Does Prize Money Matter?
surfing the Web recently I came across an impressive compilation
by Steve Klemetti at Draglist.com that lists last year’s
biggest drag racing money makers. To compile this list,
Klemetti painstakingly went through the 2005 purse winnings
for drivers in all four NHRA pro classes, along with Top
Alcohol Dragster and Alky Funny Car competitors, as well
as for IHRA Top Fuel and Alcohol Funny Car racers. In some
drivers’ instances—Clay Millican, for example—monies
won in both sanctioning bodies combined for their year-long
The list covers purse money only with no reference
or relationship to sponsorship dollars or internal team
bonuses or salaries, but still I was more than a little
surprised to see that only NHRA POWERade Top Fuel champ
Tony Schumacher surpassed the magic million-dollar mark.
And that’s for a 23-race season in which he won nine
events and secured his second-straight and third career
championship. By comparison, 2005 NASCAR Nextel Cup champion
Tony Stewart took home a whopping $13.6 million after winning
five times in a 36-race season and you have to read all
the way down to 42nd place to find a Cup driver with less
than $1 million in prize money.
Regardless, though I do think professional
drag racing’s purses are woefully and embarrassingly
inadequate for the expense and risk taken, it’s not
really fair or even particularly relevant to compare them
to what’s available in NASCAR’s post-race coffers
(the last-place finisher in this year’s Daytona 500
will receive a minimum $219,931!). There’s just so
much more money to start with on the NASCAR side due to
larger audiences both at the track and on TV, along with
the proportionate sponsorship and advertising revenue they
attract. Of course it also takes a much bigger budget to
race at NASCAR’s top level, so the money available
at least partially reflects that, too.
What I think Klemetti’s list clearly
demonstrates is something we at DRO identified last summer
after Millican picked up the $106,000 for winning and setting
low ET in Top Fuel at George Howard’s eighth-mile
Huntsville Dragway: that is, despite their grumblings, today’s
top teams aren’t racing for the money, or at least
not for the money that’s available at the tracks.
Otherwise, how could Don Scumacher or John Force or Connie
Kalitta possibly justify their annual racing expenditures
when a “measly” $500,000 or less likely awards
the annual effort for each of their entries when the tire
smoke finally clears in November?
only $50K or so paid for an average Top Fuel win last year,
we figured more than a few NHRA regulars would make the
trek to northern Alabama on an off week to take a shot at
the $101,000-to-win special event. But Millican was the
only real hitter to show up at Huntsville and as such he
enjoyed a relatively unobstructed path to the pay window.
As DRO editor Burk observed about the no shows at the time
(several of whom promised to be there), “their egos
determine where they race, not the money.”
Klemetti’s list certainly seems to back
up the sentiment. In speaking with several touring pros
last season, from premier team owners to struggling independents,
it was clear to me that it costs tens of thousands of dollars
in fuel, hotels and crew costs just to show up at an NHRA
national event, plus who knows how much more for wear and
tear and breakage over the course of each weekend?