Have you ever read the finishing order to a Sprint Cup race where the payout is listed and wondered why the 37th place finisher was shown making more money than many of the drivers who finished ahead of him? Perhaps tens of thousands of dollars more?
Or have you ever wondered where the purse money comes from? Do the answers to these questions keep you up late at night, tossing and turning? Well, I have got the solution for you! Find an "Official Entry Blank" for a Sprint Cup race and start reading it. You will be sound asleep in a matter of minutes.
I have read a lot of legal documents in my day and cannot recall any one of them that could rival the "Official Entry Blank" for its lack of perspicuity. It personifies my personal philosophy on life, which is: "If you can't convince 'em, confuse 'em."
I was fine with the total posted awards section and the schedule of events, etc. but once I got to the entry rules I immediately regretted not getting that Harvard law degree I coveted as a child.
The first thing I discovered is that if you wanna play then you gotta pay. If you mail your entry coupon on time then it will cost you $3,300 to enter your car in the race. This fee is not refundable and NASCAR does not guarantee that they will accept your entry but they get to keep your money anyway.
Mail it a day late and the fee jumps to $4,550 and you don't get any driver or car owner points, provisional starting positions or NASCAR points or bonus money for that particular race. In the first paragraph of the "Entry Rules" section they tell you several times that they plan on keeping your entry fee money whether they approve your entry or not. I would also say that this rule is designed to make sure you get your entry coupon in on time.
Then we proceed to a myriad of other rules, regulations and requirements in the Entry Rules section -- Zzzzzzzzzzzzzz -- Oh! Excuse me! Man this stuff is better than a sleeping pill.
Oh, here we go, the "Awards" section. Now we get to see how much we can make off our $3,300 or $4,500 investment. At least I think we can. I normally hate sentences that start off with an asterisk because it means that somewhere hidden in there is a "gotcha" that you are more than likely going to overlook and then regret later. However, upon further researching and review, I believe this might be a good asterisk because it relates to the Total Posted Awards at the top of the page. The entry blank that I have is from the 2008 spring Atlanta race that had total posted awards of $5,060,012. Notice that I wrote "awards" and not "purse." Not all of the money "awarded" will be determined by how a team finishes in the race.
So just what do "Total Posted Awards" refer to? Well, they include the Racing Purse, Television Awards, Special Plans (we'll explain the plans in a minute), Qualifying Awards, Manufacturer Contingency Awards and Special Awards and a prorated share of the season-end Point Fund Award. Actual payouts are determined by recipient eligibility, receipt of television and ancillary revenues and are also subject to change based on the -- Zzzzzzzzzzzzzz -- outcome of any penalties, protests, appeals or reviews by NASCAR Supervisory Officials in accordance with the Rule Book. Oh yes, the Rule Book. (I knew I should have gotten that law degree.)
The Rule Book is the final word on everything that is placed in the "Official Entry Blank" and anywhere else something is written or spoken that might accidently conflict with The Rule Book.
Years ago, during my bachelor days, I dated a woman whose job it was to produce the "Official Entry Blank" for each race. Now, after reading through one of them many years later, I can understand why she was a basket case on the days she had to produce a new one for the next race. You had better like detail work, fact checking, cross checking and legal mumbo jumbo if you do that job! And you had better follow the Rule Book to the letter.
Now let's talk about Special Plans. Thought I had forgotten about them didn't you! Special Plans refer to programs such as the Winners Circle Plan 1 or Winners Circle Plan 1C/NASCAR Sprint Cup series or the Car/Champion Program. All of these (and others) are methods for NASCAR to feed money to the teams and award them for their performance or loyalty. Years ago, when weekly car counts were not as reliable in the series, NASCAR sought a way to guarantee track owners that NASCAR could deliver an acceptable car count for that track's particular race and that the bulk of those cars would have drivers with recognizable names in them. They started the Series Points Fund program that paid bonus money to all the teams that attempted to make all of the races.
