Champion sports car driver Joey Hand has been experiencing ‘platinum problems’ for more than a year. The former Ford Chip Ganassi Racing driver is among the most decorated pilots of his generation, with an American Le Mans Series title, wins at the 12 Hours of Sebring and Rolex 24 At Daytona, and a class victory at the 24 Hours of Le Mans on his list of achievements.
And like a number of ex-factory drivers who’ve been assigned the highest driver ranking possible by the FIA and IMSA, the Californian has found the honor of being attached to that platinum rating comes with significant drawbacks.
Thanks to a downturn in factory racing programs where platinum drivers are allowed to compete, and restrictive rules that either limit or prohibit platinums from racing in other sports car classes and series, Hand has been unemployed for all but one race since October of 2019. He’s become the latest in a growing list of elite sports car drivers to beg and plead for a rating downgrade from platinum to gold, which would unlock all manner of new job opportunities. And like most who’ve been in his situation, the lobbying has been unsuccessful.
“You could say I’m suffering from ‘extreme availability,’” Hand told RACER with a laugh. “I obviously would love to be driving a car but it doesn’t make it any easier with this whole platinum rating thing. I never thought being rated one of the best in the world or even in the country — there’s 11 or 12 guys in the U.S. that are rated platinum — would be a nightmare. The way the rules are set up, it’s like ‘The Hunger Games’ out there, instead of everyone being able to earn a living.”
The former BMW factory DTM driver says he struggles to adequately express the strange situation to friends and new acquaintances.
“Trying to explain the reason why you don’t have a job because you’re too highly rated just does not compute to most people,” he said. “If you’re one of the top 10 quarterbacks in the country, you’re going to be playing football, and you’re probably going to make a good living doing it. People get that part. Then you tell them in our sport, being rated that high can be a liability, and they don’t understand it. And it’s not just me — there’s a lot of platinum guys that are struggling to get deals lined up. In any other sport, being named as one of the top guys would be a good thing, but here, it takes you out of a lot of deals.
“In 2020, I probably had eight to 10 deals that came across and said, ‘Hey, we’d love to hire you. What’s your rating?’ I’d say, “Platinum,’ and it ended the opportunity right there. ‘Oh, we can’t use you because of your rating.’ Whether it be Michelin Pilot Challenge in GT4, or in a bunch of WeatherTech Championship inquiries, there were all sorts of reasons why they didn’t work out, and it always came back to my rating. I lost a chance to be driving at the Roar right now because I’m platinum. Not much I can do about it.”
Hand’s son Chase is proving to be a karting prodigy, which has given his father plenty to focus on over the last 15 months while pursuing employment. But as most professional drivers can attest, supporting a family for more than a year on one’s saving’s account has limited appeal, so Hand is looking outside of sports cars for work.
“There’s some good news floating around about IMSA in the GT classes and LMDh in the future; there’s some stuff coming down the pipe that I think is going to open up some opportunities for guys like me, but it’s not here yet,” he said. “So I’m just going to keep digging on that stuff and keep looking for deals, but I’m now talking more to NASCAR teams and actually have some phone calls and some talks to do road racing there this year. I have some friends in that arena that are interested in helping me.
“I’ve always wanted to be like the throwback guys, like Mario Andretti and A.J. Foyt, those guys did it all. Really, NASCAR’s the only thing I’ve missed out on so far. Instead of moping around, I’m putting a lot of focus on getting into road racing there during time where I don’t have a sports car deal. The Joey Hand Experience isn’t over, I can tell you that.”