As New Port Richey’s RC Enerson rose through racing’s junior ranks, his year-by-year climb to the top-tier IndyCar Series seemed inevitable, as long as he kept winning.
It wasn’t until after the Gulf High product arrived in IndyCar for three races in 2016 that he fully understood the harsh financial reality of his sport:
If you’re not successful landing sponsors off the track, you’ll never get a chance to have success on it.
“You’ve got to put the work in on the outside to make sure that you can be in to show how quick you are,” Enerson said. “It doesn’t go the other way around.”
It doesn’t go the other way around because racing is expensive.
Financial details are tightly held secrets, but here’s one glimpse: In 2014, one IndyCar team (Panther Racing) sued another (Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing) after losing a $17 million sponsorship.
Regardless of the exact figures, Enerson quickly learned that the business of IndyCar was a tougher adjustment than the racing itself. That’s why couldn’t turn his three races with Dale Coyne Racing in 2016 (including a ninth-place finish at Watkins Glen) into a ride the next season. Or the one after that.
“It was tough, especially the first couple months,” Enerson said. “You’re watching the first couple races, and I feel like I should be there. You’ve just kind of got to get over it and work toward being there the next time.”
The 21-year-old Enerson spent the last two-plus years working toward being back and understanding sponsorships —what he calls “the most complicated process you’ll ever see.” Barring a last-minute development, his IndyCar return won’t come in next week’s season-opening Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, but it might not be far off.
An Arizona-based cannabidiol company, Craft 1861, sponsored his test with team Carlin last month in Austin, Texas and wants to sponsor him for 1-5 races this season and a full slate in 2020.
To make that happen, its content marketing partner, WePursuit, is in talks with more than 100 businesses to try to piece together the funding. Chief business development officer Eric Lujan is trying to sell health, tech and finance companies on IndyCar’s younger, affluent audience and an up-and-coming American driver as their brand’s ambassador.
“As we see this younger, millennial demographic, I think they’re going to connect very well with RC and his story,” Lujan said. “He’s truly an American, 21-year-old just chasing his dream to get to the top of the sport.”
While Lujan and his team handle the business side, Enerson works at his father’s Lucas Oil School of Racing. Enerson teaches the drivers and tests the cars while remaining ready to hop on a plane with little notice if it means meeting with a potential sponsor.
“There’s a lot of moving factors,” Enerson said. “I’m just a tiny piece of it —a very tiny piece of it.”
But Enerson is still trying to get the most out of his tiny piece of the puzzle.
Even though he doesn’t have a ride in the Grand Prix, he’ll be hanging around the 1.8-mile, 14-turn street course in case one opens up. Three years ago, Oriol Servia was in town trying to get a spot in the Indianapolis 500; when Will Power became ill after qualifying, Team Penske asked Servia to fill in for Power.
“You never hope for it to happen,” Enerson said. “But if it does, you’re like, ‘Choose me.’”
Even if nothing materializes in St. Petersburg, Enerson is optimistic his chance is coming.
IndyCar veteran Charlie Kimball will only drive Carlin’s No. 23 Chevrolet in five races. That leaves a dozen other events on the series’ calendar open — including the March 24 race in Austin, where Enerson had his impressive test.
While Enerson’s first goal is to get back into IndyCar, the bigger one is to master the complicated process that could keep him there this time.
“You can make it,” Enerson said, “but staying’s the hardest part.”
Grand Prix of St. Petersburg
March 8-10, downtown streets. Race is 1:40 p.m. Sunday.
Tickets: $20 (Friday general admission) to $135 (all three days, adult, upper rows). Paddock passes extra. See gpstpete.com or call 1-888-476-4479.
Contact Matt Baker at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @MBakerTBTimes.