Racing “Prize Money” : Contingency Prizes can cover much of a season’s expenses
(If you race in the right class)
Formula 1 payout (full season, top team): $180,000,000
NASCAR: Daytona 500 winning prize: +$1,500,000
Local Dirt Modified oval feature prize: $7500
Local road racing club prize : $0 *
If you are reading this blog and you aren’t a multi millionaire or a 6 year old karting champion, it is unlikely (though not impossible) that you will become a true “Pro Racer”. But do not worry! There are TONS of opportunities for truly great club racing all over the country (and the world) and if you want to road race, you will most likely be competing in one of these.
What’s the difference? Why do NASCAR, F1, and even LOCAL dirt tracks have good prize money, but we don’t? Simple: Paying fans. Club road racing doesn’t draw crowds, they aren’t ticket selling “Spectator events” (professional road racing barely even draws crowds). When NASCAR, F1, and Dirt ovals fill the stands with people, part of the admission fees from all the fans go to the drivers. TV rights, Merchandising, etc… all find their way to the pot at some level.
At a local club race? There may be a few friends, family, and fans in the stands.
“Racing for a plastic trophy” is a very common phrase spoken about club racing (Often when someone lets their competitive instinct get in the way of fun)… but that is not the whole truth. Club Road Racing does have prizes for winners in the form of “Contingency Prizes” and they can add up to be pretty significant.
Contingency prizes won’t make you rich. They typically come in the form of gift certificates for their products “Hawk Bucks”, “Toyo Bucks”, or actual items like free tires. Some are cash: IE Mazda pays out season contingencies on a supplied credit card.
However, if you are like me and racing on a very small budget, contingency prizes may end up paying for most of the season’s consumables: This goes back to why having “the right” car can be important. If I drive at every event in my local NASA Region (both Race and HPDE events), I will go through less than two sets of front brake pads, and maybe 1/2 of the life of rear pads. Miata pads are also comparably cheap, so the prizes cover most of the costs. The finishing positions I’ve gotten in racing earn me enough in Hawk Brake Pad contingency prizes that I have spent less than $50 PER YEAR on brake pads for the past several years… even though I am going through about $400 of pads. Ask someone in a C6 corvette what their brake pad budget is for a year… or even a weekend.
Different clubs have different contingency prize sponsors. Some contingency prizes are also class specific. Most pay out for each race, some pay for end of season point standings. Contingency conditions vary widely; some pay out to many competitors, others only reward the race winner. Most have a “minimum competitor” condition, requiring a minimum number of cars to compete in a class before they pay. Championship races usually offer their own very large contingency prize awards.
How effective Contingencies cut into your season budget depends on what class you choose to run, how well you stack up to your region’s competition. Hawk is very generous, they don’t pay out a ton of money for each event, but they do not have a minimum competitor requirement so classes with small fields get rewarded well. However, in a field of 25 spec Miatas, only the top 5 cars are getting rewarded. When I was beginning with Time Trials, even though I was not fast, I still earned pads in the thin TT fields.
Toyo Tires mixes up their payouts to spread them around the field. In a large field they’ll pay out the first 5, then 10-15 will also get a small amount. It’s a nice way to also help along those who finish a bit further back in the pack.
As an Example, I race NASA Spec Miata, and the contingencies available to me are:
Mazda: Pays out cash for top season finishers
Toyo Tires: Pays out “Toyobucks” to put towards new tires (varies, but typically top 5 and 10-15)
Hawk Brake Pads: Pays out “Hawkbucks” to put towards brake pads (top 5)
Spec Clutches: Pays out store credit
G-Loc Brakes: Money towards brake pads
Raybestos Brakes: One set of pads for winner
Frozen Rotors: Money towards new rotors
To get contingency prizes you usually only need to do three things: run a sponsor’s sticker on your car, finish in a certain position, submit your claim. Done.
Contingency prizes reward those up at the top more than anyone else. Creative payouts (like paying midpack) help spread the wealth a bit. Top drivers also typically cycle out tires quicker than the low budget midpack guys, and many are very generous with passing still-usable scrubs down the line.
*So I mention there is $0 prize money for club racing. That is not entirely true. Some classes get some extraordinary attention at championship races. The 2018 NASA Championship Spec Miata race, dubbed the “Toyo Tire Classic” boasted a previously unheard-of prize. “The Largest prize in club racing history”, with nearly $80,000 awarded to the winner from Toyo (not including some other pretty big chunks from others). These incredible purses show up occasionally, but don’t often stick around for long, and for good measure: Dropping a giant hunk of cash on one winner can create more drama than good racing, and that money has to come from somewhere (Money that may have been much more appreciated if spread through the fields with larger contingencies). The 2019 NASA Champs purse was significantly lower.