Monday, October 14, 2013

The Big National Guard Move

We know the National Guard is probably well-versed in lobbing grenades, but nothing prepared IndyCar fans for the Friday news bombshell this past weekend. Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing will be the new partner of the National Guard in IndyCar, leaving Panther Racing's plans for 2014 a big question mark for fans.

I've not always been the biggest John Barnes fan; in a lot of ways, I've seen him as too quick to blame drivers for the team's failures, and I haven't always agreed with his racing politics, but that doesn't mean I want to see that team go away--especially not when you think of the folks who rely on that team for their livelihood. I hope they have something in the hopper for next year.

But this is one of the premiere IndyCar sponsorships, and when you're getting $10+ million dollars a year, you have to have some results. Obviously, Panther Racing's last two seasons have been up and down. The question is, can Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing do any better?

I suppose there's two sides to that equation. On the one hand, Graham Rahal has proven himself a very hard worker when it comes to sponsorship, and I have no doubt he will acquit himself well as the driver of the National Guard car. I've never subscribed to the idea we need an American in that seat; after all, Dan Wheldon did a great job as an ambassador during his time in that ride. No, what's important is doing the seat justice, being a great part of the interactive programs on and off the track for our servicemen and servicewomen, and doing the seat proud overall. Though to that point, I always really respected the job guys from John Barnes to Wheldon to J.R. Hildebrand did on that effort. Having seen firsthand how much care Graham Rahal has for charities and the like, I'll think he'll do a fantastic job in the role.

On the side side of that question, how will the performance of Rahal and Co. measure up? This has been an immensely disappointing season for Graham; we've been told that they've had to spend a lot of time changing over the setups from Takuma Sato's style to Graham's style, which are markedly different. Whatever the reason, the mix of poor luck and rough weekends where the team seemed a bit lost have been taxing.

Ultimately, there are folks who love Panther Racing who will be devastated at this, and some fans of Graham Rahal and RLLR that will be ecstatic. For my part, I hope Panther makes it work for 2014, and that the National Guard keeps considering this sponsorship a worthy investment. Whatever it takes to make that second point happen, I'll support 100%.

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