History of NASCAR
Today’s enormous NASCAR drivers salaries are mostly due to television coverage, but it wasn’t always so. In the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s auto racing was a low draw with an occasional broadcast on ABC-TV’s Wide World of Sports. If we look back at the history of NASCAR, according to sportingnews.com, there were 54 races were run by NASCAR in 1969, and the winners were often paid as little as $1,000. Believe it or not, back then, racecar drivers were insured for only $15,000.
Richard Petty, who started driving for NASCAR in the late '60s, told sportingnews.com, "When you go back to me and Allison and Pearson and all of them, we (were) just making a living. I drove 35 years and didn't take in but $7.5 million dollars. It took me 15 years to win the first million. These guys today start out with $2 or $3 million dollars in their hand before they ever get in the race car. Then they go out and win another $2 or $3 million dollars or whatever.”
NASCAR Television Schedule
Old number 43 is not exaggerating. Today, NASCAR drivers can take home big earnings in the beginning of their careers. With only one Nextel Cup win under his belt, Jamie McMurray reportedly signed a $10 million dollar, multi-year contract with the Roush Racing Team. And you don't have to win at the Cup level to draw big bucks; Casey Mears and Brian Vickers, were in high demand (sans a Cup win) when their contracts expired. NASCAR is clearly gearing towards younger racers, while older drivers find themselves in the Craftsman Truck Series.
In NASCAR, drivers are essentially free agents who sign with "teams" that have an owner. The owner makes money via corporations which pay big bucks for those stickers (sponsorships) that are plastered all over race cars. The size and location of the sticker determines how much a corporation pays the team owner. The most expensive location is on the hood of a race car, most prominent during TV broadcasts. It is sponsorships (and the NASCAR television schedule), not prize winnings, that mostly fuel NASCAR.
When it comes to NASCAR jobs, where does all that fuel, er, money go? Msn.foxsports.com crunched the numbers for a mid-level standard two-car team. For big name driving teams, multiply these numbers by one and a half or more:
- Drivers' salaries: see above
- Team salaries: $2.5-3.5 million, or an average salary of ~$30,000/year for ~100 employees
- Travel: $1 million per team
- Tires: $1 million per team ($20,000 per race weekend plus testing)
- In-house engine program: $3.5 million+
- Cars: $1-3 million per team
Toyota NASCAR Engine = Higher Annual Salary
Those numbers climbed even higher when the Toyota NASCAR Engine entered the race. According to, nascar.com, “In a Jan. 17 New York Times report, Ford Racing head Dan Davis called Toyota ‘predators,’ claiming he had heard (Michael) Waltrip signed (Dale) Jarrett for $20 million, and that another Toyota team, Red Bull, lured engineer John Probst from Ford by doubling or tripling his salary."
"A lot of them are cracking the six-figure mark for certain teams, and with Toyota swooping in with offers, team salaries are going to keep rising. Deals that were once done on a handshake will now be penned via a three-year contract by a professional human resources coordinator.”
The drivers are paid, like entertainers or other athletes, for performance. I am glad to hear the support staff, which is critical to the success of a racing team, is starting to receive better wages as well.
How does your salary place among these racers? Find out with our salary survey.
Dr. Al Lee