When determining the cost of becoming a NASCAR driver, you need to consider the costs of funding not just a NASCAR team, but also rides at the lowest levels. This includes both go-karts and grassroots-level cars. With so much to pay for, you may think all NASCAR drivers come from rich families.
Not all NASCAR drivers come from rich families. However, given the costs that it takes to even operate a go-kart for children who race them, these families are usually at least fairly affluent. Sponsorship can help, but early on, families will pay most costs out of their own money.
Below, we will reveal how much it costs to make it to NASCAR, starting from the lowest level of kart and quarter-midget racing. We will also discover how much money NASCAR Cup Series drivers earn, and we will reveal whether all NASCAR drivers are as rich as most believe.
To make it to NASCAR as a driver can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. Starting in go-karts or quarter midgets will easily cost over $10,000 for a year and even with sponsors, progressing up the ranks is incredibly expensive for the driver. Racing a car at higher levels could cost millions.
The Cost Of NASCAR
NASCAR cars cost 6 figures just to build. In fact, the minimum price of a NASCAR engine costs between $60,000 and $110,000, so you can only imagine the final price tag when you factor in the other car components.
However, that number is just the tip of the iceberg. Everyone sees the costs of owning and operating a NASCAR Cup Series car, but they rarely take into consideration how much it costs to operate an Xfinity, Truck Series, ARCA, or even a NASCAR Roots-level car.
But it gets expensive early. Most NASCAR drivers start off racing either go-karts or quarter midgets when they are in grade school.Clearly, these kids aren’t saving up money to buy these machines themselves, so the financial burden falls onto their parents.
These karts can cost between $1,500 for a cheaper ride up to and beyond $10,000. Now, just like any other sport you play as a kid, karting or racing quarter-midgets is merely a hobby at this point. But if the child displays immense skill, they can and will move to the next level.
Fortunately, if the child races well enough, there will be local businesses willing to sponsor them. But as you can probably predict, these businesses will not cover all the costs and parents will still bear much of the financial burden unless the child attracts dozens of sponsors, which is rare.
The annual costs of karting alone will cost tens of thousands of dollars. Many times, the kart itself will cost up to $10,000, equivalent to that of an older used production car. Then, you need to factor in the cost of tires, helmet, racing attire, transportation, and maintenance.
Here is a realistic example: Suppose the kart only cost $5,000. Add in an additional $1,000 for 8 tires, $725 for the helmet and attire, $2,000 to haul the kart, and $1,000 for maintenance. Do the math, and this number equals close to $10,000 just in startup costs.
Keep in mind, the above numbers display average costs. So, this would be assuming the entry-level costs. As the child progresses, the average costs of fueling their hobby will also increase.
There are currently 4 levels of professional NASCAR tiers: NASCAR Cup, Xfinity, Truck Series, and ARCA. This does not count the semi-pro regional tracks and Roots level, which will cost far more money than it did when potential drivers were racing karts or midgets as kids.
The upside is that, if one is talented enough to attract sponsorships through kart racing, they will likely attain more sponsors throughout their Roots endeavors. The cost of owning a car and probably a garage will more than quadruple that of owning and maintaining a racing go-kart.
At the ARCA level, most drivers will have sponsorship if they are driving for well-funded race teams. This will negate the costs. But let’s go out on a limb and suppose an individual driver wanted to own and operate their own team. They can expect to spend some money, even with sponsors.
At the low end, you can expect to pay between $300,000 and $500,000 to start an ARCA team. But the lower the costs, the harder it is to be competitive, so it would be wiser to at least strive for the more competitive cost of $1 million. At the highest end, $1.5 million is a decent estimate.
The Truck Series is even less forgiving, with annual costs running between $750,000 at the low end and $4 million at the high end. Low-end costs won’t get you far, so striving for the middling $2.375 million is a better bet, at least in the short term.
Moving up the ladder, the Xfinity Series costs at least $2 million to fund a low-end team with a competitive cost rounding out at $5 million. The best-funded teams and most competitive cars will spend up to $8 million per season.
The NASCAR Cup Series boasts an annual cost of $6 million at the low end, with $15 million at the competitive level. Cars with the highest funding cost $25 million to operate, and those are the cars that most often compete for the Cup.
Regardless, costs will land in the 6-figures, even for an ARCA car. This is because NASCAR cars are not cheap to build. They comprise a variety of components, the primary of which includes an engine, a chassis, and body. However, the driver is funding more than just the car. To make it in NASCAR as an owner/driver, they need to hire a team of builders, mechanics, engineers, and specialists.
