Where Is Loyalty Today?

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For some, today is a red-letter day in American sports. It is national signing day at colleges and universities across the land for college football. The only reason I welcome this date is to see an end to all of the hoopla that college football recruiting has become. There is a racing tie-in to this, so bear with me.

Although I consider myself a huge college football fan, I never paid too much attention to recruiting. I don’t underestimate its importance, as it is the life’s-blood of any college football program. But I was completely turned off in 1987, while living in Memphis. There was a local recruit named Xavier Crawford, or the "X-Man" as he had dubbed himself. He had narrowed his choices down to Memphis State University (now University of Memphis) and Ole Miss.

Back then; it was pretty much unheard of for a college recruit to call a press conference. The X-Man did, however – when it was time to announce his choice. He pulled two caps out of a worn-out looking brown paper bag – one for Ole Miss, the other for Memphis State. He held one in each hand for a moment as if weighing his decision. He then dropped the Ole Miss cap on the ground and stomped on it several times, as he placed the Memphis State cap atop his mindless head. Xavier Crawford went on to achieve fame and notoriety in Memphis. Unfortunately, it wasn’t for his accomplishments on the gridiron. You can read about his latest exploits here.

Although I had no allegiance to either school, it was at that point that I vowed to never follow college recruiting. Twenty-three years later, I still don’t. It has evolved into a circus that puts the entire spotlight on a seventeen year-old kid who is basically ill equipped to handle the fame.

College basketball is worse. When you look at three freshman starters for the University of Kentucky that a year ago had committed to the aforementioned University of Memphis, you see three individuals who are there strictly for themselves. None of them are there because they suddenly learned of the history and lore that is Kentucky basketball. Instead, they followed coach John Calipari from Memphis, and are there to be mostly “one and done” before heading to the riches of the NBA.

This is what sports have become. I read comments on this and other sites talking about how today’s IndyCar driver can’t measure up to the drivers of yesteryear. Since I have a deep respect for the Indy 500 that I grew up with in the sixties, I’ve probably been guilty of such comments myself. However, given today’s “me-first” attitude among overpaid athletes, I would still take today’s IndyCar driver over any other professional athletes.

Loyalty is pretty much dead in sports. We see it every day in the NFL where a player gives his all to a team for ten or more years, then when he sustains an injury in the service of the team – they are unceremoniously kicked to the curb (i.e. Tennessee Titan Keith Bulluck).

Racing is also a business. In the same year of the X-Man (1987), Roger Penske was faced with a decision where he had to make a driver change. The odd man out was Al Unser. But during the Month of May, Penske driver Danny Ongais crashed in practice and could not race in the 500. Penske turned to “Big Al” who put his hurt and frustration aside, and accepted the ride. The result was Al’s fourth Indy 500 victory. He realized that Penske had simply made a business decision. Al also realized that it would not be a smart business decision to pass up a Penske ride for the Indianapolis 500.

In 2008, we were treated to what seems like a nice show of loyalty from a driver. Tony Kanaan was pursued by Chip Ganassi to replace his former AGR teammate Dan Wheldon in the No. 10 Target car. Although it was an excellent opportunity given the fact that Ganassi cars have won the last two Izod IndyCar Series championships, Kanaan decided that his loyalties were with Andretti-Green Racing.

Kanaan was plucked by Michael Andretti from a relatively obscure career in CART where in five years he had driven for three teams, had one win and an average season finish of twelfth in points. Andretti had just bought Team Green and moved it from CART to the IRL in 2003 and planned to build his team around Kanaan and Dario Franchitti. When Franchitti left the team after the 2007 season, Kanaan was left as the elder statesman.

