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Selling Yourself

February 25, 2010
There has been much comment in recent days about the hiring of pay drivers in the mainly US-based Indy Racing League. Ridebuyers have been in motor racing since day one – even Formula 1 has had plenty of pay drivers over the years; however the circumstances of many of those ridebuyers changed dramatically over the years. Unfortunately as has been stated on this site on numerous occasions, whenever economies are struggling, the number of pay drivers in the market increases as sponsorship begins to become harder to find; however the situation now is not quite as acute as many commentators would have us believe.
Over the years, we have started to see drivers get more savvy with sponsorship deals and how they sell themselves and many have utilised new social media devices to drive such endeavours. The ridebuyers as they existed in years gone past for the most part no longer exist as they days of Giovanni Lavaggi, Jean-Denis Deletraz and others have thankfully faded into the background. A number of so-called ridebuyers now, often bring a modicum of talent to the table too. 

For weeks there has been much made that Graham Rahal has not secured a full time ride for the upcoming season and while that is to a degree a little disturbing, I cannot help but point the finger of blame at Rahal himself. Product activation is not something that we witness as much in Europe, as more subtle means of sponsorship and advertising exist here; however my exposure to CART and the IRL over a long period of time has opened me up a little to how product activation exists in the US and compared to other drivers, Rahal has never appeared that interested pushing his partners in the same way that Danica Patrick (for example) has.
While it is disappointing that Rahal is not yet in a confirmed seat for 2010, it must not be forgotten that he was offered the Dale Coyne drive for the season – while certainly not the glamour or success of Ganassi or Penske, it would certainly keep him in view of the teams; whereas he risks the possibility of obscurity should he sit rideless this season. 

With this in mind, the issue with so few North American drivers in the IRL raises a pretty big question – are the likes of Tracy, Rahal, Rice, et al unwilling to go for and activate sponsorship due to an in-built sense of entitlement? If one were to talk about ridebuyers in a literal sense, then the likes of Patrick and also Sarah Fisher would also come under that bracket; with Patrick’s seat is heavily backed by GoDaddy and Fisher’s own team receiving much funding from Dollar General.
However, the thing that separates Fisher and Patrick from the likes of Milka Duno and Marty Roth is that the former duo are actually good drivers, but as well as that, they are good drivers that gone some distance to finance their drives. It is an attitude that Rahal could learn an awful lot from.

The issue of ride buying has certainly come to a head in recent days with a number of frustrated tweets and comments from former CART Champion Paul Tracy. On the basis of what has been emerging from the Tracy twitter camp in the last couple of days, if I were a sponsor, I would probably be walking very far away at this time. Company’s tend not to want to be linked to controversies of any nature and some of Tracy’s stinging Twitter comments have been vitriolic at the least. Examples such as:

4 drivers from this continent at the first test . i think there is 3 wins for all of them put together . as guys like rahal , rice and me get to stay home and watch . if thats what you fans want … enjoy”
If you want a shit sandwich , don’t expect it to not taste shitty .. If u want good racing tell them u want the good drivers !!

And followers than rallied the IRL driver to calm down were met with:

“i have 1 win at indy follower, and 32 wins in cart 25 poles a championship . how many u got from the couch”

Much of Tracy’s comments in recent days seem to have to do with the hiring of ex-Formula 1 driver Takuma Sato and IndyLights graduates Ana Beatriz and Mario Romancini by IRL teams. It may just be my racing head talking here, but if I had to choose two drivers from Tracy, Sato, Beatriz and Romancini, the favoured team would instantly be Sato and Romancini. While I think Beatriz is a very capable driver, she needs a little more time following a difficult 2009 season; however she may surprise everyone at the first race in Brazil in two-and-a-half weeks time. Sato and Romancini on the other hand have more than shown themselves to be very good, exciting drivers that are deserving of an opportunity.
One thing is for certain – Paul Tracy’s Twitter account exists on a public plain and while many can understand the Canadian driver’s frustration, he must also take responsibility for what he commits to a public domain or find that it is his irresponsibility that finishes his racing career earlier than he may like.
On the other hand at the age of 41, maybe team owners and sponsors are simply more interested in looking at younger blood. The massage to Tracy should not be what can the IRL do for him, but is he going to help himself?

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