If you’ve made it to the top level of open-wheel racing – Formula 1 overall and worldwide or the Verizon IndyCar Series in the United States – you’ll have done something right from a preparation, persistence and performance process to get there.
However, navigating your way to the top weeds out a ridiculously high percentage of drivers, who don’t make it for either the lack of opportunity, timing, results or budget – or some combination thereof.
One of the ways Honda Racing/HPD is working to develop young drivers is via a new five-part video series that will launch at the start of next year, created in partnership with the Derek Daly Academy.
Daly, who raced in both F1 and IndyCar before becoming a broadcaster in both championships, and himself having helped guide a number of young driver careers, is seeking to reduce the confusion and provide more clarity for how young drivers can make it to the top in what’s a complex labyrinth of an industry to attempt to navigate.
“We’d had the academy in Las Vegas, with when it was still Barry Green and Team KOOL Green in the 1990s, and we’d put 44 young drivers through the program in two years,” Daly told NBC Sports.
“All of them are different people with different styles. Then I had it myself, with my son Conor starting to come through the ranks, and I had parents ask me, ‘How do you do it?’
“I realized very early on we have a very unstructured sport. Stick-and-ball sports feature talented athletes, scouted from the early days in high schools, then into college, and then they get drafted into the pros. It has all the finances and coaching right there, and it’s a completely structured sport. We don’t have that.”
Daly explained that making it to the next step of competition beyond a driver development program or ladder series requires foresight and the five-year model, which is where the video series and the “X Factor” comes into play.
The “X Factor” targets grassroots racing in particular, aiming for young drivers to build their resumes and their accolades early on so they’re a well-rounded driver after five years.
The breakdown is talent and matrix for year one, technical and funding in year two, communication and branding in year three, marketing and mental growth in year four, and finally sponsorship and physical strength in year five (see visual of it below).
“You have to figure out early on to ask the question of how you’re going to raise the money,” Daly explains. “Figuring out the structure of approaching people to convince them to support your racing program early on is key. You need to have the driver skills, but you also need the support skills; that’s how the whole ‘X Factor’ came about, before they converge down the road. It took on its own natural growth.”
One of the areas I wondered about – and I’m sure others do as well – is whether “branding” has taken precedence over performance for younger drivers trying to stand out in a crowded marketplace. Not so, Daly says, because in his view it’s highly challenging to become a “brand” without having the results on track first.
“To me, branding… is part of the peripheral. It’s still talent and winning races that drives everything,” Daly explained. “That’s why my concentration is more on becoming the fastest possible driver. That drives everything.
“You have to get yourself started. Your on-track success drives your off-track success. In that order! Most think it’s off-track driving the on-track. But without the on-track, you can’t drive your off-track, because you haven’t got any results. Most people mix that up.”
The video series is targeted to hit the natural progression of growth over five years.
Concentrating on hitting the ground in the first year then shifts to a greater technical understanding of the car and focusing on raising money from friends and family. By year three, with the building blocks from the previous two years, interacting with engineers becomes the start.
Daly would like to see new parents understand the racing business and environment better, for them to appreciate the experience as much as their kids can.
“It’s a huge guessing game, because it’s so unstructured,” Daly said. “But Honda have become more and more invested and more interested in, ‘How do we give grassroots families a realistic chance to get their highest return on investment.’ Let’s face it: families are the first investors in these careers. The hope is whatever you invest, there’s good value in it.
“So the goal for us is, ‘How do we lay a platform for a family to understand the basic high performance principles?’
“The X Factor got developed into something real, and with the video series, they can sit here and say look, here’s the steps it takes.”
A pre-release of the video screening is part of Daly’s annual “What If It’s You?” seminar, which will be Saturday, December 10, at 8 a.m. in Room 244 of the Indiana Convention Center. The seminar is free of charge and requires neither a show credential nor pre-registration. This year’s seminar focuses on budget raising.
