Katherine Legge is no longer driving for TrueCar Racing, which, after a lot of hoo-ha last year, is apparently scaling back its support of female drivers, as evidenced by replacing its female driver in IndyCar with a male. Which prompted this grand mal whine post (you've been warned) ...
First, Katherine Legge got shanked ... again. The whole 2012 season was kind of a shit sandwich for Katherine, with the Lotus thing being the shit in said sandwich. (Update: Katherine's statement re: said shanking is here. Dragon/TrueCar's statement claiming there was no shanking here.)
The Lotus-powered car Katherine had to drive up until Indy had all the fierce power of a circus clown car (ask Simona De Silvestro about it). Then came the desperate negotiations/drama pre-Indy to get rid of the sLotus and get a Chevy. That forced Legge into a last-possible-second Indy rookie test situation. Which forced Katherine Legge to get up to 220-ish on what's hailed as the world's most famous, hardest race course under the glare of the Indy 500 attention, with her sponsors realy really really wanting to be in the race ... in about an hour. And she did it.
Compounding all this were the difficulties/inexperience inherent in a new team (Dragon Racing). But, they figured it out -- big hat tip to Legge's teammate Sebastien Bourdais here who helped shake the car down and say "it's still screwy" (paraphrasing) -- and after killing her rookie test Katherine qualified easily. (Read her comments about it here.)
But then, since Dragon had to drop a buttload of cash to get out of its Lotus predicament, they could only get/afford ONE Chevy engine, so Legge had to share the ride with Bourdais. Awesome for both! Partial season is better than no season and all that, so everyone soldiered on. But I strongly believe their was a bunch of rancor and gnashing of the teeth within the team as a result of this whole Lotus debacle.
Besides her total performance at Indy, which was impressive if you look at it objectively (hahahahahaha I used "objective" connected to racing), Legge finished P9 in the finale at Fontana, and would have likely done even better if she had not made a rookie-mistake of speeding in the pits.
So yesterday she got tossed by TrueCar, which decided to keep their cash with Dragon Racing who gave it to Sebastian Saavedra. Adios, Katherine. Just like that.
Welp, that's racing, and -- while I have nothing against Saavedra who I don't even know -- I'm pissed about it for two reasons. One, I'm a fan of Katherine's. She's a little enigmatic. She's not the super warm fuzzy extrovert. She's not super sharing of every detail of her life. She's not a crusader for a cause. I can relate to this. In some sense I think Katherine just wants to drive the f-ing car and isn't super excited about all the "soft skills" (schmoozing, etc.) that go with racing.
Which brings up the second reason I am pissed: I greatly dislike the requirement in racing that most drivers have to grub for money all the damn time in order to drive. Success in racing today is almost as much about personal marketing skills as it is driving skills, and that sucks. That's true in very very very few other sports. You don't see Kobe or LeBron having to work the hospitality suite before every game.
Parents and coaches in junior high and high school don't pull baseball players aside and say "You know, if you make bunch of connections and develop some mad PowerPoint skills, you could make it to the majors!" The hoops you have to jump through to drive a race car are so insane I would never do it in a zillion years. The grubbing for money element of racing -- which existed to some extent even in the "good old days" -- I hate it. It's probably the worst in IndyCar since money is so so so so scarce and drivers have to suppliment the crappy marketing ROI with heavy-duty schmoozing.
I even realize I'm being bi-polar here -- which again makes me a racing fan -- because like every one else I love it when it works for my driver. So when Katherine attracted TrueCar sponsorship because she was female -- it was the "Women Empowered" campaign after all -- I was happy. I didn't want racing to be a meritocracy then. And who knows if it was strictly talent-based how the Women of pressdog® I root for would fair. But I'd prefer that, frankly, to the cash grubbing that is endemic to the sport.
But can racing EVER be purely merit based? No. Why? Because the role of money is so HUGE in racing it's this massive variable that talent can't overcome. Rick Mears in his prime couldn't have stayed on the lead lap in a Lotus on an oval last year. A shitty car and a great driver means at best mediocre results, especially on an oval. So the idea that the car is like a basketball, the same for everyone, is ludicrious and blows the merit-based arugment to shit. Was Danica Patrick REALLY a better oval driver than Sarah Fisher in 2006? REALLY? It's just impossible to say yes or no due to the equipment/team talent factor -- hence the decades-old debate over such questions. Danica attracted more money and that was a factor in her success. Danica has said so herself. How big of a factor? Cue the continuing debate.
Plus, what a FUBAR festival of politics and intrigue racing is. Since the car is so critically important to the performance, and there are a bunch of people who work on the car, and personalities like owners and sponsors involved, racing is more of a team sport than maybe any other. To illustrate: Tom Brady can be a complete and total prick off the field (I have no idea if he is or isn't but let's suppose) and it doesn't matter as long as he is awesome on the field. As long as he hits the open receiver in stride it doesn't matter if he's as exciting as the bubonic plague with "sponsors."
But in racing, you can be really good on the track (Ryan Briscoe) and still out of a job for some reason only known to God that relates back to these "soft skills" I hate, or the fact that you've not grubbed for money well enough. At the end of the day, in today's racing on-track performance alone just isn't enough.You gotta be tight with the right people or you're done. You gotta have legions of fans to go with that on-track performance. So if Penske runs out of money and has to go from three drivers to two and then the third driver has to look for a job, racing resume could be the fifth most important thing on the list of hiring criteria, behind "how he looks in a suit" or does he make the big sponsor laugh? Can he play tennis? It's all just lunacy and making me both bi-polar and mental, as you can probably tell.
So if a driver like Katherine is preceived as anything but whatever by all these personalities drivers have to work with expect, then she's out even if she does light it up on the track. Welp, that's racing. I've seen behind the rope in racing just enough to see some of the bullshit, intrigue and Festival of Rumors that goes on and it's not pretty at all.
Second, cue the open-wheel female exodus -- Um, OK, only Simona De Silvestro is in for a full season of IndyCar, and the ladder system seems estrogen free as well. Simona is where she is because her sponsors love her, personally, as opposed to any team. See rant above bout that. Ashley Freiberg has bolted from Star Mazda to a sports car series. Shannon McIntosh appears to be done with open-wheel and glad about it. Female sprint car drivers (just like the males) are seeing opportunity in the NASCAR ladder. The pipeline of female open-wheel drivers seems pretty empty. Probably doesn't bother anybody except those of us who support women in racing.
So, to use a phrase I find odious, I guess "it is what it is." My advice to everyone seeking employment is always "go where the jobs are." Same applies to racing. Better to drive something with fenders than nothing at all. And don't look under the rocks in racing ... lots of icky bugs wriggling around under there.