|NASCAR drivers make so much more than an Indy 500 winner|
The total purse for the Indianapolis 500 field has grown by roughly $11 million since the 1980s, but the prize money for the race winner has increased by only $2 million, leaving the winner’s cut of the pot between 15-20 percent for the last 30 years.
Before 1982, the winner’s check was always more than 20 percent, and it was often more than 30 percent in the 1950s and 60s. But since the first race in 1911, the race winner has tended to receive less and less money on a percentage basis.
In 1911, Ray Harroun's $20,000 prize was a record 45 percent of the total purse. Last year, Takuma Sato took home a cool $2.4 million, but just 18.7 percent of the purse. That was down slightly from the $2.5 million — 19.2 percent — Alexander Rossi won in 2016.
How much each participant brings home depends on several factors. For starters, the pole winner gets a large chunk of money. Plus, drivers get $250 for every lap they lead in Sunday’s race, which comes from a lap prize fund of $50,000.
Various sponsors and television networks put money into the purse, and sanctioning body fees play a role as well.
Indianapolis Motor Speedway historian Donald Davidson said the purse has come a long way since the early days. Originally, only the top 12 finishers received money. By 1924, the entire field was taking home a prize.
With all the various additions to the purse, a poor finish can still earn a driver more money than some who finish better.
“When you look, you would think the money would descend, but it doesn’t," Davidson said. “If somebody leads a lot of laps and then breaks down, or there’s been many times when the pole car was dead last or out early, and when you look at the prize money its equivalent to fourth or fifth place."
Drivers have several thousands of dollars in costs and fees just to get into the race. In the end, the money drivers put in and the money they get don't always even out.
Conor Daly recently told IndyStar that it would take a stellar finish for him to make any money.
“I’m not scheduled to make any money on this deal unless I finish in, like, the top 4," he said. “That’s something you start to think about."
The purse itself comes from Indianapolis Motor Speedway, which does not usually disclose the various contributions. IndyStar