Two Sides To Every Story
If you live to be my ripe old age, you’ll eventually see a lot of your close friends go through a divorce. Unfortunately, national statistics show that there is a good chance you will join them one day. One thing I have learned in watching the marriages of close friends implode is that there are usually two sides to every story, or possibly three – her side, his side and the truth that usually sits somewhere in the middle. That has been the case in almost every divorce I have witnessed – except for my own, of course.
This past Friday, I wrote about the split between Dragon Racing and driver Katherine Legge. I derived my information regarding the split directly from two media releases – one from Legge and the other from Dragon Racing. Legge’s statement went into more detail and (in her opinion) made it clear her sponsor and its “Empowering Women Initiative” had been poached by Dragon Racing and its owner Jay Penske. The Dragon statement was mostly worded with corporate jargon and contained the obligatory “…we wish Katherine well in her future endeavors.”
On Friday afternoon, I received an e-mail from Jay Penske. His complaint to me was that most people that consider themselves journalists will reach out to understand both sides of the story. He went on to express his disappointment that I had apparently chosen not to do so. Hmmm…
My first reaction was to chuckle. Surely, with everything Jay Penske is dealing with at the moment, he’s got better things to do than worry about what some over-the-hill, middle-aged blogger sitting in Nashville, TN has to say about him. I’ve said many times that I don’t consider myself a journalist. I am not. I am simply a fan who sits behind the anonymity of a keyboard three times a week and pounds out my opinions on current affairs regarding the IZOD IndyCar Series as well as some random reminiscing of years past. I am fortunate that over the years, I’ve built a loyal base of readers who sometimes agree with me, but don’t mind putting up a strong case for why they think I am wrong – which can be quite often.
After I got over my initial response, I asked myself if there was much more to this story than I know, that is common knowledge with most people involved with the sport. Am I so much of an outsider that I’m the only one gullible enough to believe everything I see in a press release? Katherine Legge was very explicit in her accusations, while Dragon offered no real explanation in their opportunity to respond. Without seeing the actual agreement between all parties, it appeared to this outsider that Legge had been wronged in a big way.
I stated in Friday’s post that I had never met any of the parties involved and had no personal ax to grind. That was true. Anyone who has followed this site very long knows how much I admire Roger Penske. Team Penske has been my favorite team ever since they showed up at Indianapolis with Mark Donohue in 1969. As an eleven year-old, I didn’t have a clue who Roger Penske was – but I quickly became a huge fan of Donohue by the way he carried himself and of course, for that beautiful blue Sunoco Special he drove. I was there the day that Donohue won in 1972 and was well aware who Roger Penske was by that time. I was a fan then and continue being a fan of Team Penske to this day. Their preparation and his passion for open-wheel racing are second to none and I will always be a fan of the team simply due to what Roger Penske has meant to racing.
When Jay Penske came onto the IndyCar scene at the 2007 Indianapolis 500, I was automatically a fan. His Luczo-Dragon team operated out of the Penske stables. Their car was strikingly similar to the Rick Mears Pennzoil car of the eighties. The younger Penske spoke in a stoic manner that was reminiscent of his father. In 2008, Luczo-Dragon ran a handful of races with Tomas Scheckter as the driver. They had set up their own shop, breaking away from Team Penske and charting their own course. Everything they did seemed to be following the path of building the team slowly and methodically – in other words, doing things the right way.
As recently as last January, I wrote a post proclaiming how 2012 was to be the Year of the Dragon and that after some rocky times – the renamed Dragon Racing had risen from the ashes and was poised to have a breakout season with their two new drivers; Sébastien Bourdais and Katherine Legge. So, if anyone thinks I’ve been on a crusade against Jay Penske, they are sadly mistaken.
But after his well-documented arrest at Nantucket last August, my perception and opinion of Jay Penske totally changed. It was at that point that I started re-examining his relatively short career as an IndyCar owner and realized just how checkered it really was. I privately scratched my head when he hired rookie Rafael Matos as his driver for the team’s first foray into full-time competition in 2009. To this day, I’ve never heard an explanation as to what happened between Jay Penske and former co-owner Gil de Ferran, whom I’ve always considered one of the classiest men in the paddock. The haphazard way the restructured team stumbled through the handful of races it ran in 2011 also became more amplified after the arrest. It also made me question the finger-pointing between Dragon and Lotus at Spring Training last year, when the two drivers could only share one car due to a payment dispute with Lotus. With so many shady and questionable occurrences, it seemed totally believable that Katherine Legge’s allegations were true.
Then there was the bizarre turn that “Dragongate” took this weekend. Friday afternoon, Legge’s former teammate, Sébastien Bourdais, took an unusual course by discussing Legge’s release with ESPN.com. He sited a test with the team at Fontana in December where Legge’s performance was “just weak”, which played into the decision to release her. On Saturday morning, Legge released a statement saying Bourdais’ claim was a “complete and utter fabrication”. She went on to explain to the Associated Press that she had not been in a race car since the IndyCar season finale at Fontana in September – a race in which she finished ninth.
Teams are required to have all tests approved by the series. INDYCAR records show that Legge tested at Sonoma in August and at an open test at Fontana in early September, prior to the season finale. They also show that only Bourdais took part in Dragon’s December test in Fontana. It seems Bourdais would have remembered whether or not Legge was there. Maybe not. By Saturday afternoon, the story on ESPN.com was later revised with the Bourdais quotes regarding Legge’s December test removed. Very bizarre.
In my opinion, drivers should not come public to denounce other drivers in team personnel matters. These are decisions made at the top. I don’t think you’ll ever hear Will Power speak out regarding Ryan Briscoe’s departure from Team Penske. In fact, in the near half-century that I’ve followed this sport – I can never recall a driver trashing a former teammate immediately after a parting of the ways. It may happen decades later in a tell-all book or a candid interview long after the fact, but not just days after the departure is announced. If Bourdais actually said this (which it appears he did) – it displayed very poor judgment on his part to insert himself into a very controversial matter.
But the “other side” comment in Jay Penske’s e-mail kept running through my head. So I did some digging – lots of digging. I am not a journalist and don’t practice “sourcing”, but I do have some friends that are a lot more on the inside than I am. I contacted several of them and asked if it were possible that Jay Penske was the innocent party here. Overwhelmingly, they assured me that there was much more to the story than I had presented.
I will not betray the confidence of any of my friends by telling the other side of the story, since they all asked for confidentiality. Suffice it to say that while I still question the character and decision-making of Jay Penske, he is not the only one to blame in this break-up. Between Jay Penske, TrueCar CEO Scott Painter and Legge herself – there is enough bad behavior from each one to lay the finger of blame on. Over the weekend, I saw bits and pieces on Twitter that alluded to the same things that I heard from my friends. I feel certain that over time, we’ll learn more and more about what actually happened, but the full story will probably never come out.
So is this an apology to Jay Penske for the things I wrote about him on Friday? Absolutely not. But it is an acknowledgement that he was correct in saying that I should have dug deeper before proclaiming Katherine Legge as the innocent victim in this mess. And believe me, this is a mess that is becoming a bigger mess by the minute. As in most break-ups, there are usually at least two sides to every story. That is apparently the case here, as well.