The ripples of the disruptions caused by current shutdowns reach into every corner of the racing industry. RACER.com is sharing stories of how different entities in the sport are tackling these unprecedented challenges in a special series called The Lockdown Diaries.
The booming voice you’ve heard over the loudspeakers at IndyCar and IMSA events in recent years belongs to a young man by the name of Tony La Porta. The Colorado native, like many announcers, is a freelancer.
With 10 years in the game, the 26-year-old has earned enough interest to make a living by trekking across the country to serve clients like Andersen Promotions with the Road to Indy, Mazda and its Global MX-5 Cup series, and IMSA, for its public address needs. Prior to the havoc brought by the COVID-19 virus, LaPorta was scheduled to spend the early stages of the 2020 season hopping from one race to the next.
As cancellations and postponements started landing last week, LaPorta’s life began to change in troubling ways. And he’s not alone.
“Going in to the weekend of St. Pete, I had all of the Road to Indy to do as I’m coming back to host their TV show this year,” he told RACER. “Then it was Sebring this weekend with IMSA, and after that, it was the IndyCar and Road to Indy weekend at Barber Motorsports Park in Alabama as well as the Road to Indy weekend accompanying IndyCar at COTA in Austin.
“Also in Austin, I had the Global MX-5 Cup weekend, which was also going to be at Barber with IndyCar, and then IMSA’s entire spring line-up after Sebring with Long Beach in April, Mid-Ohio in May. So when you add it all up, on the face of it, it’s just six weekends when you count them, but when you’re a dual contractor in announcing and covering multiple series that you receive multiple paychecks from some weekends, that’s a lot of paychecks gone.”
Despite the decade of experience, it’s safe to say LaPorta continues to pay his dues as earning a comfortable living remains an unfulfilled goal. If the tidal waves of event losses weren’t enough for LaPorta, his plans to stay in Florida between the St. Pete and Sebring races also went awry. With his flight home mistakenly cancelled by a client, it took a friend’s wife to step in and use her stockpile of air miles to get LaPorta back to the Midwest.
In the simplest terms, announcers are paid when they have something to announce. Staring at an empty void through the newly-postponed May 3 IMSA race at Mid-Ohio, LaPorta admits that he isn’t exactly sure how to proceed during the coronavirus shutdown affecting the sport.
“The way I’ve always looked at it is I offer a service and I get paid for a service once it’s been provided,” he said. “I’m sure that if I begged and pleaded, there might be somebody who would be willing to help me out, but call it being a dumb cowboy or being a macho man, but if I don’t provide the service, I don’t feel justified in reaching out for compensation.
“And that will be very, honestly speaking, hard to overcome. With all those weekends’ worth of work canceled, and this being my primary source of income, I don’t know how I’m going to make things like rent happen. I don’t know how I’m going pay your typical month-to-month bills, let alone put food in a fridge that I normally never eat out of because I’m never home. But now I’m home and now I need to figure something out.”
One would imagine LaPorta is among an ever-increasing group of racing professionals who are struggling to come to grips with the damage already caused — and expected to worsen — by the COVID-19 virus.
“The only way I can describe it is people started reaching out to me and texting me, people not in the racing industry — friends and people from outside of work — and, when they were learning what was happening, they said, ‘How are you doing?’ And really, the only reply genuinely I could come up with was, ‘I’m just waiting for someone to wake me up,’ because staring down the barrel of no St. Pete, no Sebring, no Alabama, no California, no Texas…”
“I tried to add up the numbers, but at a certain point it got almost too scary to see how much I wasn’t going to be making. But you know, I don’t make any bones about it. I live as an announcer. That is my choice. I don’t earn income when I’m not at a racetrack and I’m not talking. So I need to think this through and come up with some answers immediately. But if I’m honest, even now, I don’t really know what I’m going to do.”