Every so often, you see a drier in the field who is hopelessly slower than his or her teammate, but always seems to get a seat for the next season. This person is what we call a pay driver.
The pay drivers came up while we were discussing how IndyCar’s newest female driver is getting screwed. Sometimes sponsorship dollars trump driving ability, and it looks like Katherine Legge is on the wrong side of that see-saw.
Porsche9146 broke down the whole system of racing drivers to five simple categories.
The reality is that there's about five different types of driver in motorsport today...
At the very top you have champions who bring no money. These are the real greats, the Jimmie Johnsons and Sebastian Loebs of the world. People would pay out of pocket for these drivers if they were wholly unsponsorable, as two teams have done for Kurt Busch in the past year.
The next tier is the perennial contender. These are the guys who win races and run for top teams but don't consistently fight for (and by extent take) championships. Sometimes their careers can last 30 to 40 years without ever bringing money or championships, like Mark Martin. They often lose their rides when they lose their sponsors, just as we've seen happen to Ryan Briscoe a few times.
Next you've got the driver who brings a sponsor on board. These are drivers who usually contend for wins but don't ever get more than one in a season, and usually they have single digit win counts. They weren't pay drivers at the beginning of their career, but once they got to the top, a sponsor decided to stick with them separately from a team. This group ranges from Danica Patrick to Clint Bowyer. Legge would also fit into this group
Then, you've got the blatant pay driver. This is someone who's used money to get every ride they've ever had. They often have just one fluke win on their record or none at all. Their funding always comes from a personal connection to the sponsor, either a parent or a country. Every one of PDVSA's drivers falls into this category, including Viso, Duno and Maldonado. Some of these drivers are hacks that are not ever respected, like the aforementioned Duno and Jon Wes Townley, while some carve out a path of respect for themselves and thrive as a midpack runner for years, such as the aforementioned Viso and Paul Menard.
Finally, you've got the true amateurs. These drivers only compete in sports car series and usually compete alongside professionals. They use their own money to get the seat and have professional jobs elsewhere. some of them are actually quite talented, like Enzo Potolicchio and David Heinemeier Hansson, while some are, well, much less so.
So who is your favorite pay driver racing today?
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