NASCAR salaries shrinking

The money being made by NASCAR steadily has increased over the years with new television contracts and sponsorship deals with major corporations. But the additional revenue hasn’t been passed on to the sport’s drivers.

Driver salaries have been shaved in recent years with fewer dollars available as sponsors cut back on their financial commitments.

Drivers who once made $4-6 million are getting re-signed to deals for $3 million in some cases. Drivers on poorly-funded teams are lucky to see a seven figure paycheck. Licensing and endorsement money also has dried up for all but the very elite. Endorsement deals that once paid $500,000 a clip are now $250,000 and many have disappeared.

But for the superstar drivers, the paychecks are nearly as big as ever and can reach eight figures in salary alone. In 2013, the 10 highest-paid drivers pulled down $170 million in cumulative salary, endorsements and their share of winnings and licensing funds.

Atop this financial mountain for the sixth straight year is Dale Earnhardt Jr., who earned $25.6 million in 2013 by Forbes’ count. Earnhardt’s licensing income is down from five years ago when he was making $30 million a year, but he remains the sport’s biggest star with the biggest salary, as well as the top licensing and endorsement income.

Earnhardt’s No. 88 Chevy carries the most expensive real estate in the sport. The Army National Guard spent $30 million in 2013 on sponsoring 20 races for the No. 88 car. Hendrick Motorsports entered the past two seasons with 13 races to sell on Junior’s car, but even if owner Rick Hendrick has to foot the bill on a couple of races, the sponsorship revenue for Earnhardt’s car still is the envy of the sport.

The No. 48 car driven by Jimmie Johnson ranks No. 2 with estimated earnings of $24.8 million last year. Johnson won his sixth Sprint Cup title, which carried bonuses and special awards of $5.8 million. Johnson’s total prize money haul of $14.7 is twice as much as Earnhardt, but his endorsements and licensing income is shadowed by Dale Jr.

In 1984, Rick Hendrick launched All-Star Racing with five employees and 5,000 square feet of workspace. The company was renamed Hendrick Motorsports the following year and a racing dynasty was born. Hendrick today carries more than 500 employees in 430,000 square feet of workspace across a 140-acre campus in Concord, N.C. The company has racked up 218 victories and a record 11 season titles in Sprint Cup, plus an additional 52 wins and four championships in the Nationwide and Craftman Truck series. The team is worth $348 million, twice as much as any other NASCAR program.

Joe Gibbs Racing ranks No. 2 with a value of $171 million. Roush Fenway Racing ranks No. 3 with a value of $157 million. The team making a big jump in 2013 was Stewart-Haas Racing, which ranks fourth with a value of $148 million. and Richard Childress Racing rounds out the top five at $128 million.

Contact Eddie Thomas at ethomas@newsandsentinel.com