In NASCAR Money Talks

After the 2001 season there was much talk about the pressures on the top drivers, and with good cause.

Jeff Gordon’s schedule is tough, no doubt. As are the schedules for many of the guys at the top of the heap, and for the obvious reason: everybody wants a piece of a winner.

Sponsors, the media, NASCAR, everyone wants to be around a winner, and that adds to an already cramped lifestyle built around the sport itself.

But what’s lost in all of the talk about long seasons, winning and
aerodynamics, is the impact of every move on those teams near the bottom of the point standings.

If the pressures on a guy like Gordon are tough, the pressures on those a bit farther behind are backbreaking – or worse.

The dynamics of racing for Gordon as an example – and only because he’s the current champion – are much different than say, Brett Bodine, to use a random driver.

Because he’s so good now, for the most part Gordon doesn’t need to worry about keeping his sponsor. It’s doubtful he wakes up in the morning worrying about DuPont backing out of its deal because he’s not putting numbers in the record books.

And, provided everything stays the same, it’s doubtful Gordon and his Hendrick Motorsports team would have to worry – really worry – about getting a sponsor to fill the space on the side of his car.

Conversely, a guy like Bodine, or any of the other teams finishing out of the big money each week, needs to worry about those issues around the clock. One piece of the sponsor puzzle falls out and dozens of people are hurt.

That’s pressure.

But more than that, there are other pressures that come to those who are not winning.

Sponsors want results, which is not unexpected considering the millions of dollars involved in backing a team. And its possible this year, with the economy hurting, sponsors could demand more.

There again, a guy like Gordon or any of his top-ranked competitors, usually don't have to worry about that stuff. A guy down the chart does.

After a stretch of poor performances, a driver or team owner is then faced with the pressures of dealing with angry sponsors. They’ve spent millions, and they want returns. There are few indignities worse for a team than failing to make a race in which their sponsor has invested in a major hospitality event.

Remember the Tabasco folks a few years ago at Daytona? They backed a
car that missed the show, yet there in the infield was a huge tent and banners for the hot sauce. The sponsor, of course, was hotter than their sauce.

On the team side of the equation, not winning has effects throughout the operation.

Finishing down in the pack means less prize money. Yet, it also has an impact on ancillary revenue sources for the team, such as merchandising sales and licensing.

Walk through the souviner sales area at any racetrack and look at the pack of people standing near the winner’s trailers, then take a peek at the retailers of non-winner merchandise. More often than not, the salesperson in the perpetual loser’s rig is doing a crossword puzzle between sales.

Those sales, however, are crucial to a team’s overhead.

Likewise, not winning makes it more difficult to keep and pay good people. Crewmen are not stupid. Like a fastball hurler, they want to hook up with teams that have a direct line to victory lane. The teams at the back of the field, however, are merely stops along the way to the larger organizations. To that end, those teams can afford to pay people a little more.

That adds an extra level of pressure that maybe doesn't exist with the top guys.

Then, of course, is the entire financial picture, which is difficult.

Mark Melling recently estimated it costs $220,000 a race weekend to participate in a NASCAR event, once all of the license fees, transportation, hotels, food, parts and labor are figured in.

The costs for the big teams might be a little higher, but still $220,000 is a lot of money. Check out the prize money for most races and few teams are pulling in that kind of money. And let’s not forget some of that money is earmarked for the driver, meaning only a portion, maybe 60% goes into the overall team budget.

As in every thing in life, the strong survive, and racing is no different.

But what we can't forget is the struggle those less fortunate face while attempting to survive and grasping for the elusive Winston Cup trophy.

Related Topics:

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup, 2002

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