Up until the 1980s, the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing was televised only rarely -- on ABC's Wide World of Sports, according to global online compensation company PayScale. Drivers' salaries followed suit, with winners taking home $1,000 per race in 1969, or $6,030 in 2011 dollars. As of 2007, NASCAR was televised in 150 countries and represented the second highest-rated sport on television. Top drivers can earn millions of dollars from winnings and endorsements alone, just like professional athletes in other sports.
Not everyone can be a top race car driver and earn top dollar. Former race car driver Mac Demere in AutoMedia said salaries are very modest to start. "Entry-level" drivers make a name for themselves in the amateur or semi-pro circuits. To break into the industry, would-be drivers volunteer their time doing everything but driving for an amateur team that needs the help -- from washing parts to loading trailers, according to Demere.
The racing industry keeps driver salaries close to the vest, according to PayScale; however, the U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics reports in 2009 athletes and sports competitors, which include stock car drivers, earned a median salary of $40,210. The bottom 10 percent of earners made $16,020, while the top 10 percent, with regard to earnings, made at least $166,400. These figures are in line with PayScale's figures, which found NASCAR team members, on average, earned $30,000 in 2007.
It may be a long shot, but some drivers can amass millions in a matter of a year. Sports Illustrated.com posts its annual "Fortunate 50" -- ranking the highest-paid athletes by pay. Following a series of golfers and basketball players, Dale Earnhardt Jr. was ranked the country's 14th highest-paid athlete -- and the top-ranked professional race car driver -- in 2010. He grossed more than $26 million. Jeff Gordon followed as the second highest-paid race car driver, 29th on the list, earning $21.4 million, while Jimmie Johnson ranked 44th, earning $17.3 million in 2010.
Top race car drivers' earnings come from three sources: base salary, winnings and endorsements. In the cases of both Gordon and Earnhardt, endorsements outpaced their salaries and winnings substantially. In fact, of Earnhardt's $26 million, $22 million was derived from endorsements, while $15 million of Gordon's total $21.4 million came from endorsements. On the other hand, drivers' winnings can "make up" for much smaller endorsement packages; Johnson, for one, derived $7.3 million of his total $17.3 million in earnings from salary/winnings.
- Photo Credit Digital Vision./Digital Vision/Getty Images
Job Description for a Race Car Driver
Imagine making split-second decisions topping speeds well over 200 mph. This is the job of a race car driver. Race car drivers...
How to Become a Race Car Driver
Car racing is an exciting sport to watch and even more exciting when you are the one racing at dangerous speeds around...
How to Find Sponsorship Money for Race Car Drivers
Race car driving is an expensive career for team managers and drivers. Not only do drivers need to pay for maintenance and...
How Much Do NASCAR Drivers Make Each Year?
The National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing, or NASCAR, is a major sports organization coordinating live racing events that routinely draw...
The Average Salary of a Race Car Driver
Race car drivers drive at speeds well over 100 miles per hour in competition. Denny Hamlin, Jeff Gordon, Kyle Busch and Jimmie...
Salary of a Race Car Engineer
Americans love to watch Nascar, Formula One, and Indy Car racing. While some may dream of becoming a famous race car driver,...
How Much Concrete do You Need for Fence Posts?
Unless your soil compacts as hard as concrete, you should surround your fence posts with concrete in order to hold them firmly....