Who Has Paid Their Dues More?

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Today’s society is filled with stories chanting with the phrase “…they haven’t paid their dues”. Whether it’s Taylor Swift, Johnny Manziel or Ryan Briscoe; there are plenty of examples where detractors scoff at any success that has come their way and write it off simply as luck. Those detractors cannot make that same claim against Verizon IndyCar driver Justin Wilson.

Early yesterday morning, I checked Twitter as I tried to delay getting out of my warm bed since it was 17-degrees outside. A tweet from Andretti Autosport caught my eye saying “We are finally able to tell you some exciting news this morning. Stay tuned!!!” It was my assumption that they would be announcing the occupant of the No.27 car that had been driven by the recent departed James Hinchcliffe, who is now with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports.

I have to admit, I was a little disappointed to find out that the announcement involved signing Dalton Kellet for their Po Mazda team for next season. No disrespect for the young Kellet, but I had hoped this would involve their top-level vacancy. Furthermore, my desire was that they were going to announce that the No.27 car was finally going to a well-deserved Justin Wilson.

Other than trying to connect some dots that may or may not be there regarding Wilson being on hand last weekend for the promotion of the NOLA ticket sales – I have no reason to suspect that Wilson is being targeted for that ride. But I can dream, can’t I?

There is probably no current driver in the paddock that has paid his or her dues more than Justin Wilson. For years, he has toiled along with the likes of Dale Coyne and Dryer & Reinbold. It is no coincidence that Wilson brought Dale Coyne Racing the first two wins in that team’s long existence.

The affable Brit had a great career in Champ Car, winning four races and placing third, second and second, while driving for RuSport/RSPORTS in the final three seasons for that series before unification with IndyCar. After unification, he won three more races; one for Newman/Haas as a transition team in 2008, when Newman/Haas was just a shell of its former self, then two more with Coyne.

You can’t help but wonder what Justin Wilson could do if he ever got a ride with a top team. I don’t mean to knock Dale Coyne. He has done wonders on a small budget and he has given a lot of unknown drivers their start. But I don’t think anyone puts Dale Coyne Racing on the same level with Penske, Ganassi and Andretti.

The detractors of Ryan Briscoe always say that the only reason he had any success was that he was driving a Penske car. They say he never paid his dues and didn’t deserve that ride. If you believe that logic (which I don’t), you should be drooling at the thought of the opposite happening – a proven, well-respected driver paying his dues for years, winning in lesser equipment; before finally getting his shot in a first-class ride. That’s what would be happening if Justin Wilson were to land the coveted No.27 ride.

We fawn over how marketable Ryan Hunter-Reay and James Hinchcliffe are, and rightfully so. They have both been good spokesmen for their sponsors and the Verizon IndyCar Series during their time with Andretti Autosport. But they have nothing on Justin Wilson when it comes to being a fan-favorite.

I would be willing to bet that Justin Wilson is the most approachable full-time driver in the current IndyCar paddock. Not only is he always willing to pose for a picture or sign autographs, but he’ll take time to chat it up with fans as well. Some drivers smile for their poses and quickly wipe it off as they go about their business. With Wilson – that smile is genuine. He seems to truly enjoy engaging with fans.

Quite honestly, I don’t see how he does it. Although he has won three times in Dale Coyne cars, he has also had some abysmal weekends when the Coyne cars were not even close to be on the pace with the rest of the field. I’ve seen him crawl out of the cockpit, visibly frustrated at his car’s lack of competitiveness – and then spend the next fifteen minutes accommodating fans.

If you can name a driver that is more deserving of a top ride than Justin Wilson, please do so. There may be some budding superstar of the future that Michael Andretti has tabbed for that seat, but none that has paid their dues and proven their worth more than Justin Wilson.

Here’s hoping that good things actually do happen to good people.

George Phillips

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10 Responses to “Who Has Paid Their Dues More?”

  1. I agree with everything you said about Justin. As a fan, nothing would be more satisfying than to see him secure a top-tier ride.

  2. Well, unfortunately “deserves” doesn’t always have anything to do with who actually nails good rides.

    But I don’t want to be cynical; that’s always the way it’s been in any endeavor, not just sports or autosports in particular, let alone Indycar. The real point is that if anyone deserves a good ride, it’s Wilson. And I can’t think of anyone who’d disagree.

  3. Yes, Wilson has proven himself repeatedly by winning with low-dollar equipment. I’m especially impressed in his lack of whining and bitching about it. While driving for these lower-funded teams he’s never complained, bitched, been moody or anything. Total class guy as George so well outlines. I always wondered about the criticism of Briscoe, specifically if he’s so undeserving, why did Roger hire him? The guy brings no check, so if he’s low-talent than he’s fooled Roger Penske, and I highly doubt that’s the case. I’d love to see Wilson get a top-tier ride. Unfortunately, the number of seats where it’s all about talent and not about size of check is limited in IndyCar, and maybe even dwindling. But, that’s a well-worn lament for another time …

  4. billytheskink Says:

    I was going to say that Hunter-Reay has paid more dues than Wilson (of course, RHR was finally rewarded), but then I remembered that Paul Gentilozzi co-owned RSports when Wilson drove there. That squares them.

    When comparing dues paid in racing, having driven for Gentilozzi is a trump card.

  5. I would love to see Wilson finally in a top team. I wouldn’t mind if it were someone like Daly instead, but if it’s the current crop then Justin would be top of my list.

  6. If Wilson goes to Andretti, who will drive the #98 Bryan Herta Autosport entry? Both are Honda teams. It may well be possible both are working on getting enough sponsorship to be able to hire the same driver. Here’s hoping Coyne also gets another first-class driver to succeed Wilson in the #19 car once he is off to another team. Wilson’s win in the Coyne car with Bill Pappas engineering at Watkins Glen was epic.

  7. Would love to see Justin in a winning season. Maybe Michael A will surprise us all.

  8. george you are very much correct here. a guy with alot of talent and class. heres a toast to justin and hopefully to micheal on getting a deal done!

  9. Wilson has earned a good ride and I do like him, but I am not going to lie I’d rather see Veach/Daly/Rossi/SIlvestro/Hildebrand in that ride. Wilson V Abt/Bird, I’d take Justin in a heartbeat though.

  10. My question is always the same: if Wilson is as good as his supporters claim (and I love watching the guy race), why haven’t Andretti, Penske or Ganassi picked him up already? What are they not seeing in him? It’s not a funding issue because they hire non-funded drivers. Roger has hired JPM and Briscoe, Ganassi has also run Briscoe (and Kimball, who is always “just about” to break out but never does), and Andretti has opted for Munoz and Viso (better funded drivers, to be sure). I’d love to hear their reasons.

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