As the race season – unquestionably the weirdest in history – starts winding down, we now enter the infamous “Silly Season.”
Over the years, it’s struck me as odd how casual the industry has become about a time of year when drivers – many with wives and kids to support – lose their jobs. Silly Season: we even gave it a wacky, fun, comical sort of name.
Don’t get me wrong; every driver knows the risks going in. When you choose to chase a career as a race driver, you know that you can be fired at any time, and for any, or no, reason at all. You can even receive a phone call at any moment informing you that your entire team is shutting down, effective immediately.
Maybe the team owner(s) ran out of money. Maybe he or she just wants to do something different than to continue to invest in a race team. Regardless of the reason, you no longer have a job.
If you’re looking for a career with job security, being a race driver is not for you.
And, in fairness, unless it was a startup team, when that driver who’s being fired today was hired by that team, it may have been at the expense of the driver who was previously in the seat. So, in the racing world, what goes around often eventually comes around.
Just as many times rules that benefit you on the track one night may bite you the next.
It can be exciting to see a driver you support getting with a good team. And, when it’s announced that a likeable, talented driver was hired for a quality ride, it’s natural for family, friends, and fans to cheer. But another driver just lost that seat to make it available, and that family may suddenly be facing financial crisis.
These days, there are many more family-owned teams than in previous eras, meaning owners who hire drivers to race their cars aren’t as plentiful. Without an available ride, that firing may mean the end of a career.
If your friend or neighbor who works at the plant up the street is laid off, it’s understood that a terrible thing has just happened to that family. There would be nothing silly about it; we would consider it to be tragic. Certainly no one would be celebrating. We’re a lot more casual about racers losing their family’s source of income.
I would wager that the casual attitude stems from our experience with major league sports. We see players get drafted, traded, dropped, become free agents, etc. every year in major league football, basketball, baseball, hockey, and it’s just a part of the game.
Likewise, in the NASCAR Cup Series and the IndyCar Series, drivers are frequently hired and fired. So, we’ve all become quite accustomed to it in racing, as well.
There’s a difference, however, between an NFL player who has been collecting perhaps a multi-million dollar contract losing a job versus a driver who races USAC fulltime losing his or hers.
The same can be said for the upper ranks of NASCAR. That driver who has spent a few years piloting a Cup car probably has a bit of a nest egg in the bank. They’ll likely be OK – at least in the near future. Whereas, a driver racing for a percentage of sprint car or midget winnings each night may be living check-to-check, and now the checks have stopped.
And, keep in mind, if that driver is being let go, it’s most commonly the result of performance issues – regardless of whether it’s actually the car or the driver that’s at fault. So there probably hasn’t been a lot of purse money being collected in the previous months.
In the height of the message board era, it became quite common to see people posting their desire for a driver to be fired to make room for one that they preferred, and much of that has continued on into the era of social media. The comments can be brutal.
Again, as someone who knows those drivers, and usually their families, it has always been a little weird to read someone gleefully rooting for them to lose their source of income.
Many times, those folks bashing them online don’t even know the driver who their hoping to see fired. Or, perhaps they’re basing their opinion on a five minute, or even five second, encounter in the pits somewhere one night that didn’t go the way they’d hoped.
I guess, in a way, I’ve found it similar to people who cheer when a driver crashes – seemingly not caring if that driver is possibly seriously hurt, or worse.
The reality is that each year some drivers will lose their rides. It’s all part of the process. And, as stated previously, every driver knows that when they get into racing.
But I can’t think of other industries in which people actively engage in calling for employees to be fired from their jobs. While, in racing, we seem to have somehow resigned to it becoming an exciting contest, or season, of its own – racing’s version of The Hunger Games.
May the odds be ever in your favor.