Kanaan won the IRL championship in 2004 for AGR. In fact, AGR won the championship three out of four years between 2004 and 2007. But things turned south for the team in 2008 as they only amassed two victories – Kanaan at Richmond and Danica Patrick in Japan. When presented with the opportunity to join the current top team in the league, most think that Kanaan should have made the prudent business decision and jumped at it. Instead, Kanaan showed loyalty to Michael Andretti. So far that loyalty has been repaid with multiple suspension failures and being set ablaze twice by his crew in 2009. I am hoping that perseverance and loyalty eventually pays off for Tony Kanaan.

So when you are thinking that today’s IndyCar drivers are overpaid creampuffs that couldn’t take on today’s version of an aging AJ Foyt in a fist fight – just look around at today’s business environment in sports. I know from experience that today’s IndyCar drivers are the most accessible, fan-friendly and down-to-earth athletes out there today. I dare say that the kids holding press conferences and stepping on hats today care nothing about loyalty – just what’s going to be in it for them.

George Phillips

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31 Responses to “Where Is Loyalty Today?”

  1. You got it George. TK is no cream puff, is loyal to Andretti (some might say to a fault) and is a top professional athlete in every way. People today don’t know that winners like Bill Vukovich kept in shape so that it would give them an edge against their competition.

  2. As always, a great and well-thought out article, George!

    One thing that I think really makes it difficult for a driver to be loyal to the team, is the additional layer of complexity introduced by having to be loyal to sponsors, too.

  3. TK is now a Dad and seems like he is not as aggresive than he was few years ago. Also, he is the rep for Apex-Brazil, and I read that he was Mario Moraes mentor and manager, so he has alot more than just his team loyalty. T.K is the Portuguese liason, if you will for Apex-Brazil for league. I just read how many of the “faithful” kicked TonyG to the curb…ESPN (Tony Blundt). A few years back Sam Hornish was bullied out to NASCAR because he was a 500 winner that was resented from the start. (Hornish may have been the last Indy 500 winner to be asked to the White House.) Dario also took a time-out of Indy and came back in full form… as a gentleman(as his wife, Ashley always likes to say.)
    RHR had a fresh new outlook with “preppy” Izod and has defected to a team “that could make him win”, and now he is definetely not my “All- American” favorite..no loyalty there, for the Moms of this American Push-Pass sport. (Izod is selling apparel at Macy’s, BTW, which is far from the “Go-Daddy” brand.)
    Sarah Fisher, who is an awesome athlete and business woman who hardly gets any credit or attention in this league, is actually demeaned by many Indy Fans. SF has had to work twice as hard as any other team-owner & driver and she is still in the game.
    IMO, Indy looks like a political machine more than an American Sport, right now. Certainly Helio has brought many fans to this sport and he really seems loyal, but then there is Paul Tracey? Again….kicked to the curb. Another “not wanted” driver, accept in Canada, of course.
    It will be interesting to see if the McDonald’s car can get some allegiance…or will Graham Rahal join the other unwanted Indy athletes. Not looking so good right now.
    Since Vision was my favorite Indy Team, I don’t see so much Indy-luv and loyalty. IMO, AJ Foyte is the last loyal Indy ambassador.
    Now that Indy is all about the sponsors and not about the sport….it has fallen far from the open-wheel standard, where the youngest driver is 19.5 and engineering and driving are the primary focus. Sorry George but team loyalty and athleticism is just smoke in the room, right now. The Speed channel doesn’t even cover Indy, accept when Danica blows by.

    • Simon Garfunkel Says:

      WTF was that???

      • On a lighter and more positive note, IndyCar driver Milka Duno is going to be a member of the Latin American International Sports Hall of Fame soon. On the 30th of January, the female driver is set to become the first Venezuelan athlete to be included in the Latin American HoF. There is still loyalty! Yay for Indy!

    • I don’t remember ever seeing Sarah being demeaned – where did that come from?

