March 12, 2020 was a dark day for professional motor racing in the United States, and around the world. With the cancellation of WEC's 1,000-mile Sebring race, and eventual postponement of IMSA's 12 Hours of Sebring, a chain reaction of race event cancellations spread like wildfire across the US. By the time the dust settled, all professional GT racing in the US was wiped off the calendar until Summer 2020, at the soonest.
As fans, this is a real downer...but for thousands of hard-working men and women who fly in every weekend to put on the show, this could mean months without work.
Matt Weaver wrote about this very topic recently in Autoweek:
"The financial repercussions of the coronavirus shutdown will affect every industry across the world—motorsports included.
There is a too common assumption that everyone who works at the highest levels of the sport makes six figures and that the industry is in a position to build a safety net for an act of God scenario. That’s simply not true.
Most fans only follow the exploits of those who race for championships on television and social media, painting the most marginal of pictures of the larger motorsports economic landscape.
The reality is that every paddock and garage is primarily populated with those living paycheck to paycheck."
Matt goes on to outline, in very real terms, the impact to drivers, teams, and enablers in the IndyCar and NASCAR paddocks - and while his aptly timed article focuses on those paddocks specifically, precisely the same conditions exist across all professional racing paddocks in the US, including GT racing.
Since my introduction to professional racing, I've come to refer to this as the race economy. It's a micro-ecosystem made up of sanctioning bodies, car manufacturers, customer racing teams, service shops, parts suppliers, professional drivers, gentleman drivers, coaches, crew members, journalists, hospitality providers, and many other vendors - all reliant on the regular fielding, competing, and servicing of race cars.
While everyone across this race economy is taking a tremendous punch in the gut right now, arguably some of the hardest hit will be the contract or "fly-in" crew that make their living slinging tires, working wheel guns, and slamming fuel probes for teams up and down pit lane.
These jobs are not glamorous, nor do they pay glamorous wages - the men and women behind those helmets often secure crew spots on multiple teams in multiple series so they can cobble together enough paying race weekends to provide a sustainable living for themselves and their families. They spend most of their time flying from one race track to another, preparing cars for the track, maintaining them during the race, and loading them up for the next event. This is not a hobby for them, it is their livelihood - and without races to support, there is no livelihood.
What's more, without them there is no race, and they need our help. As a fan, driver, and a relatively new team owner, I'd certainly like to have a healthy sport to come back to when this is all over - and that means having this key cog in the race economy still intact when the tracks go green again. I've put measures in place to make sure the men and women of Team Hardpoint are taken care of during this period of uncertainty, but that's only one team out of hundreds.
So in response to the CV-19 crisis, I've decided to form The Hardpoint Paddock Foundation, a non-profit charitable organization incorporated in the state of North Carolina on March 20, 2020. The Foundation's mission is to provide emergency financial assistance to contract crew members hardest hit by the CV-19 shutdown. Its outreach will focus initially on professional sportscar racing teams, but may expand to include other series and support elements based on the success of our fundraising efforts.
I have also pivoted the resources of Hardpoint Outfitters to focus on the design, production, and sale of a Flatten the Curve line of products with help from motorsport apparel and design firm 8380 Laboratories. The design acknowledges the phrase we are all living daily during this crisis, but also has dual meaning for racing drivers and our beloved apexes. All proceeds from the sale of these items will go to The Hardpoint Paddock Foundation, where they will be used solely to provide emergency assistance to those in need.
Lastly, we have also established a GoFundMe page for individuals or corporations wishing to join us in this effort by making donations. Our race family needs us, and we can't sit idly by while we wait for the track to go hot.
If you, too, would like to help the race economy hold the line for the next couple months, I encourage you to buy a shirt, or 2, or more! If you're not the tee shirt wearing type, that's okay too - head over to the GoFundMe page and donate whatever you can spare. It will go a long way toward securing the health of our sport, and the hard working men and women who make it possible.