Last year, A.J. Foyt Racing had nine Top 10 finishes and one Top 5. That best finish of the season was accomplished by Conor Daly at the series return to Gateway Motorsports Park just outside St. Louis. Daly has been a fan favorite for years, with voices on social media and at the tracks screaming loudly about getting him in a car full-time for the long-haul. The frustration is at an all-time high for his fanbase, as he’s been proving his worth behind the wheel, but instead of getting further opportunities to keep learning and honing his craft, he loses his seat.
And the most recent of these disappointments happened in the midst of him representing the IndyCar Series, during the taping of CBS’ hit show, The Amazing Race, with friend and Andretti Autosport driver of the No. 27 Honda, Alexander Rossi.
I can’t tell you how many new fans of the series I met last year, who came out to the track for the first time because they became a fan of James Hinchcliffe on Dancing with the Stars. Would they have shown up if Hinch didn’t have a ride in 2017? Probably not. Which means, we’ll potentially lose new viewership and new fans because Daly isn’t in an Indy car this season. Case and point:
Daly has been accommodating and self-deprecating over the years, being labeled “fellow driver”, “friend of driver”, and taking it all in stride because at least he was still driving and he was still being afforded the chance to compete. The ability to brush that kind of thing off and continue his focus is an admirable quality. It speaks not only to his humility, but his level of professionalism and having a thick skin – something that’s needed in this industry. He has even played right into the jokes, using the hashtag #TeamIndyCarDriverAndFriend on one of his own tweets recently:
But how long can we reasonably expect Daly to stick around in the hopes of someone giving him a legitimate shot to use his natural talent and most importantly, the time to learn? Has that time limit already expired? He was at Road Atlanta this weekend, racing 16 hours over 2 days with Rogue Engineering and Random Vandals Racing in American Endurance Racing. He was smiling in the trackside selfie and hashtagged that driving something is better than driving nothing… and who could blame him for taking the jobs that are offered to him? His fans will support him no matter the series or the car, it just stinks to think his time in IndyCar might be over.
IndyCar is difficult enough to break into, but when you add in the lack of consistency with timeframes, teams, and teammates, those combined elements make it almost impossible to develop a long-term career. There are less than 2 dozen full-time professional IndyCar drivers on the planet right now. When you compare that to the number of athletes in the NFL, NBA, or MLB, it really puts things in perspective. IndyCar is an elite sport. So many puzzle pieces have to fit together, with nearly perfect timing, to create even the opportunity of a full-time IndyCar driver – and even then, the reality of it doesn’t always happen.
Daly isn’t the first driver we’ve seen get a shot and then seemingly disappear from the paddock. And unfortunately, in all likelihood, he won’t be the last. But is it the fault of these young drivers, fighting for sponsorship funding, that they don’t have a breakout rookie or sophomore year? Or is it the fault of the teams and the owners for not investing enough years into their drivers? Or could it be the fault of the series overall, for allowing guys like Daly to slip through their fingers and not doing enough to ensure they pilot a car? Particularly when he’s coming off what was essentially, a national marketing campaign for the series itself?
Maybe I’m crossing a line, but allow me to be clear that I am not accusing any particular person or entity for Daly being without a ride this season. However, I do think we need to more openly examine how this happens and why, and then figure out what can be done so we don’t make this a habit. A bad habit. One that causes more harm than good.
Given the number of Indy car drivers that this has happened to in just the past 5 years, it seems like that’s the line we should be worried about crossing, if we haven’t already. -LFT-