By: Kobe Lambeth
It has been a long time since I wrote Part One of this two-part series. Being a race car driver sounds like the best job in the world, but some have to work harder than others. In Part One, we discussed IndyCar drivers, Sage Karam and Conor Daly, along with the pain of FIA Driver Ratings. You might be extremely talented like Karam and Daly, but funding is your major downfall. It is difficult to find a competitive ride if you do not have sponsorship to support you. Luckily Karam found himself a ride in the GT Daytona class in the IMSA WeatherTech Sportscar Championship driving a Lexus GT3 car. He will debut alongside Scott Pruett in select rounds. Daly will drive the entire IndyCar season for Dale Coyne Racing. It was great to see two “struggling” drivers with talent find rides for the season. Next, FIA Driver Ratings became the hot topic. Some of you (non-sportscar fans) might not know what I am talking about when I say “driver ratings.” It should not matter anyways because having driver ratings in the first place is not a smart idea. This flawed system ends careers rather than rewarding the drivers who deserve full-time rides. It is challenging to make it as an open wheel or sportscar racing driver. You have read about two sides and now you should hear it from a stock car driver’s perspective.
How difficult can it be to make it in stock car racing? Ask Ryan Ellis!
“Many racers nowadays are constantly searching for funding due to the high-cost nature of the sport,” Ellis explained.
It is such a shame that young talented drivers like Ellis are denied their dreams of being a full-time NASCAR driver. Many stock car drivers have the talent to be a part of organizations such as Hendrick Motorsports and Joe Gibbs Racing. However, they are more likely to accept the driver who has the funding to race. I still do not understand why NASCAR owners do not want to see the sport’s best talent on the track, rather than someone riding out there for fun.
Ellis added, “Team owners can’t foot the bill without sponsorship money every weekend, it’s unsustainable.”
Ryan Ellis perfectly explained that a team owner cannot put a car on the track without financial support from a sponsor. I feel awful for the smaller teams who run in the back of the field almost every single week. The team owners struggle to keep cars on the track with minimum sponsorship. A major emphasis is placed on Daytona and Talladega. Restrictor plate racing is the great “equalizer” in NASCAR. Having a great race at a restrictor plate track could potentially help your financial struggles.
Ellis explained, “Many/most of the drivers trying to make it in the Truck Series, Xfinity Series, and lower levels are sponsored by family-owned, or family-associated sponsors… especially in the top rides. Unfortunately, not all of us have big family companies and are fighting the same battle.”
In my opinion, I believe that there are too many drivers with “family-associated sponsors.” It makes sense financially but not realistically. Do we really want a track full of “amateurs” who just ride around for fun? Of course, some drivers who have sponsorship definitely belong in the sport! I am just saying that there is more to being a “real” NASCAR driver. However, there are ways for lesser fortunate drivers to make a living in NASCAR.
“Although we hate asking for money or support through crowdfunding, it’s about all us blue collar drivers can do sometimes,” Ellis said.
Sadly, there is not enough that the fans can do to help the drivers who try so hard to achieve their dreams. Crowdfunding definitely helps out a lot, but it is not always enough to put a driver on the race track.
Ellis added, “It’s not easy to find $25,000-$150,000 EVERY WEEK, even though we work on it every day.”
Many drivers are not as fortunate as others and it is such a sad story. However, you must love the determination that underfunded drivers have to race. They do not care if it is a quality ride. Having the opportunity to race anything in NASCAR is a blessing. I believe that crowdfunding is great for drivers who do not have sponsorships. It is hard to understand why some people are against it. Ryan Ellis had strong words to say to the “haters.”
“I wasn’t born into a high dollar family and, like many others, am fighting an uphill battle. Many of the drivers that use crowdfunding are doing the same thing as me. It sometimes earns us a negative image with fans (begging), but often, we are the guys fighting our guts out against the wealthier drivers/families who are as many fans say ‘writing a check’ to race, or using their business as collateral for a business to business sponsorship.”
Ryan Ellis made many valuable points as he continues to fight for a full-time ride in the world’s highest level of stock car racing. Many underfunded drivers are currently fighting their hearts out just to be on the grid during Daytona Speedweeks. How can a “real fan” of the sport consider crowdfunding begging? At least, the drivers are actually trying to be successful. It is fantastic that we have someone like Ryan Ellis in the sport who is willing to do whatever it takes to make it to the race track. He is an inspiration for young drivers who wish to pursue a career in NASCAR. Positivity and the desire to never give up makes Ellis a leading example for current NASCAR drivers looking for funding.
I really hope you enjoyed learning about the struggles of being a race car driver. The sport we all know and love is not what is appears to be. Sometimes, looks can be deceiving. It does not matter if you are in the stands or at home watching the race on television, nobody really considers what actually goes on behind the scenes. Everything might look alright, but our underfunded drivers are going through unimaginable struggles. I have no idea how to solve all of the troubles of a race car driver, but there is a solution out there waiting to be discovered.
Just in case, you did not read part one: https://thescoopwordpresscom.wordpress.com/2015/12/08/kobes-daily-scoop-the-troubles-of-making-it-as-a-race-car-driver-part-one/
*Best wishes to NASCAR driver, Ryan Ellis, who is looking to continue in NASCAR. Thanks for making the interview possible! I really hope to see you on the grid in 2016!*