What a lump of coal

Posted by Iannucci | 12/17/2007 | 6 comments »
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Cautiously, hesitantly, and begrudguingly quoting the often inaccurate Robin, only because of the many implications of this possible story:

The last original Indy Racing League driver is heading for sports cars. SPEEDTV.com has learned that Scott Sharp is taking his Patron sponsorship to Highcroft Racing in the American Le Mans series for 2008.

Sharp, who turns 40 in February, will team with David Brabham and replace Stefan Johansson on the Acura-powered P2 team owned by Duncan Dayton.

Besides losing the IRL’s all-time leader in starts (138) and original champion (co-champ with Buzz Calkins) in 1996, Tony George’s series also loses a full-time competitor with a major sponsor (Patron tequila).
Just biting my toungue, crossing my fingers, and not saying another word until there is press release or second source or something.

UPDATE: The nearly infallible braintrust at TrackSide Online confirmed this, so here’s my attempt at making sense of this giant ball of suck.

My first reaction after doing a bit or research was to think maybe this was just a temporary deal. In his move to the ALMS Sharp is supposedly racing for a Honda team, and though he isn’t known to have the kind of relationship with Honda like say Dan Wheldon, the fact that it's a Honda team made me wonder if this is a just a holding point for Sharp/Patron until the Rahal lawsuits run their course.

After all, it just seems strange that a driver and sponsor both decide to leave a series after what should be considered a successful year. Sure Sharp didn't win any races in 2007 (which may be just as many ALMS races he’s going to win in 2008), but he was definitely wins the Tallest Midget Award for accomplishment by a non-Big 3 driver. It’s just exceptionally odd that a guy who has raced almost exclusively on ovals for the past decade is suddenly going to a road course series.

But the TSO piece sounds like this is in fact the end of the line for Sharp as an IRL regular. He may come back for Indy – or he may not. Either way, this is a more damaging departure than that of Hornish or Franchitti, not because Sharp was a better driver or a better guy, but because now it looks like this whole nonsense with Sharp and Rahal Letterman Racing ultimately led to the loss of an extremely engaged sponsor like Patron.

Regardless of what various hacks writers say, drivers can leave without mortally wounding the IRL. Well drivers not named “Danica”, that is. Or “Helio”. But what the league can not afford to lose is sponsors, especially the kind that offer to pay whatever it takes for a quality entry while also rolling an entire party truck into every race venue. It’s not that Patron was the be all, end all of sponsors; it’s how this looks to other potential sponsors who are considering an IRL investment.

Bobby Rahal should bear the brunt of the responsibility for running his business like was Rahal Rent-A-Car, but IndyCar series officials should have had some idea what was going on as well. If a well-paying and fully-active sponsor was looking to get out of RLR and to get somewhere else the league leadership should have done whatever they could to facilitate that. I don’t mean to be crass here, but RLR isn’t bringing anything to the IRL right now – Patron and Ethanol are. If helping the latter means losing the former, well, no one wants to lose teams but that choice would be better than losing the Patron entry and Sharp entirely.

Then again, maybe Patron wanted out and there’s nothing that could have been done. As if THAT would be a better alternative to believe.

At any rate, Sharp will be truly missed. He was always a smiling, talkative guy, which is probably the main reason he’s always had sponsors. That and the fact he was rather fearless on the ovals. He was also the last link to the original IRL, which means fans of a flat-out, American oval racer were always going to have a guy to pull for. It also means he’s old – for a driver, at least. Anyhow, this whole circumstance is leaving such a bad taste that even Patron couldn’t wash it away.

6 comments

  1. john clerk // December 17, 2007 9:29 AM  

    well, that really DOES put a damper on things...

  2. Jennifer of Dog.Yarn.Knit. // December 17, 2007 9:53 AM  

    i think i'm going to throw-up

  3. pressdog // December 17, 2007 12:53 PM  

    Robin's usually right about these things. No more Club Patron. Gotta wonder what this does to Rahal Letterman Racing as well.

  4. Jennifer of Dog.Yarn.Knit. // December 17, 2007 3:14 PM  

    And this is what Bobby does while Letterman is distracted with the writer's strike...

  5. Sharpfan8 // December 18, 2007 8:12 PM  

    I think this is the worst Christmas present I've ever gotten :(

  6. Johnny Livengood // December 20, 2007 9:25 PM  

    A stinger....