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.
Bobby Oergel and Ray Mathiasen own an IMSA team that has won championships and continues to serve as a popular destination for pro-am drivers in the WeatherTech SportsCar Championship’s LMP2 category.
Like most teams in professional sports car racing, and a few in the NTT IndyCar Series, their ability to earn income from those funded drivers is based on track-related action. When the No. 52 PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports ORECA 07-Gibson is in motion during test days, or IMSA’s race weekends, bank deposits are made, employees and vendors are paid, and the team functions as intended.
With IMSA’s schedule wiped clean for at least the next two months, the Central California team – located close to Buttonwillow Raceway, just north of the Grapevine – has become a perfect example of how smart business planning prior to the COVID-19 virus could save the outfit if the shutdown creeps into the summer months.
“We run a tight ship, and the really good thing is the core group of us in the shop, the five of us, we’ve all been together going on 15 years,” Oergel told RACER. “Most of us have been here 20-plus years. And we’re pretty diversified on the business side. The big picture is we’re not sitting on fat salaries, or big costs on leases and equipment purchases. Now, will it hurt in 2-4 months if nobody spends money for us to go do something at a race track? Absolutely. Our people have to eat. The question is how long this lasts.”
For PR1, the ability to tell its clients and sponsors that the racing season will resume, eventually, is important.
“I’m happy Sebring was a postponement instead of a cancellation,” Oergel said. “If it’s cancellations, that causes problems. The LMP2 schedule was reduced this year, so we weren’t on the list for Long Beach, and if I’m able to keep telling my partners and clients that this is more like a break than a stoppage we won’t return from, it helps keep everyone focused on racing together in the future. It’s if we start hearing that a lot of races are gone for good this year where hope would be lost. And we can’t afford that.”
With a number staff at PR1’s modestly-sized team falling into the 40-plus age range, Oergel is in no rush to rally the workforce. Staying home and staying safe is the message being conveyed from the boss.
“A lot of our crew is family, and none of us are spring chickens,” he said. “And looking at the toll it takes on older and upper-age people, I’m glad we’re taking a big-world view on this and not racing right now.”
Even with Oergel’s easy attitude in mind, there’s no denying the clock has started ticking for PR1 and plenty of other IMSA teams who need positive cash flow to trickle in at some point during the stoppage.
“Most of the businesses around us are farms, and we don’t want to start farming, but we can if we have to… it might end up being PR1 Farms instead of PR1 Motorsports,” he said with a laugh. “Look, there’s no blood in that water, short-term, but there will be mid-term if this break is sustained.”