They also need to invest in tires, which are not cheap. At the NASCAR Cup Series level, these can run roughly $20,000 per race for 8 sets. Drivers also need to pay a pit crew to help maintain the car during the race.
Finally, they need to buy a hauler that can hold both a car and its necessary tools. They also need to pay someone to haul the car across the country and ensure there is money left over for gasoline.
Hiring a crew is just one aspect of the game. When drivers and their teams arrive at the track, they need a place to stay.Often, the crew and builders stay in a hotel while the driver remains on-site at a mobile home.
The best news is at this point, even new teams with limited funds may find big-time sponsorship. However, this will only happen if drivers are good and continue to network with local businesses from their hometown, preferably, the people in charge.
These local business owners often have connections that expand beyond local spheres. And as far as sponsorships go, they are a driver’s lifeline. While sponsors may still not cover all the costs early on, drivers can still slice out-of-pocket costs substantially.
However, if drivers can’t secure sponsorship, even at the ARCA level, where will that money come from? Once again, it goes full circle. For an 18-year-old kid, it is likely parents or other family members that will fund those cars at the low-end, and that can reach 7-figures within a few short years.
You may need to be rich or at least fairly affluent to become a NASCAR driver, and many NASCAR drivers do indeed come from rich families. Although NASCAR appeals to a relatively middle-class fanbase, the costs of becoming a NASCAR driver are well beyond the means of most fans.
Look throughout the decades,and you will see thatplenty ofNASCAR driversmade it to the sport’s top ranks because they were either the son of a NASCAR legend, or they had strong financial backing.
Drivers like Kyle Petty and Davey Allison are 2 of many we can mention. And you can’t forget about Dale Earnhardt Jr, Chase Elliott, Ty Gibbs, Austin Cindric, and Austin Dillon. All of them either have family that raced and won before them, or their fathers or grandfathers owned NASCAR teams.
Not all drivers came from prominent names in the sport. Paul Menard, the son of billionaire John Menard Jr, entered the NASCAR ranks in the early 2000s. Throughout his career, Menard’s father sponsored his ride, regardless of which team he raced for.
You don’t need to come from a rich family that iseither involved in NASCAR or has ties to NASCAR to race in the Cup Series. You need to come from a family with enough money to help you pay for karts or quarter-midgets early in your racing career.
To make it into the Cup Series, however, you will need to be rich. Not because you need to start your own team, though you may prefer to start one. Instead, your need to be rich to race at NASCAR’s highest level is a byproduct of financial success attained at the Xfinity and Truck Series levels.
But even before that, NASCAR Cup Series drivers spend years proving themselves at the grassroots level, which will catch the attention of NASCAR teams.This is assuming the drivers proving themselves are not planning to start their own race teams at the higher levels like ARCA.
So as for the need to be rich to race at the Cup Series level, you do, but not for the reasons you think. Instead, you need to be rich because it means, to secure a spot as one of the 36 to 40 cars at NASCAR’s highest level, you earned plenty of money at the lower levels.
Here is the cold hard truth about making it big in anything we often fantasize about. It is not always a desirable endeavor. We often see celebrities (and NASCAR drivers) getting shunted around in limos, attending high-class events, doing photo shoots, and endorsing products.
It makes the average individual working the regular 9-to-5 shift fantasize about these drivers’ luxurious lifestyle. But this is almost never the case for NASCAR drivers, athletes, or celebrities.
Yeah, it’s great to make millions on endorsement contracts and through racing. But few tell you about the 150-plus days you need to spend on the road, spending half your life living out of a motor home in the infield of a NASCAR Cup Series track.
Or the number of appearances you need to make on behalf of your sponsors. Or the microscope you are under where 1 controversial social media post can spark dire consequences. The riches are nice to have as a NASCAR Cup driver, but at the end of the day, it’s work. Just like a 9-to-5 grind.
The 1991 Watkins Glen race was marred in tragedy when longtime driver J.D. McDuffie died in an accident on lap five. When the race returned to yellow, Benny Parsons summed up the downside of the NASCAR lifestyle, despite its luxurious outlook.
All of those drivers were making their money that season, but Parsons stressed none of them, at that moment, wanted to be in those cars following what happened. Parsons even said he didn’t want to be broadcasting the race.
But he also stated they had to since it was their job. And that there were 100,000 fans attending the race that day to watch them perform, and that he, Ned Jarrett, and Bob Jenkins had a job to broadcast the race and report who wins.
