Popular IndyCar driver and Dancing with the Stars (?) runner-up James Hinchcliffe called for collective bargaining among drivers in IndyCar today, arguing that there should be league minimums like the NFL. “There are drivers out there right now that drive for free. You shouldn’t have to risk your life for free.”
That’s the line that stuck out to me from Hinchcliffe’s op-ed call for action published in Racer, so I’ll drop in the paragraph in full:
A lot of drivers, myself included, came up through the ranks not knowing anyone in motorsports, not having anyone to bounce ideas off of, not having anyone to essentially protect them. Many drivers have outside representation, but many don’t, because they can’t afford to pay an agent, or a management company or whatever it is. Most of the time, you’re not making any money until you get to IndyCar. You’re certainly not getting paid in Indy Lights. And when you sit down to hammer out that first contract, you’re negotiating on your own, and absolutely in that situation a team can take advantage of drivers. It doesn’t happen in every case, but you don’t have to walk far down pitlane to find a driver with a story to tell. There are drivers out there right now that drive for free. You shouldn’t have to risk your life for free. There should be league minimums, like there are in the NFL.
This is interesting that he’s making an argument in terms of fair pay rather than safety or influence in the sport. That was more of the impetus for the original Grand Prix Driver’s Association, started up by Formula 1 drivers in the 1960s before getting disbanded in the 1980s after the drivers went on strike at the start of the season, then resuscitated in the 1990s.
Hinchcliffe himself says that he doesn’t want to lead the unionization charge and that he would prefer a retired driver with more authority to lead the charge. He also says that he doesn’t like he word “union” saying it has a negative connotation, which is a bummer. Unions are not only good (they certainly helped Jalopnik when this whole company unionized) but they’re better than your old school textbook made them out to be, as a great story in Bloomberg recently pointed out.
If you’re wondering how things are over in NASCAR, there is a teams’ association that bargains with the sports’ yahoo management, a relationship that started out rough in 2014. Bill France, the old head of NASCAR, vowed that he’d shoot anyone who tried to race union all the way back in the 1960s, as Fox reported at the time:
While some drivers initially expressed interest in the union, prior to a race at Bowman-Gray Stadium in North Carolina, France laid down the law prohibiting any union members from ever participating in NASCAR events. According to accounts of the day, France told the racers, “I’ll use a pistol to enforce it. I have a pistol and know how to use it.”
Hopefully IndyCar is less adversarial. With high-profile drivers coming over to the sport at a time of some extremely dangerous crashes (Hinchcliffe’s hand was hit by debris in the recent Wickens crash and came back to racing a year after a near-fatal accident where he got impaled), IndyCar would be wise to work cooperatively.
Clarification: The 2014 Fox story was referring to Bill France’s gun-assisted anti-union declaration made in 1961, not in 2014. He died in 1992.