PRI almost here…Seminar Focus is How to Raise the funding for racing-and introduction of new Honda Grassroots Video series pic.twitter.com/VkxmYsomSj
Defending NHRA Top Fuel champion Steve Torrence is a proud Texan who hates to lose. But if there’s one person Torrence likely doesn’t mind seeing win if he can’t reach the winner’s circle – particularly if it’s on home turf – it’s father Billy.
Steve was cheering his father on as the latter boosted his own championship hopes Sunday by winning the Top Fuel category in the final eliminations of the 34th annual AAA Texas NHRA FallNationals in the Dallas suburb of Ennis, Texas.
Billy Torrence (3.775 seconds at 319.67 mph) defeated Jordan Vandergriff (4.299 seconds, 246.03 mph in his first career final round) for his fourth win of the season, including his second win in the first four races of the six-race Countdown to the Championship playoffs. With the fifth Top Fuel triumph of his career, the elder Torrence moved into fourth in the Top Fuel standings, just 71 points behind his son with two races remaining in the Countdown.
Even though Billy’s son lost in the opening round Sunday, he still leads the Top Fuel standings, holding a 33-point lead over second-ranked Doug Kalitta and a 46-point lead over third-ranked and the weekend’s No. 1 qualifier, Brittany Force.
Sunday marked the third consecutive win in this year’s playoffs for the father-son combo and their second straight triumph at Dallas (Steve won there last year as part of an unprecedented sweep of the six-race Countdown en route to the championship).
“It’s home turf and we love to race here,” Billy Torrence said after visiting the winner’s circle. “We’ve raced here our whole career and we have a lot of fans here. There’s no better place to race than Dallas, Texas, and we did have the best car today.
“It has been very humbling, and we’ve been very blessed and fortunate to have the success we’ve had. We’ve got a great group of guys on both cars and our success is just a testament to the work these guys do. I think that we’re probably the second-best car in the country, with Steve having the best. We’ve had a stellar season.”
In Funny Car: Matt Hagan (3.909 seconds at 327.59 mph) roared to his third win of the season – as well as his third at the Motorplex – and the 32nd victory of his career, defeating Bob Tasca (3.928 seconds at 323.12 mph). Hagan also moved up to fourth in the standings.
“We had a great race car today,” Hagan said. “Qualifying was pretty tough, but to turn on four win lights was pretty huge. (Tasca) is a great driver and those guys are good, so I’m glad things turned out the way they did.
“We’re just trying to keep some momentum going, keep doing our job and control what we can control. It was a pretty special weekend. We’ve just got to keep digging and keep working. I love this sport and it’s been a big part of my life for 10 years. I knew (crew chief Dickie Venables) was tuned in and you could see he was confident, and that builds confidence in me.”
Robert Hight continues to lead the Funny Car standings, followed by Jack Beckman (70 points back) and No. 1 qualifier John Force (74 points back).
In Pro Stock: Greg Anderson (6.609 seconds at 209.75 mph) defeated longtime rival Jeg Coughlin Jr. (6.610 seconds at 207.56 mph) to earn his third win of the season, fifth of his career at the Motorplex and 94th of his overall Pro Stock career.
It was the 102nd time Anderson and Coughlin, who qualified No. 1 for the weekend, have met each other in a race, including the 21st time in the final round.
“We’ve had so many titanic clashes with so much on the line, and I knew it would be close,” said Anderson, who is seventh in points. “It’s a total team effort and that’s what it takes to win a national event in Pro Stock right now. You’ve got to have perfection every time out there.
“We made a lot of changes this week and we hit on it. It showed it on Saturday and I knew coming into today we had a chance. Now it’s a matter of if I can drive the car well enough. I can’t tell you who’s going to win this thing because everybody right now can beat everybody else.”
Erica Enders held on to her lead in the category, but saw the margin over second-ranked Matt Hartford drop to only 28 points. Coughlin is third (-65 points) and Anderson is seventh (-99 points).
In Pro Stock Motorcycle: Jerry “Alligator Farmer” Savoie (6.881 seconds at 195.90 mph) took a big step towards potentially earning his second PSM championship in the last three seasons, defeating three-time champion Eddie Krawiec (6.901 seconds at 195.62 mph).
