The ripples of the disruptions caused by current shutdowns reach into every corner of the racing industry. Starting today, RACER.com will share stories of how different entities in the sport are tackling these unprecedented challenges in a new series called The Lockdown Diaries.
Dale Coyne’s business model is among the most distinct in any racing paddock. The NTT IndyCar Series team owner, who fields a pair of cars funded across four co-entrant deals, relies on the income generated by his Sonny’s BBQ restaurants to contribute half or more of the budgets needed to compete.
Coyne is a rarity in that regard. With James ‘Sulli’ Sullivan and Jimmy Vasser bringing some of the budget, along with their driver Santino Ferrucci, to make the No. 18 Honda possible, and Kazumichi Goh sharing in the funding matrix for Alex Palou’s No. 19 Honda, the money side of Dale Coyne Racing’s operation is a complex affair.
It makes the recent COVID-19 outbreak especially troublesome for the Minnesotan, and his old friend and team manager Terry Brown, who is handling the team’s reaction to the virus for DCR’s staff of 30.
“Our approach has been since early Saturday to slow down and take a look-and-see attitude,” Brown told RACER. “In the middle of the day on Saturday, I talked Dale into taking this week off and reevaluating it towards the end of next week, and seeing where things are. So if it looks like isolating them another week could be the answer, we’ll consider it. So that’s our only real approach – go home, we’ll check back in six, seven days and see where we’re at with this thing. At the rate it’s going, it looks like it’s not going to get better real quick.”
Brown’s plan of action involves moving through March and April as if the next race on the calendar, the Indianapolis Grand Prix, is going forward. Listed as Round 5 on the uninterrupted IndyCar schedule, it would become Race 1, provided more cancellations and postponements to not occur.
“Obviously we’re all hoping to get back to racing by May,” he said. “That would be the best-case scenario for us, if all is well. I believe one of the contracts has clause that says he’s in good shape until he misses more than five races. So ultimately, we want to get racing, but the other thing is we’re hoping that they can make races up in the fall. Do a double-header somewhere, add a race. There’s all kinds of possibilities if you want to get creative, I suppose.
Asked if there was a threshold ahead – a future date where a loss of income could force downsizing or closure – Brown says DCR isn’t ready to think in those terms.
“Dale, in his approach, told me, ‘Give the guys next week off,’” he said. “And I said, ‘With pay?’ And he said, ‘Of course.’ So I said, ‘Do you want me to cut spending?’ And he said, ‘No, not at this point. We’ll proceed as planned and we’ll be really ready for Indy if that happens.’”
Returning to the core concern ahead, increasing measures prohibiting gatherings and dining out will certainly have an effect on Coyne’s restaurants. Take-out and deliveries from Sonny’s BBQ could help offset the anticipated losses, but a downturn in revenue is expected across most service industries.
Despite the question marks hanging over the immediate future, Brown has been impressed by Coyne’s resolve.
“I was slightly concerned because as you’re well aware, a fair amount of our income comes from his restaurants which are likely to take a beating pretty bad here, like all businesses,” he said. “So the fact that his initial thought was we just continue ahead as planned, it’s what I wanted to hear, it’s what the guys wanted to hear. But he’s also cognizant of people and their families.
“He wants what’s best for people too, so we’ll reevaluate at the end of this week and see what we think is happening in the world, and we’ll do that on a weekly basis, I’d imagine. Initially, we said we’ll plan on being back on the 23rd, but who knows what next week might look like when it gets here.”