After the release of my column last week asking whether Indycar was still a viable career goal for American racing drivers, I received a very interesting quote from a member of a site called TrackForum.com (which, upon inspection, turned out to be a great site with some excellent commentary and debate).
The quote was from Conor Daly and yes, it's genuine. I've since verified it as coming from my old friends at Autoweek magazine, whose television show I hosted for several years. Conor, son of former F1 and Indycar driver Derek Daly, is among the up-and-coming drivers in American open wheel racing. But when asked why he had failed to land an Indycar ride for 2014, Daly's response was painfully sharp:
“I have no money. No one's willing to support me. The Indycar teams all need money. I missed all of the opportunities at the seats that were funded. And I've been at this every day for the last three months. There's just no interest in the numbers that are thrown out there. For [one of the full-time seats], I needed around $2.5 million, probably $3 million to just get in the game, and I could raise maybe $600,000. And that's all through people who have already supported me. No companies want to support it. It's a sad state."
The magnitude of Conor's statement is incalculable. This is a wake-up call and the series had bloody well better pay attention.
Of the 10 drivers queried in last week's column, not one of them would go on record saying that Indycar was still a viable career goal for American racing drivers. More than 90% of American racing drivers are oval specialists, and with few exceptions, short track drivers have been shut out of the series for nearly thirty years. Eliminating 90% of your prospective business partners is bad enough.
But the Conor Daly story is even worse. We're not talking about a USAC sprint car driver. This is not about some dirt poor, unknown dreamer racing a LeMons car.
Here is a kid who enjoys every possible advantage that an aspiring racer could ask for. Conor is a fine driver from an established racing family. His father has connections at every level of the sport on both sides of the ocean. He has a solid reputation and considerable financial backing even without corporate sponsorship.
If anyone, anywhere on earth should be able to find a ride in Indycar, it is Conor Daly. And he's not even close.
The reasons are obvious. Ridiculous and unnecessary engine rules limit available power plants. Full season engine leases are insanely priced at nearly a million dollars per car for a puny spec motor that needs a turbo to eek out 600 horses… that's less than my Super Cup stock car ride.
The spec chassis with rear bumpers that nobody likes were supposed to sell for less than $400,000. The actual price is nearly $600,000 not including the hotly debated body kits intended to make cookie-cutter spec cars look like something other than cookie-cutter spec cars, all while the ever-changing qualifying format at Indy has undergone yet another metamorphosis that destroys the final traces of the 500's once-great tradition.
All of this is designed to mask the fact that there is no Bump Day because we don't have enough cars because the costs are too high because spec racing does not, in fact, save anyone money and only enriches the official series suppliers at everyone else's expense. Everyone is frantically seeking the right car “formula,” not realizing that the only formula that ever worked was not having one. Meanwhile, the more drivers reject Indycar as a legitimate career path, the smarter Tony George looks.
The Powers That Be need to realize that every race driver in America is now asking the most dangerous question ever posed… the question that could single-handedly crush what's left of open wheel racing.
“I better look in a different direction. If Conor Daly can't make it, what chance do I have?”
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