Race car drivers drive at speeds well over 100 miles per hour in competition. Denny Hamlin, Jeff Gordon, Kyle Busch and Jimmie Johnson are among the top race car drivers in the world, earning significant yearly salaries. The salary for race car drivers varies and is dependent upon not only professional or amateur status but also winning.
NASCAR, the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing, is the pinnacle for professional race car drivers and is the second highest-rated televised sport in the United States. According to the Simply Hired website, the average salary for a race car driver is $38,000 yearly as of 2011. An April 2007 "Dr. Salary" report for Payscale states that top NASCAR team salaries total between two million and three million dollars annually with a driver earning roughly $30,000 per year.
According to Payscale, Dale Earnhardt Jr, earned more than five million dollars in 2005 from racing. His total earnings from endorsements and the racing company he owns totaled 50 million dollars. A 2009 Forbes article titled "NASCAR's Highest Earning Drivers" cited Earnhardt as the sports highest earner as of 2009 with a 35 million dollar salary. The second highest earner was Jeff Gordon (NASCAR's all-time leading money winner according to the article) with earnings of $30 million for 2009. The article states that more than 10 drivers earned at least 10 million dollars for the year.
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Sponsorships and Endorsements
Through lucrative sponsorship and endorsement deals, race car drivers often add significantly to their earnings. Joey Logano, an up-and-coming race car driving star receives sponsorship from Home Depot. Racing teams are usually named after their sponsors who pour millions of dollars into salaries, apparel and other expenses. In some cases top-earning drivers can change teams because of the financial gain proffered by larger sponsors. In 2008 Carl Edwards was paid $7.5 million from Roush Fenway Racing. Gordon received an additional 16 million dollars in endorsement income from PepsiCo, Dupont and Electronic Arts. Top drivers receive guarantees in endorsement and income.
Since amateur racing has little to no sponsorship or endorsement opportunites and the chance to make very little money, amateur race car drivers have day jobs to make a living. In fact, in order to race professionally, amateur drivers will have to spend money to rent seats. In prominent races such as the Daytona 500, these seats can cost as much as $50,000.