You will become rich before you enter the Cup Series ranks. The more successful you are in racing NASCAR Cup cars, the richer you will get. Especially if you race for over a decade at the top level.
But going from being rich to ultra-rich in NASCAR and in any high-status endeavor comes at a cost, both financially and non-financially. You won’t see family or friends often. You will also need to race in undesirable conditions and situations. That’s also why being a NASCAR driver pays so well. Both at the lower levels of the sport’s ranks, and at the higher levels.
NASCAR drivers can earn well over 7 figures per year in salary. Though the precise amount will vary, many drivers in the NASCAR Cup Series earn over $1 million in base salary before adding any earnings from endorsements or other endeavors. Even some of the lowest paid drivers earn 6 figures.
Here are a few things you need to understand when thinking about how much NASCAR drivers earn. For one, they don’t earn income from only their base salary. Drivers will also earn money from purse winnings, endorsements, appearances, and other endeavors.
This also does not pertain to all drivers. For example, drivers who are breaking into the NASCAR Cup Series earn significantly less and have fewer endorsements.
In 2022 dollars, 26 Cup Series drivers brought in at least $1 million in base salary. Only 5 earned less than $1 million, with the rest of the chartered drivers earning an undisclosed amount. Of the drivers earning less than 7-figures, just 2 earned less than $500,000.
Of the 31 Cup Series drivers about whose salaries we can find out some indication,16 earned $3 million or more. Add in money from potential endorsements, sponsorships, and appearances, and you can guess that there are many drivers earning well over 8 figures.
All NASCAR drivers are rich to some extent. Due to endorsements and prize money from years of successful racing, they will all have made a lot of money by the time they reach NASCAR. They will then likely be earning at least 6 figure salaries for the years in which they race.
Start And Park
Before 2016, NASCAR gained notoriety from the many field-filler and start and park drivers they attracted. Robby Gordon, for example, became a start and park driver from August to November 2011. At the Bristol race that year, Gordon earned nearly $86,000 when he parked his car after driving for 10 laps.
In Gordon’s case, and those from other start and park teams of the era, they didn’t pocket all of that money. Instead, some of those funds went back into their cars. Especially if they did not have big-time sponsorship, which was the case with Phil Parsons Racing (also known as MSRP Motorsports).
Start and park drivers were hardly rich, but they could have drawn 6-figure or at least high 5-figure incomes. For an Xfinity race at Charlotte Motor Speedway in 2009, Johnny Chapman and Terry Cook’s cars won roughly $42,676 for a race they started and parked.
After expenses, they earned an estimated profit of $22,600 for both cars. They had no full-time crews and just a handful of mechanics to pay, meaning Chapman and Cook took home a solid paycheck. Chapman qualified for 27 races that season, meaning he earned a fine income, even as a start and park.
Chapman and Cook had more endeavors going on than just starting and parking. Cook was an accomplished Truck Series driver for years. He has also served as a spotter and competition director in NASCAR spheres.
Chapman was an expert late models driver during the 1990s, winning over 40 NASCAR-sanctioned events at the lower levels. He was also a two-time NASCAR Goody’s Dash Champion. So, Chapman had his fair share of success that allowed him to build a brand.
Brand is the keyword. Although neither Chapman nor Cook are names that even passionate NASCAR fans will remember, it doesn’t matter. Cook and Chapman could have started and parked for free. It still wouldn’t have mattered.
What does matter is, they were talented enough to race in NASCAR’s 3 top levels, even if they had forgettable careers. This allowed them to build both a brand and a platform, and financial success will always follow that.
NASCAR drivers can make it big in NASCAR alone and earn 8-figures per season. Most earn 7-figures from their teams. Meanwhile, Xfinity, Truck, and ARCA drivers earn significantly less. And many of those drivers saw more success than Cook or Chapman.
The common denominator is that if these drivers are good enough to race even at the ARCA level, they mainly came from well-off families to help them fork out expenses early in their careers.
Even if they were never good enough to rise above the ARCA level, they still did enough to become a big name at least in their hometowns. This is a leverage point they would use to start businesses and other financial endeavors, inside and outside of racing, augmenting their own income.
So even if a NASCAR driver did not get rich racing at the top levels, they still earned plenty of money elsewhere because of their NASCAR career.
Most NASCAR drivers come from rich or well-off families. If they didn’t, they either displayed so much talent that the industry spotted them early, or they worked multiple jobs to fund their rides. To fund even a go-kart endeavor, families are still looking at spending around $10,000 per year.