It was Savoie’s third win of the season and 12th of his career. It’s also his second win in the first four playoff races and fifth straight appearance in the final round at the Motorplex. He’s now third in the PSM standings, 94 points behind five-time champion Andrew Hines.
“It was a great day and we knew we had a good bike coming in,” Savoie said. “We said if we held our composure we could win this thing. For the most part, tracks favor certain riders and we’ve been blessed here. It’s a great place and today was great.
“Bottom line, I want a championship just as bad as anybody else, so whoever is in my way I’m going to do everything I can to try and beat them. I felt good and we’ve got a great team. To me, this win gives you more hope and means a lot. This gives you that window of opportunity where you could win a championship again.”
NOTES: Only two races remain this season: Las Vegas in two weeks (Oct. 31 – Nov. 3) and Pomona, California four weeks from now (Nov. 14 – 17).
TOP FUEL: 1. Billy Torrence; 2. Jordan Vandergriff; 3. Brittany Force; 4. Austin Prock; 5. Leah Pritchett; 6. Antron Brown; 7. Shawn Reed; 8. Lee Callaway; 9. Steve Torrence; 10. Terry McMillen; 11. Doug Kalitta; 12. Kebin Kinsley; 13. Mike Salinas; 14. Cameron Ferre; 15. Clay Millican; 16. Richie Crampton.
FUNNY CAR: 1. Matt Hagan; 2. Bob Tasca III; 3. John Force; 4. Robert Hight; 5. Tommy Johnson Jr.; 6. J.R. Todd; 7. Jack Beckman; 8. Shawn Langdon; 9. Tim Wilkerson; 10. Ron Capps; 11. Paul Lee; 12. Blake Alexander; 13. Cruz Pedregon; 14. Jim Campbell; 15. Jeff Arend; 16. Jonnie Lindberg.
PRO STOCK: 1. Greg Anderson; 2. Jeg Coughlin; 3. Deric Kramer; 4. Matt Hartford; 5. Erica Enders; 6. Chris McGaha; 7. Aaron Stanfield; 8. Bo Butner; 9. Jason Line; 10. Fernando Cuadra Jr.; 11. Val Smeland; 12. Kenny Delco; 13. Shane Tucker; 14. Fernando Cuadra; 15. Alex Laughlin; 16. Richie Stevens.
PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE: 1. Jerry Savoie; 2. Eddie Krawiec; 3. Angelle Sampey; 4. Andrew Hines; 5. Steve Johnson; 6. Karen Stoffer; 7. Scotty Pollacheck; 8. Matt Smith; 9. Hector Arana; 10. Ryan Oehler; 11. Angie Smith; 12. Hector Arana Jr; 13. Kelly Clontz; 14. Michael Ray; 15. Jianna Salinas.
FUNNY CAR: 1. Robert Hight, 2,437; 2. Jack Beckman, 2,367; 3. John Force, 2,363; 4. Matt Hagan, 2,325; 5. Bob Tasca III, 2,315; 6. Ron Capps, 2,302; 7. J.R. Todd, 2,274; 8. Tommy Johnson Jr., 2,243; 9. Shawn Langdon, 2,239; 10. Tim Wilkerson, 2,188.
PRO STOCK: 1. Erica Enders, 2,395; 2. Matt Hartford, 2,367; 3. Jeg Coughlin, 2,330; 4. Jason Line, 2,327; 5. Deric Kramer, 2,323; 6. Bo Butner, 2,321; 7. Greg Anderson, 2,296; 8. Alex Laughlin, 2,239; 9. Chris McGaha, 2,217; 10. Val Smeland, 2,124.
PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE: 1. Andrew Hines, 2,464; 2. Karen Stoffer, 2,383; 3. Jerry Savoie, 2,370; 4. Eddie Krawiec, 2,365; 5. Matt Smith, 2,297; 6. Hector Arana Jr, 2,274; 7. Angelle Sampey, 2,248; 8. Angie Smith, 2,181; 9. Ryan Oehler, 2,159; 10. Hector Arana, 2,128.