Thursday, May 28, 2009

Danica - Decisions, Decisions, Decisions...

Well, it has begun… We knew it would, but a done deal in May???

Rumors have Danica already gone to nascar.

I have been thinking about this topic (not intending it to be the first post though), trying to figure out what could, would, should happen. Trying to role play and pretend I was in Danica’s position. It is not an easy decision – and I’m not even the one who has to make it!!

A couple assumptions we can work around. First, the money she gets from her next contract, if it is in nascar is likely to be significantly higher than what she would get in Indycar. Second, that once she goes, she probably has a steep learning curve ahead of her.

So with that as a backdrop, what would I do if I were her? Well I would think that my goals in the sport would be three fold: 1 - make enough money to have myself and family set up for life, 2 - accomplish something worthwhile in the sport along the way, 3 - make sure that those things outside of racing are tended to as I want them to be. It’s an old builder’s adage – Better, Faster Cheaper – you can only have two. Perhaps that’s the case for Danica also.

Let’s start with the money and let’s not make the mistake of assuming that accomplishing goal #1 can be done only worrying about the next contract. Truth is most people want to maximize their earning potential over the course of their entire career, not just the next job they take. People who think and plan their careers strategically, on occasion, make decisions now that may pay less in the short term but which sets them up for more money later.

We know Danica will get paid with the next contract, but what about the contract after this one??? Will there be a second contract in nascar?? Well, was there a second contract for Dario? Will there be a second sprint cup contract for Sam and JP?? The answers are NO and it’s looking pretty bleak. Could she go back to the IRL after a dismal stint in nascar??? Maybe, but with what team? Not Penske, Ganassi or AGR, they will have moved on. Just look at the trouble Paul Tracy has had finding a decent ride. So if going to nascar means that her next contract is her last, that compresses her earning career down into what she can make with this next piece of paper and how long that contract binds.

If she stays in the IRL, will there be a second contract? Certainly – she is a sponsor and fan draw in the IRL and if she stays home, will always be so. A team will always want a part of that action. She could very well have the opportunity to earn a larger amount of money over a longer timeframe with relatively more certainty.

Let’s move to accomplishment, and the measure here would be championships and marquee race victories. Right now her proximity to these seem to be on a steady rise in Indycar. If she goes to nascar she has a two year learning curve to climb – minimum – to be competitive, even with one of the big four teams. The road is much tougher with anyone else. Jimmie Johnson has suggested that she starts in the nationwide series. While that may make sense from a growth standpoint, not sure a prospective sponsor would want her rumbling around the “busch” leagues.

The final thing to discuss is life outside of racing. While that is a big umbrella, I want to focus on one key aspect – Little Danica’s.

Sometimes we forget that female athletes are just that, FEMALE athletes. I heard Sara Fisher asked the question how long she might continue to drive before she handed her team’s car over to paid help. After talking about how much she is enjoying racing right now she shifted to talking about children, and her tone changed instantly. You could tell she was talking about something that has been on her mind.

While I do not pretend to understand what Danica’s hopes and dreams here may be, let’s just assume kids are part of the equation. If so, then there is a budget constraint, not measured in money, but time.

There is a window in which money has to be made and trophies to be won. If the clock is ticking, more cash immediately (nascar) may mean two - three years lost climbing a learning curve and fewer opportunities to “win the Big One”, plus the risk that if her contract is only 3 or 4 years, she may not adapt quickly enough to secure the another one. Career defining wins or seasons may be hard to come by.

Staying in the IRL may mean less money in the first contract, but a lock on guarantee that there will be a second. Her progress here is key, if she flounders, then it may make sense to cash in now because there may be no milk at the end of the ride. Sunday, however, was an indication that she is close to some big accomplishments and she will presumably have more opportunities to get them done.

If I am the IRL, I am hoping Danica, has some success, just enough to whet the whistle, sustain the passion and continue the dream that more is close. Third in the 500 is a good start, another series win and a three to five finish in the championship seems just right. I am also selling the virtues of the IRL to those companies that have chosen her as a spokesperson. They have some sway in her decision likewise. If they do not see the IRL as a legit vehicle to market their business, she may be pressured to move on.

If I am Danica, I am doing a several things. I am watching Sam and how he does. Is he getting closer or is he still floundering? I am watching myself. Am I getting closer to either a 500 win or a championship? I am listening to the nascar people – Who with and how long of a deal.

There’s a lot of moving parts and the value weights she puts on these we do not know. We will only know the final outcome.

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