Thursday, February 14, 2013

The Legge Situation Is Nothing New

I didn’t want to go too deeply into the entire Dragon Racing/TrueCar/Katherine Legge crisis, but I suppose there a few points I’d like to make about the situation. Katherine Legge is obviously a sympathetic figure, having had an awful time of it last year in a Lotus before Dragon Racing grabbed a pair of Chevy engines at Indy. Now, allegedly, her sponsorship deal has been stolen, and her contract violated, by the very team and sponsor she had a part in bringing together last year. Legge finds herself on the sidelines, which is never a joy-inspiring event for a driver, and her fans online are understandably upset at what they see as underhanded behavior.

Still, we have to remember—as unpleasant as it is—this sort of crap (that's probably the most polite term one can muster for it) goes on all the time. Sponsor poaching and lawsuits aren’t the domain of one side of motorsports--I can name a dozen examples from recent years from F1 and NASCAR as well, and few series seem truly immune. It's important to remember: in the suite and paddock, just as on track, there are “black hats” out there. Of course, there are also a lot of gray ones, as well.

It’s a brutal business. We don’t like to hear it, but sometimes (many times!), being right, being smart, being good, being a fan favorite, or being lucky isn’t enough. Ownership is well past nine-tenths of the law. It seems as if every team, every driver in the paddock could tell you a story about having a seat or sponsor grabbed out from under them—and your favorite team or driver might even be one of the guilty parties. There are representation firms involved that have been known to take the low road any time they can. The reason is that IndyCar, just like every other racing series, is comprised of a cross-section of humanity, and some of them are just as grasping, reaching, and sneaky as they are in offices and workplaces across the nation. However, unlike sniping over maintenance charges in your office or which department will be held responsible for this year’s budget shortfall, it takes place in a higher-profile public forum.

Jay Penske hasn’t done much to endear himself to the fans of IndyCar, that much is certain. And it’s fine to cheer Ms. Legge’s efforts towards what she sees as her due with Dragon Racing and TrueCar. But let’s not pretend as if this hasn’t existed before. Whether it’s because of gender, or the fact the accusations have been levied against an unlikable individual, or simply because of the drama or because it fits a certain narrative, we can't use that as grounds to act as if this is some unprecedented outrage. It’s still all part of how the sausage is made, so to speak. In that sense, a driver/car/sponsor pairing is a bit like a fast-food burger or ballpark hot dog: the end result might be satisfying and enjoyable, but the creation process isn’t going to be too appetizing.

Some might see this as a cynical view, but I don't view it that way. I don't dislike baseball because of the issues with competitive balance and the salary cap, and I truly enjoy NCAA basketball despite its very real troubles with academic standards and conference gerrymandering. And I love IndyCar, even when I know that there is some nastiness involved at times before that car and driver are officially put on the grid.

It isn’t IndyCar’s fault, it isn’t Sebastian Saavedra’s fault, or the fault of Sebastien Bourdais, so don’t wish them ill. The only thing to do is wait for everyone's day in court, recognize there are some prime jerks out there on all sides, and accept some facts of life. Of course, having a good attorney on retainer might not hurt, either.

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