Today, I am going to be playing the part of Captain Obvious.
It is expensive to go racing. It doesn’t matter what brand of racing you are doing, it is going to cost you a whole bunch. When you are talking about running a full-time Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series competitively, you are talking about some serious coin.
For each race consider the costs:
Tires – teams can lease up to 16 sets at approximately $2,000 per set.
A top-notch motor from Toyota Racing Development, Roush-Yates, Hendrick or Earnhardt-Childress Engines – $100,000.
The car minus the drivetrain – $200,000 (caveat: can be used for more than one race unless crashed, however, it will need bodywork after each race).
Travel for the whole circus – big teams have their own planes with pilots, smaller teams fly one of the charter services that cater to NASCAR teams or commercial. Considering each team has probably 30 people going to the racetrack to work (not including guests and sponsor representatives), this is not an insignificant proposition. Add to that the cost to get the cars to the track. Not done yet; you still have to consider lodging and meals for all those people and rental cars and vans.
Salaries – top-notch talent, from driver to pit crew to road mechanics to the PR people, ain’t cheap.
These are just the big things; there are other costs (like licenses for team members) that factor into the whole thing that bring the total, conservatively to somewhere in the neighborhood of $500 – $750K each time a team heads to the race track. To be sure, teams are making adjustments to adjust to the new economic realities and finding ways to cut costs, but you can only cut so much. This is why we saw just 40 cars show up at Daytona, 36 at Atlanta and 37 at Las Vegas.
That brings us to this week and the point of all the math (talk about burying the lede).
Matt Dibenedetto, who drives for GoFas Racing (a chartered team, thus guaranteed a starting spot) and has quickly become an underdog fan favorite) took to Twitter earlier this week asking for money to go racing this weekend at ISM Raceway (née Phoenix International Raceway) as his team is unsponsored for the event and they were in danger of not entering.
And in a cool twist, some of his competitors answered.
Denny Hamlin pledged $5,000 to support Dibenedetto’s cause. The last two week’s winner Kevin Harvick quickly matched that. Fox broadcaster Darrell Waltrip then kicked in a $5K donation. Sure, that $15,000 isn’t going to make Dibenedetto competitive overnight, but it will put some tires on the car, pay for a pit crew or defer some of the travel costs to head out west (or stay out west) and the fixed costs for the actually racing are probably already sunk (car, motor, tools and the like). So Dibenedetto’s name is on the entry list.
But here is the rub: For the third-straight week, NASCAR’s premier series is running at less than a full field (despite what Michael Waltrip and NASCAR say about it). I know this refrain is old and tired, but, come on, how does NASCAR let it get to this point. Someone at the top (looking at you Mr. France) needs to recognize that the economics of the sport are broken. NASCAR is making money. International Speedway Corporation and Speedway Motorsports, Inc. (the companies that own most of the tracks) are making money.
Let’s be honest, they are making money on the backs of these teams. It’s NASCAR and the tracks that get the TV money. It’s the tracks that sell the beers and the hotdogs and hamburgers. Besides sponsorship, the only other revenue stream teams have are selling T-shirts, hats and shot glasses, and for the things sold on site, they are splitting with Fanatics, the track and NASCAR. Hell, when it comes to sponsor revenue, you often see NASCAR competing with teams over those dollars.
NASCAR implemented the charter system in 2016 to give team owners some equity and ensure they had cars to fill a field. But this week, you had a real shot at seeing one of the chartered teams not show up at the track for a race. While NASCAR is used to showing up with fewer than 40 cars, lacking a chartered team at the racetrack would be new.
I get that you are not going to effectively curb teams from spending. They operate on one basic equation: money = speed. I hate making comparisons to stick and ball sports, but it is worth noting here. In the big four, teams get a cut of that TV money and the gate money is theirs (I know there are big differences here, but I’m making a point). They get a cut of the beer and other concession sales.
I’ve worked with bands that have gotten a cut of the beer sales from the clubs they play. There is money in NASCAR, maybe not the kind of money there used to be, but there is money. It’s just not finding its way down to the people who play a big role in making the show go.
Andy Cagle can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.