In 1978 Dan Gurney, in the now infamous ‘White Paper’, demanded certain changes to the organizational body over American Open-Wheel Racing (you can read a recap of the White Paper HERE). Gurney’s main focus for the White Paper and formation of CART is in one simple sentence “[o]ur sport has the potential to be financially rewarding and healthy from a business standpoint for all participants”. Gurney wrote from a moment where the cost of racing skyrocketed and the reward of racing was stagnant. On our Facebook page (you can like and follow us HERE), I was asked: “what if”. What if USAC came to the table?
Gurney laid out many issues for the collation (we know the collation by the name Championship Auto Racing Teams – CART) to bring to USAC. I’ve grouped them into four main points. The biggest point is USAC first coming to the table, recognizing CART as a partner in American Open Wheel. The second point dealt with the tracks, holding their promoters to high standards and seeing the books of the track. The third point straddles both USAC and the tracks as it focused on this promotion on behalf of teams and drivers. The final point and the second most important point is the financial issues: increasing the rewards of races and renegotiating television rights to give a piece of that money to drivers and teams.
What if USAC had read the White Paper and invited CART to sit down and negotiate? We have a term in the legal field: negotiating in ‘good faith’. Assuming USAC listened and there was good faith negotiating on both sides, things would be different. Getting that seat at the table, that representation, that buy-in still is a problem today. Had USAC allowed teams and drivers to have a voice, so many things would be different. Drivers’ concerns on safety and travel and things like insurance would have been addressed so many years ago. Had USAC openly negotiated with CART at the time, the spit wouldn’t have happened. Would there be disagreements – sure. But instead of one side saying “no” and the other said saying “okay we’re leaving” there would be dialogue.
What if the tracks had a high standard of promotion? This would have been quite the windfall for us fans! If you had tracks out there actively and aggressively promoting races, we’d have more races. Promoters working to put butts in seats increases revenue for tracks. It also increases interest in the sport. You can follow this line of thinking all the way to increased revenue for drivers. What if a track tried to promote but failed? Gurney called for such tracks to be leased to the driver organization and that organization does the promotion. Now, this was way before the explosion of social media but think about it – our drivers are already out their promoting tracks. If they had years of doing so for tracks that couldn’t cut it, it would be something to marvel at.
Tracks were also asked to reveal their internal books. I’m a big fan of openness. It’s from being ten-years now as a government employee. You can look my name up and see how much I make. You can send in a request and get every email I have written. Gurney’s call for the accounting of tracks to be open to drivers and teams is something that should happen. Gurney notes that without the knowledge of what is in the accounting books, teams and drivers are coming from a position of ignorance, and he’s completely right. Had tracks said, “okay here is everything” it would have meant more informed negotiations. More clear negotiations. Perhaps the advent of other avenues when tracks found themselves failing. Again, we would have more races on our schedule.
The final, and biggest what if, involves the money. What if USAC increased the purse at races, and drivers and teams got a cut of television money? We all are aware that the biggest struggle drivers and teams face is sponsorship, paying for this sport. (You can read about the cost of the sport HERE and sponsorship issues HERE) I think an increase, a legitimate and proper increase, of the purse would help out drivers. It would help the drivers who are the more skilled drivers and are winning the races. The television money wouldn’t be too shabby either. Teams would get extra funds to make up shortfalls when major sponsors leave. Drivers would also get a cut. This is the biggest issue in the White Paper. Gurney was adamant that what everyone needed to focus was that it was easier to increase the amount of money going in instead of lowering the cost of racing.
But in Reality
The reality is harsh. For one final moment, imagine that everything Gurney asked for came true, or at the very least USAC negotiated in good faith. What growth our sport would have seen. We wouldn’t have had years of people trying to decide which open-wheel race series to watch and lose viewership to NASCAR. We wouldn’t have one of the shortest race seasons on the calendar. It would have been glorious.
There are hints of what it would have been like. Promotion both from tracks and the teams and drivers has increased. It’s taken on a completely different life. I would wager Gurney couldn’t, at the time of the White Paper, have known about social media and how it has transformed promotion of the sport. Most tracks are doing a fantastic job of promoting and embracing both new and old forms of media. Teams and drivers also are using their reach to promote events. In general, viewership and attendance at events are on a rise. One of Gurney’s main point of promotion is promotion creates excitement which then reaches to potential sponsors and television.
Though while there have been steps taken to help alleviate the overall cost of racing, that cost is still high. Many drivers get cut after one season because they cannot bring in the sponsorship monies needed, and many drivers have received rides not because of talent but because of funding. The struggle to get seats highlights the continuing issue that the rewards have still not grown. Television rights were not renegotiated to provide support to teams and drivers. That’s still done by the sanctioning body. As one article put it, a lot of racecar drivers live within extremely modest means.
I think the day of negotiating is fast approaching though. There have been whispers of “association” (the polite word for Union). I’m here for it, and as a licensed attorney in the State of Indiana – call me guys.
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