Millions of spectators on TV. Thousands of fans in the stands. Constant updates streamed over countless internet channels. All focused on cars and drivers racing side-by-side at upwards of 200 miles per hour. So why are we drivers usually so damn boring?
This is the reality of the modern day, professional racecar driver. Every move he or she makes is instantly analyzed, judged, critiqued, and posted about on social media. Drivers spend a great deal of time trying to make a good impression on their fans and multi-million-dollar sponsor(s), all the while having to put as much focus on the one thing that matters most: Winning. So what's gone wrong?
I know you’re thinking, “Wait, did he just say race car drivers were ‘boring?’” Yes, yes I did. Let's face it, when professional racecar drivers are doing an interview, speaking for a crowd, filming a reality show, you name it, we… are… BORING. The only thing we talk about it is – you guessed it – racing.
Side note: I’ve noticed that some of the older drivers talk about their kids… a lot. Sure, I get it, you had to change a diaper before qualifying and I’m sure your little blessing is beautiful. But I don’t want to hear that. Neither do the fans. My guess is that the average person who doesn’t get paid to drive 200 mph wants to hear how kick-ass it is to be a racecar driver!
I must admit to being a hypocrite. I, too, am boring. (Eeesh, glad I got that off my chest, as the first step to fixing a problem is admitting it.) I get on camera, I talk about my racecar, my sponsors, my feelings (chosen from the box of acceptable emotions according to the PR handbook). However, none of it lets you know “why its kick-ass to be a race car driver.”
At this point you may ask, “Parker, why are you just realizing now that racecar drivers are boring?”
I was asked in a recent panel about how to make sure you are doing the best you can outside the racecar. In racecar driver lingo, that usually means doing whatever it takes to make sponsors happy and obtain new ones as well.
During this panel, I made a mistake. I said something along the lines of, “Just be yourself. Don’t be afraid to show your personality and don’t let them suppress what makes you personable. No one wants to sponsor a robot. If they did, they could just stick to traditional media avenues.” What I forgot to say was, “If you’re being paid to drive racecars, always let people know how ‘f’’ing’ awesome that is, because you will maintain your image as a racecar driver.”
Darrell Waltrip recently told me a story about a driver (who will remain nameless) that asked him, “Why do people not view me as a driver? They always come to me for questions on the state of the sport or sponsors, etc., but not driving.”
Darrell replied to him saying, “Well, Driver X, all you talk about is those things. Start talking more about the experience of driving and what it’s like to be a racecar driver, and people will view you that way.” It was advice that truly resonated with me and I realized that what we, as drivers, say in the media or on camera is our “image.”
Some now you may ask why this is important. Does how you’re viewed make you any faster on the track? No. But indirectly, it can be the difference. When you gain fans, you gain visibility. When sponsors are looking for a driver, they want one with high visibility and that “it factor” that will help them market/sell their product(s).
Gaining sponsors gets you funding and that funding can make you faster on track. Obviously, going fast is important to any racecar driver and a driver without a sponsor... well... I can only imagine what that would be like.
The real reason it’s important is that, to be a successful professional racecar driver, you must be viewed as a successful racecar driver. As my dad says, “Perception is reality.” If you are perceived to be really good on camera and with sponsors, even if that’s not necessarily the truth, the reality to others is that you are really good on camera. Simple as that.
In the case of the racecar driver, perception is usually the difference between getting a ride or not. The president of one the top racing teams in American racing once said to me, “You don’t make enough headlines.” It was then that I realized that how I was being perceived was affecting my ability to be able to go out and show my talent on the racetrack.
Ever since that meeting, my perception of the sport changed. I have worked tirelessly to make sure that I have spent equal amounts of time on becoming a better driver on the race track and being a better ambassador for our sport.
Therefore, for you young racecar drivers out there wondering how not to be a boring racecar driver: Keep letting your personality shine and always remember, make sure everyone knows that it’s pretty kick-ass to be a professional racecar driver!
Photo Credit: Getty Images