      • Sarah just works hard and has to be objectified because thats how the business model was created with DP on the grid.
        If you’ve followed any of the backstory on D.P’s marketing tactics, she stripped for GoDaddy as part of the ‘exposure’ Superbowl series of ads that got nixed by Fox and didn’t make it on the air… she’s ‘branded’ her body that way from the beginning and the objectification of woman just naturally carries over, unfortunately.IMO

      • Look, lady (this is in response to MARS, as I apparently can’t directly reply to her post).

        I’m usually willing to let your nonsense go. There’s no point in arguing with much of what you say, because most of whay you say has no discernible point or origin in reality. But Sarah Fisher is being “objectified”? By whom? I don’t think I’ve seen any pictures of Sarah *ever* in anything skimpier than a polo shirt, and most of the pictures I’ve seen of her since she started her own team have been of her in a driver’s suit. She’s not being demeaned or objectified by anybody, unless you think that button down shirts are too revealing. In which case, I might need to rethink what I’m wearing right now, because I’m probably showing too much skin at work. She does get more attention than, say, EJ Viso, but I would offer that that’s probably less because of the fact that she’s a woman and more because of the fact she’s the ONLY owner-driver in the series anymore.

        It’s time for you to stop bringing around your negative, scurrilous, nonsensical thoughts about Danica, Marco, the rest of the Andretti family, Honda, Izod, Apex-Brazil, Go Daddy, IndyCar, flat-front pants, Microsoft Word, baby carrots, snow shovels, non-dairy creamer, algebra textbooks, jumper cables and anything else you’ve been carrying on about here for over two months now and move on. Nobody agrees with you. Nobody can even understand you. Go away.

  4. MARS latest unfocused, rambling diatribe aside:

    As usual, a great post, George. You are correct when you talk about loyalty.You are SO correct about National Signing Day and College Basketball-at the boys-I can’t call them men’s-level. That is a cesspool of me-me-me.

    Back to IndyCar racing for a moment; I voted that the drivers are more loyal than other athletes to their teams. However, it is fair to point out that things are a little different in IndyCar. IndyCar is a sponsor-driven sport, and with the lack of consistent sponsors, it can be very difficult on either driver or team to remain loyal to each other. With the exception of one, I do feel that the majority of IndyCar drivers feel honored to be part of the series and want to remain with their teams and the series as long as they can.

    • Edward, dear-
      Despite his impressive body of work last year for Newman/Haas/Lanigan, the 21-year-old Rahal currently has no deal in place for 2010. No McDonald’s car…? How is that for American loyalty?

      • :roll: Are you freakin’ SERIOUS :?:

        Devil’s Advcate: G. Rahal has won ONE race in two years :idea:

        Economic Reality: McDonald’s “LOYALTY” was to the late Paul Newman & were no where near the $$$ level Marlboro or Target is for Penske & Ganassi. They pulled their plug on Indycar not Rahal & Newman Haas (Lanagin) :idea: :idea:

  5. George, Interesting post for the day after Dale Coyne lost Driver and Sponsor (one he found) to DRR…

    • Budweiser started @ Newman Haas… they moved to Trusports & Bobby Rahal… they went BACK to Newman Haas… they eventually went to Della Penna before LEAVING Indycar :idea:

      Marlboro sponsored Emerson Fittipaldi @ Patrick Racing… they followed Emerson to Penske. Sponsors jump around all the time JP. We have no idea what deal DCR had with Z-Line Designs. Obviously, the sponsor felt they could upgrade :!:

  6. F.A.R.T.S. Says:

    We will see the new Indy car soon and then we will see who stays and who goes.
    Should Helio retire soon and Team-Penske decide to exit because the new car design isn’t what they like- then the team loyalty thing will be something to talk about.
    Rosetta Stone sells a Portuguese series BTW.

    • Helio just won his 3rd Indy 500 & you have him on the road to retirement :shock: :?: Plus the owners have been the ones who SUPPORT the Delta Wing concept …so WTF would Penske leave Indycar :?: The same Penske who loved to build his own cars :?: RP scared off by the Delta Wing :?:
      :) :) :) :) Thanks for the chuckles :!:

      • Penske has nothing to loose by walking away from the rodeo,if that what he decides to do then it will be Target Red & White.
        Roger Penske already walked away from Saturn and may not like this “new” design. So then ?

