Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Rookie Stripe: Banking on a Win – What Does it Cost to Run a NASCAR Team?

Money doesn’t grow on trees. It doesn’t grow at a racetrack, either.

Racing is an expensive sport at any level. In the upper echelons of NASCAR, costs become exorbitant. Teams travel to 23 tracks in 20 states over the course of just one season. NASCAR is a show that’s always on the road, and unlike other professional sports teams, the spectacle in its entirety moves from location to location for each event. Besides transporting the driver, teams, equipment, necessary staff, and any other essentials for a weekend, most higher-tier Sprint Cup series teams have long-distance haulers that carry the stock cars, literally serving as a race shop on wheels.

NASCAR is known for being fast, and flying the friendly skies is the fastest, most efficient way to get people from Point A to Point B each week. Teams either own and operate their own private aircraft or can purchase seats on a shared plane, and many drivers have their own individual private planes that they also use for travel to appearances.
Credit: Logan Stewart for Skirts and Scuffs

The coordination and orchestration of each race is almost mind-numbing and requires logistical execution that most teams have down to a science.

What truly opened my eyes to the extensive costs of running a NASCAR team was reading this article in Sports Business Daily by Tripp Mickle, which looks in depth at the costs for Stewart Haas Racing and the frenetic schedule under which they operate. Stewart Haas owns and flies two planes that cost $11 million each and require $400,000 in annual maintenance. They cost $3,000 per hour to travel to a race. And that’s just air travel.

When you break down all the expenses of a single race, the sticker shock becomes a little more understandable, yet still difficult to comprehend. Here are some of the greatest financial costs for a team:

Cars – For a top-level team that brings a car and backup car to a race, it will cost them in the ballpark range of $310,000, according to Mickle. Because the cost of stock cars is so astronomical, lesser financed teams may only bring one car, often a refurbished vehicle purchased from another team. This cost typically encompasses the haulers, with designated, team-employed drivers, that transport the cars.

Tires – These aren’t your corner store rubber highway tires. Mickle says that each team goes through 15 sets of tires in a weekend at a cost of $480 per tire with a total tire bill of more than $129,000. A price tag like that almost makes you feel deflated. 

Credit: Logan Stewart for Skirts and Scuffs
Salaries – More than pocket change here. Pay day includes salary for each driver, which varies depending on the team, experience and how they place in a race, and the payroll for the rest of the crew and company.

Engines – The cost of a single engine in NASCAR as of 2012 was around $100,000.

Travel – With races from coast to coast and places in between, air travel is really the only feasible method of human transportation in the modern day. No frequent flier points here, and those hotel bills and miles really rack up.

Moving Parts – Expensive cars need pricey parts, and a lot of them, including axles, gears, nuts, bolts, brakes, rotors, suspension parts, bearings, cooling systems and more. [Source]

Ice – I included ice in this list because it really surprised me. Teams use ice for cooling machines for their car engines, and they’ll buy, haul and use as much as $1,000 worth in one weekend.

Food – Hard-working teams have to eat right? They often also feed VIPs and other guests who travel with them for the weekend. Food usually includes prepared meals on-site at the track and catered food on flights for the crews.

Remember when we talked about sponsorship and why sponsors are so important in NASCAR? In no other professional sport are sponsors such a centerpiece of a preeminent event, each with a weighty distinction and influence alongside the teams and drivers. That’s because cash flow is king and their money is imperative. Though not always seamless, the sponsor relationship is the glass slipper of

Credit: Logan Stewart for Skirts and Scuffs
NASCAR that makes the sport work so stunningly.
So what about those drivers and teams with far less money? They operate on a smaller budget, get paid less, and cut corners where they can. The drivers often work in the shops alongside their crews, where you’ll find them repurposing parts and reusing engines they purchase from other teams. In this Fox Sports 1 story, driver Joey Gase of Jimmy Means Racing opens up about the impact of having less resources. His team may spend about the same amount of money during an entire season that a larger team has spent on just one race. Not only does Gase drive the car, but he has a big role in marketing and finding sponsorships as well.

I also came across this article in the Florida Times Union from 2012 with an infographic that breaks down some of the biggest costs, with an in-depth look at how the dollars are used.

When it comes down to where the rubber meets the track, money is truly one of NASCAR's premium fuels.


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