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INDYCAR: When Even the Chosen Few Are Priced Out Featured

March 10, 2014
The Stephen Cox Blog is presented by McGunegill Engine Performance  


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?”

Stephen Cox
Sopwith Motorsports Television Productions
Co-host, Mecum Auto Auctions on NBC Sports Network
#22 Boschett Timepieces/Acorn Cabinetry Chevy

12 comments

  • Comment Link Terrell Tuesday, 11 March 2014 20:53 posted by Terrell

    John, you should read the article before commenting. When even the kid who has everything can't get into Indy car, there is a real problem with costs. Those other drivers you speak of have no chance at all if Daly can't get a ride.

  • Comment Link John Tuesday, 11 March 2014 20:04 posted by John

    Very, very well said. How many other drivers are out there looking for the same funding he is, probably thousands. But because of his Racing Family, and fathers connections, he gets a stand alone article whining that he cant find money. Welcome to the real world of racing, he shouldnt get special treatment from media because his dad was famous.

  • Comment Link Gene M. Tuesday, 11 March 2014 07:10 posted by Gene M.

    And Indycar is the only series with this problem? Better look around my friends all major racing series' are suffering the same fate. Pricing themselves out of the market. Bringing money to race in Indycars was going on long before the IRL days.

  • Comment Link Hawley Chester II Monday, 10 March 2014 15:40 posted by Hawley Chester II

    Nothing would make me happier than to see Conor make it either in Indycar or F1...If he can bring $600K, why can't Indycar provide some additional support from some of thier supposed affiliates and partners? Both NASCAR and TUDOR are helping teams out with support, why not Indycar?

  • Comment Link Chief Monday, 10 March 2014 13:38 posted by Chief

    I don't know you Stephen Cox, but you are 110% on the mark with regards to the UGLY DW12 spec car and engine. It's an ICONIC failure. BUT, I disagree with you about Tony George. While Tony's early mantra was to get American drivers back at the speedway (with more homegrown engines etc), it was HIS decision to return to engines leases to appease Honda, Toyota and Nissan in his efforts to kill the CART series. So, there can't be any attribution to Tony's early ideals or the IRL for that matter because the series became everything it didn't want to be in the first place...all on account of Tony George's influence. Those original ideals NEVER worked, the IRL was and is a paramount failure by any measure except it's success in destroying AOW altogether. That's the only that ever came out of 16th and Jonestown that was successful. Well, two things maybe if you count Taser Martin driving on two wheels.

  • Comment Link Dustin Sunday, 09 March 2014 23:08 posted by Dustin

    That is the rub. This wasn't so much about Conner as it was everyone else. If Conor can't get to ICS why should Luca or anyone else try?

  • Comment Link Jack The Root Sunday, 09 March 2014 22:11 posted by Jack The Root

    Yea, Conor could have wasted his time racing in a Indy Car "ladder series" instead.

    Look how much winning that prestigious Indy Lights title means!

    The ICS is fatally flawed and dying a painful death. It needs to be put out of its misery and a complete new formula with a complete new business plan (one that actually has a CLUE how to sell itself to the American consumer) and a complete new leadership group (preferably with as few people from the IRL/CART/F1 Lite era as possible).

    At least do something to save the Indy 500, which is going down the toilet with the rest of the sport.

  • Comment Link gomer Sunday, 09 March 2014 19:53 posted by gomer

    Since 2011 he has 3 wins, 2 in GP3 and 1 in Indy Lights. He's not exactly blowing the doors off, that is why he needs money.

  • Comment Link TheIndySnake Sunday, 09 March 2014 19:53 posted by TheIndySnake

    If anyone should be in IndyCar it should be Luca Filippi. Luca is 2nd runner up in GP2. Conor couldn't beat Daniil Kyvat or Facu Regalia in a much slower GP3 car.

    Luca showed incredible speed in his outings in the BHA. If there is outrage over a driver it should be Luca, not Conor.

  • Comment Link Smarter Francis Sunday, 09 March 2014 19:52 posted by Smarter Francis

    Well he got called by a GP2 team for this weekends Abu Dhabi tests. No money required. If he lands that ride, he will be in a far better series then what's left of indycar or whatever they call it these days.

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