The Unspoken Side Of Racing

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There have been many benefits that I have enjoyed by starting and continuing this site, but the biggest reward has been the relationships in the IndyCar community that I have developed. Over the years, Susan and I have struck up friendships with some drivers, crew members, IndyCar executives and administrators, series sponsors, journalists and broadcasters, as well as fellow IndyCar bloggers – and a few spouses for all the above. I don’t throw that list out to brag or drop names, but rather to lend credibility to this post and subject matter – which is the stress and toll that racing puts on families and marriages.

One of the racing couples that I’ve developed a relationship with is going through a tough time right now, directly due to the pressures and lifestyle changes that comes with the territory of working within the sport we cherish. To protect their identity, I will offer no further details of their specific situation other than to say they have worked directly in this sport for quite a while. Everything I will say here will be in generalities, but their story can apply to almost everyone that earns their living in any form of racing.

We fans follow this sport passionately throughout the year; cautiously looking over our shoulder at work – listening to every practice online while trying to look busy, arranging our weekend schedules around qualifying and race broadcasts and building vacation schedules around the entire month of May. Then there are those that make their living making this sport happen week after week, at the expense of their families and loved ones at home. While these families share in the excitement and disappointments of racing results every weekend that all fans do, they put up with long separations from their family members who earn their paychecks by travelling with the teams or series.

As much as you and I would consider anything remotely related to a career in IndyCar racing as our dream job; it is a very demanding and grinding existence to those that have done it for a while. Many do it because it’s in their blood and it’s the only life they’ve known. Most of those that are not drivers do not make exorbitant salaries. They do it for the love of the sport. After all, shouldn’t it be enough to be doing something you love for your career? How many of us can lay claim to that?

Here’s where reality sets in. Not only is the pay not great, but the hours are long and hard and there is no job security. Passion for your job does not pay the bills at home. Job stability has almost always been non-existent in racing. It’s the nature of the beast. A sponsor’s promised check may never materialize. Sponsorship that was thought to be solid can disappear with little warning. A car owner can grow tired of his hobby and decide to shut down an entire operation at a moment’s notice. The current trend is for teams to have mass layoffs immediately following the season finale. If a team member is lucky, they’ll be brought back to the same team the following spring. Others will feel the need to find more secure employment at another team, even if it means taking a pay cut. After all, a cut in pay is better than no pay at all. Financial uncertainty like this takes its toll on families trying to make ends meet.

Sometimes, spouses can travel to some of the races – but they have to realize that there will be little or no time spent with each other over the race weekend. Then if there are children involved, the spouse is almost always left behind at home to deal with the not so glamorous life of raising kids – I speak from experience, as I was a single dad myself while raising two kids.

In an ideal world, a marriage would be strong enough to permit long periods of separation – with one spouse traveling with friends and co-workers from city to city, while the other spouse stayed home and raised a family. Unfortunately, this isn’t an ideal world.

Drivers are human. Crew members are human. IndyCar personnel are human. To be human means that none of us are perfect. Even the strongest of marriages can fall prey to the less than ideal situations that exist when friends, team members and co-workers spend so much time together on the road – away from their spouses. The travelling circus that is IndyCar is a tight-knit bunch and I’m sure that the mentality of “What happens on the road, stays on the road” is prevalent. It takes a strong and special person to not give in to the temptations on the road.

This is nothing new to racing, sports or the business world in general. Even while growing up, I heard stories of some of racing’s biggest stars leading questionable lives away from home. Some spouses chose to look the other way and stay together, while other racing marriages fell apart.

Some will say that if a marriage falls apart due to travel situations, then it would have just as easily fallen apart at home. Perhaps. Relationships are frail, by nature, anyway. But the additional pressure of long separations, low pay, job instability, long hours and hard work all in the name of allowing one spouse to live their dream, while another stays at home and grows resentful would test the strongest of marriages.

We’ve all seen drivers embracing their spouses before and after each race. We watch the seemingly strong and happy marriages like the Franchitti’s, the Dixon’s and the Hunter-Reay’s presented to us, and for good reasons – they are nice stories of couples that have survived and thrived despite their hectic schedules. What we don’t see are the marital casualties that have been caused by the lifestyle of those involved with the sport. And don’t think that it’s only marriages that suffer. There are plenty of young professionals that spend long hours traveling with the series. Like the drivers and crew members, they love the sport but are somewhat isolated from the outside world and hence – have no life.

I consider myself very fortunate. For the past few years, I have been able to combine the two loves of my life – my wife and IndyCar racing – and experience them both at the same time. As much of a rush as it was to actually get married at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway during the month of May, I think I’ll appreciate it even more as time goes by. But I’m just a fan. I don’t make my living at this sport. There are many families that are being destroyed and sacrificed just to keep this sport going. And I don’t mean just IndyCar. I use it as an example only because it’s the form of racing I know best. It’s like this across the board, not only in all forms of motorsports but in all sports in general.

So, the next time you’re at a race – look beyond the drivers you see every week on television. Watch the crews, or notice the armada of sponsors or IndyCar personnel that are on the ground at each event. Most of them travel to each race and the majority of then have left someone behind for the weekend. They’ve chosen this path, but usually with some sacrifice involved. The show could not go on without them. Go out of their way to thank them for being there and doing what they do. I’ll bet most of them are paying a price at home to be there.

George Phillips

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3 Responses to “The Unspoken Side Of Racing”

  1. Really good writing, George. I’m sure it is a great life but there are definitely some drawbacks and difficulties. Reading a lot of what people who work in racing post on Twitter it seems they are always going somewhere or working on something! And unlike other sports, you don’t spend half of your seasons playing home games. It has to be tough.

  2. james t suel Says:

    Excellent articleGeorge. there are many in the racing life ,that have lost much of there home life.This sport demands all or nothing!!

  3. The life of an entertainer and professional athlete appears to be difficult for a relationship. I hated being on the road and would get homesick as soon as I got on the plane. However, life is full of choices and at one time or another we all want to join the circus if not for a short while.

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