Patrick Sullivan

SULLIVAN: Real World Economics

Patrick Sullivan

Because I am the senior member of my academic unit, it comes as little surprise that those early in their career seek me out for guidance.

Every time this happens, I think of sage advice offered to me when I was in a similar position.

I was on the faculty of what was then Southwest Missouri State when I was recruited by the University of Illinois. I was cautioned that my program director would be unhappy with me when I told him, as I should, that I was going to make a visit and explore the opportunity.

What I received instead was something that stuck with me from that point on.

Don looked me in the eye and said, “Pat, here is what I have learned. Institutions always want you to be loyal to them, but rarely are they as loyal to you. You manage your career as you see fit.”

It is the same advice I offer to junior faculty today, but I do tend to ask a few more questions. What I am always struck by is how little real thought some put into a fairly major decision.

For example, two faculty members came to me excited because they were offered positions at a university in the Washington, D.C. area. They reported that the interested school offered them a $5,000 raise.

Great! I proclaimed, but what is the total benefit package. Silence.

Health insurance and retirement translate into money; have you thought about that? Then there is the other key issue: Have you looked at the price to buy or rent in that area?

Racers are independent contractors as well. They also seek out the best teams and terms in order to make a living – that is, if they are analyzing matters rationally.

The lesson I shared above comes into play here. I recall a conversation with a USAC champion who had recently switched teams. I casually asked if his former owner was mad.

“He’s pissed,” the driver said with a nervous laugh.

When I asked if said owner had ever threatened to let him go, the answer was quick: “All the time.”

Now I’m not excusing breaking contracts, clear promises, and flat out lying. These things happen in racing too and, like is true in the rest of life, that is rarely excusable.

All of this said, there is a very clear set of questions a racer needs to ask as they go about managing their career. The most important of these is, “What is my end goal?”

If your dream is to race with the World of Outlaws, no matter what, the task at hand is to put all of your energies forward to get that done. That is a choice that can be deemed by others to be rational or irrational, but the real arbiter of the soundness of such a decision is the person making it.

Too often I have the sense that some racers behave a bit like my academic peers, who become mesmerized by the immediate reward that is dangled before their eyes. What I often wonder is if they thought things all the way through.

In my work with this magazine, I have encountered very successful racers who will privately admit that they are either tired of being on the road or have no interest in venturing far from home. Oddly enough, some say it nearly apologetically.

Why? Once again, we all have to know what we want.

John Gibson and I are fellow announcers and we have been friends for years. John loves what he does and he is very good at it. Personally, I have no interest in living the lifestyle he does.

There is not an ounce of judgement in that statement. I couldn’t be happier that John made it work for him. I just couldn’t live in a motorhome most of the year. I’m far too much of a homebody and get homesick pretty quickly.

Knowing these kinds of things about yourself helps you make choices you can live with.

I have wandered down this path because I have thought a lot about the aspirations of the racers I spend the most time around. It could be reasonably argued that Tyler Courtney, in this period of time, has been USAC’s biggest star.

In terms of just sheer volume of USAC-sanctioned races, Courtney, Chris Windom, Kevin Thomas Jr., and Justin Grant have been the most active.

Courtney and Clauson Marshall Racing have announced a plan to compete with the All Star Circuit of Champions. I’m a fan of the All Stars and am thrilled with what Tony Stewart has done with this proud group.

On the face of it, this seems like a reasonable decision for Sunshine. He has shown an interest in winged racing, and no one can dispute that there are a bevy of high-paying races in this world. They really pay a lot if you win them.

So, the bulk of public opinion, at least what I have seen and heard, seems to be that this is a good move for Courtney.

Is it? Again, that really is up to him, and the assessment of this move goes back to the same two facets offered above. How does this help him make a living? Secondly, how does this relate to his personal goals?

When you peer deeper, the basic economic litmus test one employs gets a bit more complicated. I fully admit I’m not privy to less transparent incentives that might lead one down one path or another.

As we have seen, some of the best sprint car drivers on the east coast have decided that they can stay close to home, regularly sleep in their own bed, and race at a high level.

Bobby Allen looked at those same factors and decided that the World of Outlaws was the right call for Shark Racing.

As for USAC, one aspect of being a star with the club often gets overlooked. For the top USAC racers, participation with the club often means the chance to race in the midget and Silver Crown ranks. In 2021 USAC has 103 scheduled national events.

For teams that call the greater Indianapolis area home, there are also chances to race on the nearby bullrings and there are also special events to add to the schedule, like the Chili Bowl.

What it all means is that the cream of the crop, like Sunshine, can easily race a third of the year with USAC. The money at the top may not look the same, but other tangible expenses may even all of this out. Who knows how the dollars and cents will add up in the end?

I’m sure people do the math. Then again, racing is often more emotional than rational, and if one has charted out a desired destination, who can blame them for going all out to reach that goal?

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