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The Cool Down Lap: Best wishes on the job search, Erin Crocker

The Cool Down Lap: Best wishes on the job search, Erin Crocker

The Cool Down Lap: Best wishes on the job search, Erin Crocker
Reid Spencer
Sporting News

I wish all the best to Erin Crocker as she tries to find a new job as a racecar driver.

But I fear for her future in the sport.

In a variety of published reports last weekend, team owner Ray Evernham, 49, admitted that his relationship with Crocker, 26, had a negative effect on her career.

"I don't think it's any secret that because of the personal relationship between Erin and I, it hurt her career," Evernham told The Associated Press on Friday. "The proper thing to do, and something her and I would like to do, is move her to another race team.

"I think the girl has a lot of talent. But if I sit here and say to somebody, 'Look, she's got a lot of talent, you should sponsor her,' my credibility is not good because of the personal relationship."

Crocker drove for Evernham in NASCAR's Craftsman Truck Series last year, but lack of sponsorship brought her participation in that series to a halt. This year, Crocker has been competing in the ARCA Series for Evernham Motorsports.

Talking about the relationship is an about-face for Evernham, who consistently refused to discuss his personal life when stories linking him with Crocker romantically began to surface last year.

It's safe to say Evernham's recent disclosures aren't mere happenstance. For months now, Evernham has been negotiating a partnership with Montreal Canadiens owner George N. Gillett, who told Dominic Fugere of Le Journal de Montreal on Sunday that he expects the deal to close within two weeks.

Gillett is wise to the ways of the corporate world and doubtless recognizes the distraction factor -- not to mention the potential legal liability -- inherent in Evernham's retaining Crocker as an employee while the two maintain a personal relationship.

Just last August, Jeremy Mayfield sued Evernham after being relieved of his driving duties, citing Evernham's "close personal relationship" with Crocker as a key element in Evernham's alleged inability to perform his day-to-day responsibilities, as the contract between driver and owner required.

In his response to the lawsuit, Evernham denied that his job performance was materially affected. The case was settled out of court.

There has been speculation that Crocker's status as an employee has been an impediment to the Gillett deal, and that it also may have been a stumbling block in Evernham's search for sponsorship dollars in the face of reports that Dodge may reduce its presence on the hoods of the Evernham cars next year.

Whether to facilitate Evernham's business plans or to relaunch an unambiguous career, Crocker must find a ride elsewhere -- but who will hire her?

An informal poll of a handful of Nextel Cup owners and managers failed to elicit a serious answer to the question, "Would you consider putting Erin Crocker in one of your cars?"

Instead, there were snickers, or responses such as, "I don't think my wife would approve."

Crocker's job search in a series in which Evernham Motorsports also competes understandably will be difficult and complicated. A potential employer might fear pillow talk about springs, shocks and horsepower, whether or not justified.

ESPN.com's story Friday on Evernham-Crocker cites Evernham as admitting he might have "moved Crocker along too fast."

That, of course, raises the issue of preferential treatment and undermines Crocker's credibility as a driver.

I'm not here to judge the wisdom or propriety or substance of the relationship between Evernham and Crocker. In the business world, it's generally a bad idea for a boss to date an employee, no matter how smitten he or she might be. But people fall in love. It happens.

That doesn't, however, mitigate the consequences. It will be extremely difficult for Crocker to receive a fair and impartial evaluation of her talent by a potential new owner. No matter how fast she drives, it will take her years to outrun the perception that she competed in two of NASCAR's top three series at least in part because she is Ray Evernham's girlfriend.

So I hope there's an owner out there who can dismiss the baggage and give Crocker a chance to prove herself.

I wish her all the luck in the world in her job search.

But I fear for her future in the sport.

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