Egos being what they are, the teams that were winning races and drivers with more recognizable names wanted more money than the back markers who showed up each week, so NASCAR invented the Winners Circle program that paid teams more if they won races.
Then came the Plan 1C and Car/Champion Programs for past champions to reward them for their efforts and the process became more and more complicated to the point that you need a couple of lawyers and a room full of CPAs on staff just to decipher and calculate what and how much you won from the race's posted awards.
So, we have actual purse money that is posted by the track owner plus a myriad of other income sources -- most of which I listed earlier. Many of the Manufacturer Contingency awards pay specific amounts for specific finishing positions but only if you display their decal on your car and on the driver and team uniforms if that is also required. Unless otherwise mandated by NASCAR, the teams have the option of running or not running the contingency decals. One reason they might not run them is they have a conflict with one of their team's sponsors. Beer companies, oil companies, filter companies, etc. in the sport would be examples of having potential conflicts.
Another reason not to run a decal might be based on a car owner's or driver's personal beliefs. When Richard Petty was racing he would not run the old Busch Pole Award or Bud Shootout decals because he does not believe in drinking alcoholic beverages. Consequently he would not have been eligible to race in the clashes or shootouts at Daytona had he won a pole during that era. It could be argued that he did not stand much of a chance of winning a pole back then so the decision was an easy one for him to forego any pole money earned but, I happen to know that he focused his efforts on his car's race setups and did not try to win any poles because of his beliefs.
Some of the posted awards money is dedicated to specific crew members to recognize them for their particular talents. For example, the Mahle Clevite Engine Builder of the Race Award goes to the engine builder who scores the highest combined points from the qualifying and race finishing positions for the car using his engine. He cannot combine multiple car points and if there is a tie the highest race finisher wins.
The DIRECTV Crew Chief of the Race award goes to the crew chief who demonstrates the best qualifying and race finish effort. The Mecanix Wear Award is divided up and goes to the teams finishing first, fourth, 10th, 15th, 20th, 30th, and the lowest finishing eligible car owner. I'm wondering if that fourth place finish designation is a typo or if there is some particular reason for making the fifth place finish position the fourth. Hmmmmmmmm.
The WIX filters "Lap Leader" Award goes to the driver who leads the most laps during a race. Now there is a nice perspicuous award description. Lead the most laps and you get all of the money. Can't be much clearer than that.
So, based on the above, you can begin to understand how a driver who has a lower finishing position in a race can conceivably end up being shown as collecting more posted awards money than a competitor who finishes above him. You should also begin to see that there are an untold number of different payout combinations based on the available contingency money, the particular NASCAR plan a team is on and who on the crew wins what award for that particular race.
Some funds, such as the TV awards money are paid out in a nice orderly descending fashion based on the finishing positions. It is not, however, distributed equally among the track, NASCAR and the teams. The track gets 65 percent, the teams get 25 percent and NASCAR gets 10 percent. Right away I can see that I would rather be a track owner than a car owner. But if I like steady income then 10 percent week-in and week-out isn't too shabby either. Remember, that 25 percent is getting split up amongst 43 teams so those little team pie wedges are much smaller than the track's or NASCAR's pieces of the pie.
Another factor to consider is that only some of the posted awards money is paid out right after the race. Much of the money isn't handed over to the teams until they make the trek to the Waldorf Astoria in New York in early December (or mailed to them if they do not get invited to the postseason party in New York).
And finally, one should always remember when reading the NASCAR Rule Book that there is always that little caveat "EIRI" that will frequently appear right after they have absolutely, thoroughly and completely defined and spelled out a particular rule or meaning to the nth degree.
What is "EIRI"? It is NASCAR's way of crossing their fingers behind their backs when being stern about a rule. "EIRI" stands for "Except In Rare Instances" which simply means that NASCAR can change its mind at any time for any reason. After all, the rubber duck is theirs and so is the pond he swims in.
Bill Borden is a former championship winning crew chief who operated David Pearson's Racing School for many years.