    • What part of the OWNERS are all geeked for the Delta Wing project did you miss? Penske being against it would have hit the blogs or Robin Miller :idea: RP also has 15 Indy 500 wins & a crap-load of Indycar championships… WTF would he walk away :?:

      You have oversimplified the Penske & Saturn situation beyond belief & has ZERO to do with his racing operation :roll: Are you seriously comparing a potential purchase of an entire car company to the LOW-COST Delta Wing :?:

      Again… Thanks for the late night :) :) :) :) :) :) :)s You beat Letterman tonight

      • It seemed that RP was intent on Saturn and then he walked away last month is all. People do walk away BTW.
        It takes alot of capital to run this kind of entertainment and TG has been carrying the load so …
        Will be looking for D.W. at the autoshow this month… Time will tell.

      • Penske dropped the Saturn venture because could’t convince Renault-Samsung to supply him their cars (Mégane / Fluence, Laguna / SM5).

  7. I’m sure Indycar would like to see more American-born drivers in the series, but these days it’s all about how much sponsor money a driver can bring right? So rather than accuse Indycar of an anti-American bias, like many do, why not blame the sponsors for not supporting American-born drivers? Personally I think the best example of a tough, funny, skilled American-born driver right now is a Canadian–Paul Tracy.

    Back on topic, the Indycar drivers as a whole seem like a pretty focused, professional bunch. But I don’t think driver/team loyalty is that big a deal, I just think the options are very limited right now.

  8. Demeaned? Sarah Fisher was THE fan favorite for several years running when she first came into the series. Frankly, it’s demeaning to say that she is demeaned.

    • Sarah Fisher is fantastic!…and she is demeaned,…just by the Indy G0-Daddy Brand, as all woman are, IMO.

      • :roll: Then don’t watch then :idea:

        Pimp Daddy is a crap company… but since you have been BABBLING on about LOYALTY… Have you missed wear that sponsor has been L-O-Y-A-L to Danica Patrick… yet you get all whacked about a good driver that happens to be good looking :?:

        What are you …350 pounds & jealous :?: :?: Sounds like it to me.

        I seem to recall Carl Edwards on the cover of Men’s Fitness with his shirt off… do you think the male racing fans felt “demeaned” :?:

      • Full Monty, bro.
        Then you can talk aboiut equality on the grid!

      • You have lost your mind.

      • Guys, I meant Mars. Ridiculous and she should be ignored.

  9. Oh, Andretti Racing is the team I am going to pull for this year!

  10. Speedgeek is so “vocal.”

    • The Oscar Myer Weinie Police have spoken.
      Speedgeek, some people would rather have MacDonalds-

      I would suggest an Indy book club for your site.
      Marie H. George is someone that I respect- (mostly for her charities and work with Horses) and you would do well to stop dissin her friends.

      • Its McDonald’s… + Ronald McDonald is questioning your LOYALTY to his burgers with all this hot dog talk :!:

        Also, with your rep on this blog… you just cost Mrs. George book sales :idea:

  11. imjustsayingisall Says:

    I think that loyalty per se, in both business and sport is long extinct…. Personally I believe that most large businesses sealed their fate on this more than twenty years ago, when the average corporation became more interested in short term high profit results. This type of strategy helped put many of them into the corporate takeover game. Once the average worker began to realize that there was no longer even a glimmer of concern for their long term tenure at many of these institutions, that the bottom line only was king, thats when employee loyalty flew the coup. Believe me, i have personal experience with this. Regarding the IRL, would someone please explain to me which motorsport these days or in recent history has not been sponsor driven???? The only reason it has come so vividly to the forefront now is because of the ever shrinking sponsor pool in this economic environment….

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