In hockey, pure talent gets players from CHL to OHL on the way to the National league. On the other hand, motor racing takes big money, and without it, there’s no way to move up.
Years ago, a friend who ran a kart racing team told me that one of his drivers had gone on to compete in ‘Formula Rich Kid’ down in the US. While us regulars at the kart track happy for the boy, we all knew that it was only because of his father’s dollars that said racer to climb the ladder. Even a great racer with God-given ability can spent eternity toiling at the local short-track, never having the financial capability to move up.
Which is why all racers should appreciate their racing sponsors. and be thankful for the help. Sponsors don’t care if a driver is an entitled blue-blood born with a silver spoon in their mouth. Sponsors are willing to pay for a driver to chase their dream, in exchange for exposure.
This week, Verizon extended their sponsorship of the No. 12 Chevy driven by defending IndyCar Series champion Will Power. Verizon has been Power’s primary sponsor since Long Beach 2009, when Power joined Penske as a part-time driver. Few drivers are lucky enough to have the same partner for so long.
On the other end of the spectrum is the sorry story of Formula 1 driver Nyck De Vries and his sponsor Investrand, which ended in court this week.
In 2018 when De Vries was raising the €500,000 needed for a season in Formula 2, half of that money came from Jeroen Schothorst investment firm Investrand. The deal required De Vries to pay 3% interest on the ‘loan’ and 50% of future Formula 1 earnings. If Nyck did not have a race seat by 2022, the loan would be forgiven.
De Vries started the 2022 season as Mercedes reserve driver, participating in several FP1 sessions. But when he stepped into the Williams F1 car at Monza, to compete in the grand prix while the regular driver recovered from ailment, Nyck became a Formula 1 driver, his life-long dream realized, De Vries even scored points for for the lowly Williams team. The performance at the Italian Grand Prix directly lead to De Vries being signed by Scuderia AlphaTauri for 2023.
Without Dutch millionaire Jeroen Schothors, De Vries would never have made it to junior formula racing, let alone F1. Imagine Schothors’ surprise when De Vries claimed that since he didn’t have a race seat in 2022, the deal was off (and the loan forgiven) despite racing and scoring points at Monza.
Investrand made an investment in De Vries, and it should have paid off for them. For De Vries to look for a legal loophole to get out of his obligation to his benefactor is a sad comment on his loyalty. Was it a predatory contract? I cannot say. But, nobody put a gun to De Vries head and forced him to sign the contract. He could have sought funding elsewhere. But he took the money, reached his goal, then disrespected the people who got him to the top of the mountain.
De Vries never learned the lesson that Lightning McQueen taught us in the 2006 Pixar movie Cars. At the end of the movie, when Lightning was offered the big contract with Dinoco, he turned them down to stick with his current team, stating “…these Rust-eze guys gave me my big break…I wanna stick with them..”.
Yup. Lightning McQueen knew about integrity; there’s a whole lot more to racing than winning.