I will never be able to enjoy. Could you tell me if the Unser Museum is closed forever and what became of it? Not sure how I missed this, but must say I’m bummed. I guess to lift my spirits I will allow myself the next 10 minutes to imagine how great it would be if the Grand Prix came back to Cleveland.
Steve, Lorain, Ohio
MARSHALL PRUETT: Here’s an answer from From Susan Unser, wife of Al Unser, 1970, ’71, 78, & ’87 Indianapolis 500 winner and 1970, ’83, ’85 USAC/CART National Champion:
“Big Al created the Unser Racing Museum in 2003 and he was the driving force of operation in Albuquerque for 19 years.
“With Al gone, the Museum Board began looking for a new home for the Unser Racing Museum, which closed to the public at the end of May 2023.
“On June 30, the Unser Collection was merged with the Museum of American Speed in Lincoln, Nebraska who had just added a 20,000 square foot addition. The exhibit in Lincoln is scheduled to open in the spring of 2024. This was a very difficult decision to leave Albuquerque, but we know all the cars, memorabilia and artifacts will have a wonderful new home.”
Q: I see Thermal tickets are priced at $2,000 each (plus $80 service fee). Any thoughts on this?
I understand lunch will be included in the price…
MP: Thoughts…of all the $2,000 IndyCar tickets for sale, these are my favorites.
On a more serious note, the main thing that came to mind when I was alerted to the price was the few times I’ve had extremely wealthy folks tell me about when someone wanted to buy something from them — in these stories, it’s usually a race car — and they don’t want to sell it, so they gave the person an eff-you price to make them go away.
There’s no argument to offer that an effort to pack the limited number of grandstands with fans is being made. Because nobody, in the 112-year existence of IndyCar racing, has tried to sell a $2,000 general admission ticket. Not for the Indy 500. Not for the Long Beach Grand Prix. Not even for the ill-fated Hawaiian SuperPrix.
And because I’m a smart ass, I also thought to myself, “I bet NOBODY, and I do mean NOBODY, will ever complain about the HyVee Iowa Doubleheader ticket prices after seeing what the Thermal Club is doing.” And then I had a mild panic attack when I realized Iowa probably read the news and is preparing a ‘Hold my beer, Thermal,’ pricing structure that will set a new record…
Q: Quick questions here. RLL and Fittipaldi: I didn’t see that matchup coming and I didn’t see it in the chat boards. Is this out of left field, or were both RLL and Fittipaldi that good at keeping quiet? He can drive, so I see no issue with the pairing.
Next up, any word on Ilott? I, along with a lot of fans, were expecting something with the Juncos announcement. But nothing but silence. Is there something going on the background, like Ilott driving elsewhere next year? Details to work through? Or is Ilott going to get the flick due to how his contract is structured?
MP: Left field for me, John. Maybe others knew about it, but I didn’t. As much as I try to stay on top of everything, this isn’t one I had on my radar. Other than some very light rumblings about Pietro looking around a few months ago, I just wasn’t hearing much from throughout the paddock. RLL did a good job of keeping this one under wraps; I knew something wasn’t likely to happen with Vips after two conversations with RLL folks at Petit Le Mans, but I didn’t know Fittipaldi would be the one to get the seat.
The Ilott scenario is an interesting one. He isn’t talking, nor is Ricardo Juncos. People usually aren’t silent when everything is decent and in order, so I’m taking the tight-lipped routine on face value and receiving it as an indicator that things could be much better…
I can say that there’s no shortage of drivers who would love to liberate the No. 77 Chevy from Ilott’s grasp, so if things do fall apart between him and Juncos, Grosjean could still be in play, along with everyone else who is trying to get hired there at the moment.
If JHR splits with Ilott sometime soon, he’ll have decent options at other midfield teams. If it happens a month or two from now, that won’t be the case. And if he stays, all of this will eventually be forgotten.
Q: A month or so ago, I emailed the Thermal Club to say I’d like to be on the list to buy tickets for the IndyCar event in March. A few days ago, I received an email to purchase tickets for the event from the Club. Went to the site immediately, and I admit when I saw the price I inhaled deeply, and said a few dirty words. But, yes I bought a ticket for the event. I live in LA, and only other event is Long Beach, which I’ve attended every year since its inception. My personal feeling is, this is a once in a lifetime event, open access to all areas, easier access to drivers, and the the track, and obviously limited fans attending.
And yes, at this point in my life I can afford the ticket, however, I can understand a large number of fans being more than a little upset at the price. It threw me, too.
To clarify for those who do buy tickets, you are issued a ticket with just the Sunday date on it, with a barcode, the single ticket is good for the three days. I’m quite a long time fan going back to living in Bethlehem, PA, and my dad taking me to Nazareth as a young man to watch Mario and Aldo on the dirt track there. Been to every Long Beach, Fontana, and Ontario race as well, plus seven Indy 500s when I lived in Pennsylvania, and a couple of the first Pocono races before moving to Los Angeles.
I personally don’t agree with your article comparing it to the Formula 1 race in Vegas. I would have attended it, but not for $3k a ticket. I don’t consider that a value for that particular race, my opinion.
If and when the Thermal Club is placed on the regular schedule, I don’t envision the same amount of fans going as they do to Long Beach. This track is 150 miles from Los Angeles in the middle of nowhere. It’s not a great distance from Palm Springs area, but when you factor in hotels, food, other expenses, it’s going to be expensive for the average fan to attend for three days. After the event, I’ll, write again and give a fan’s opinion of the event.
Gary, Los Angeles
MP: Thanks for writing in, Gary.