October 26, 2015
The Stephen Cox Blog is Presented by McGunegill Engine Performance
Jack Hawksworth is a nice kid and a good Indycar driver.
Some will take this column as a knock on Hawksworth, which is a complete misunderstanding of every word. It is no such thing. Ultimately, this is really not about Hawksworth at all. But his meteoric rise through the ranks exposes Indycar's gravest weakness and tells us a great deal about the inner workings of the series.
In the miraculous span of just 36 months, Hawksworth rose from another teenage kid in go karts to the highest level of open wheel racing in North America. This is a kid who had driven a grand total of thirty-eight races in full sized automobiles in his life prior to his Indycar debut.
To put that number in perspective, consider that many open wheel modified and stock car teams will run more than thirty-eight races in a single season, while most sprint car drivers will compete in more races than that before Memorial Day.
Of course, a mere thirty-eight races does not make one either a good driver or a bad driver. The point is that it barely makes one a driver at all.
It is notable that Hawksworth, at the beginning of his Indycar career, was awarded a seat with Bryan Herta Autosport over the equally quick and vastly more experienced Luca Filippi, whom I wrote about extensively last summer. Hawksworth is reported to have brought somewhere north of a million dollars for the ride, while Filippi was essentially unfunded.
One could make the argument, as I have many times in the past, that raising sponsorship is simply part of the job description. I have no problem with that. But we are fast approaching the point where fund raising is not merely a part of the job – it is the job.
When I was preparing for Indy Lights competition in 2012-2013 (which was derailed at the last minute when a sponsor pulled out) I spoke with about eight team owners. Not one of them even bothered to ask me about my experience level. Not one.
The question was never brought up. In every instance without exception, the first question was “How much money do you have, and who is your sponsor?”
My experience is not unique. Katherine Legge said, “It's all about money nowadays. I don't think it matters about how much talent you've got. It seems like if you've got more money, you get the shot. People like Oriol Servia, he's out of a ride and a talented guy. You've got Alex Tagliani… me… people who could do it. It's really difficult to get funding.”
2013 IMSA GTC4 National Champion Kristen Treager said, “I went to the (name withheld) racing shop and spent some time with them. They wanted a million dollars to run the (Indy Lights) season. That's the first thing they asked about. I don't even think they cared if I had any talent or not. They just wanted to know if I had the money.”
Again, if you take this as a personal knock on Jack Hawksworth, you're not paying attention. Everyone knows that racing is expensive. Money will always influence the sport. But it shouldn't own it.
When a kid can blitz from go karts to Indycar in a matter of months after running only a handful of races in full sized automobiles while scores of proven drivers with demonstrable talent never get a second look, the scales are seriously out of balance.
The importance of talent has reached an all-time low. Team owners have little reason to concern themselves with a driver's background or ability.
It just doesn't matter any more.
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