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Woody: Big Teams Face Small Pinches To Pocketbooks

Larry Woody | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Tuesday, February 2 2010
Larry Wood says do not worry about Ella Sofia Gordon's college fund. It should stand up fine even with the purse cuts.  (Photo by John Harrelson/Getty Images)

Larry Woody says do not worry about Ella Sofia Gordon's college fund. It should stand up fine even with the purse cuts. (Photo by John Harrelson/Getty Images)

If you glance on the side of the road as you travel to the track this season you may see Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart huddled on the corner holding hand-scribbled cardboard signs:

“WILL RACE FOR FOOD”

Then, again, maybe not.

The financial pinch that has prompted NASCAR to make a 10-percent cut in race purses will be painful to some of the back-of-the-pack teams but the mega-teams – the ones that win all the races and most of the prize money – won’t feel much of a pinch.

Give me $20 million and I’ll gladly tithe 10 percent in NASCAR’s collection plate.

Remember, this is a sport that in recent years had been drowning in dough. A driver who started all 36 Cup races and finished dead last in every one would be a millionaire at the end of the season.

I remember when it was big news when Richard Petty finally cracked the $1 million mark. Not in season earnings – in CAREER earnings.

For decades racers’ salaries lagged behind the bloated paychecks being ranked in by the stick-and-ball guys. Nobody begrudged drivers eventually getting their due. If bouncing a ball is worth $100 million, surely bouncing off a wall is worth more than what drivers used to earn.

The real story of this season’s pay cut is that it signifies that hard reality has finally set in and NASCAR must confront it.

Attendance is down, meaning a loss of revenue for tracks. Hence NASCAR is giving tracks a break by reducing the size of the purse they are required to post.

There could be some benefits for the fans. For starters, maybe tracks will reduce ticket prices in an attempt to fill some of their empty seats. And perhaps towns in which the tracks are located will be forced to finally take action against shameless motel price-gouging – the single biggest expense for a race weekend.

In other words, maybe racing will become affordable for the average person again.

Don’t weep for the superstars – Jimmie, Jeff, Tony, Dale Jr. and the gang won’t have to hang “For Sale, Cheap” signs on their private jets, luxury yachts and other toys.

Chandra won’t have to work a double shift at the Waffle House and Ingrid won’t be forced to take in washing. They’ll get along just fine on the millions they’ll still be raking in.

On back in the field is where the pinch will be felt. Teams that were already struggling to make ends meet will feel the pay cuts. When you’re already living on crumbs, losing 10 percent of your crumbs hurts.

NASCAR’s still rich and the absurdly wealthy teams will still be absurdly wealthy. The rest? Well, the rest will have to tighten their belts and learn to live on less.

The days of celebrating a 43rd-place finish with a lobster dinner may be over. Pass the fried baloney.

– Larry Woody can be reached at lwoody@racintoday.com

Larry Woody | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Tuesday, February 2 2010
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  • Richard in N.C. says:

    Didn’t many tracks reduce the price of tickets in 2009 – that is before the purses were cut? You infer that the race pay-offs are going to be cut by 10% from the 1st thru 43rd place. Is that the case, or is the total purse going to be cut by 10%, such that a track could shift more of the cut to the front of the pack, rather than the back? Sure seems to me to be another good reason to do something about habitual start-and-parkers so more of the winnings go to real racers.