ATLANTA -- The NASCAR Winston Cup Series is ranked first in attendance and second in television ratings among all professional sports.
But compared to their counterparts from football, basketball, baseball and hockey, drivers receive a paltry share of the profits.
Other major-league sports are driven by collective bargaining agreements that assure the players of at least 50 percent of the revenues. In NASCAR, however, drivers last year got about 18 percent of the $1.869 billion generated by souvenirs, ticket sales, television revenues and licensing agreements, according to Newsweek.
The biggest chunk of NASCAR's financial pie is its television contract with NBC, Fox, FX and TNT. That agreement allows tracks, not drivers, to collect 65 percent off the top. Drivers get 25 percent, and NASCAR gets the final 10 percent.
Racing also offers some of the most misleading financial numbers in sports. Drivers don't actually make as much as advertised. In fact, most receive a base salary and only a percentage of the team's overall winnings.
For example, Tony Stewart was credited with winning $9,163,761 last season as the Winston Cup Series champion. That figure included race purses and postseason bonuses. What he actually took home, however, was a $3 million base salary and a $4.2 million cut of the winnings. The leftover
$1.9 million went to car owner Joe Gibbs.
According to the magazine, the average salary for a full-time Winston Cup Series driver is in the $4 million-$5 million range. Busch Series drivers make about $250,000, and drivers from the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series make about $100,000.
Counting souvenir revenues, drivers divided roughly $335 million of the $1.869 billion. For some, the sale of hats, T-shirts and die-cast cars was more profitable than a paycheck.
For example, before his death, Dale Earnhardt earned about $20 million a year in souvenirs.
PETREE'S PERILOUS PLIGHT: Car owner Andy Petree is so desperate to find sponsorship for at least one of his two race teams he's willing to take on partners.
''I'm looking for someone who can help us continue the success this team has enjoyed over the years,'' he said. ''We've done everything you can do on the racetracks. I don't think anyone disputes that we have a strong program here.''
Petree had two cars in 2001, and both of them won a race Bobby Hamilton at Talladega, Ala., and Joe Nemechek at Rockingham, N.C. Petree wasn't able to replace the sponsorship on one of those cars in 2002, so he dropped back to one team with Hamilton as the driver.
Now that team is without financial backing.
''Someone who can come in as an investor and help us bring the final part of the financial situation together is going to find tremendous rewards,'' Petree said.
If he can find a sponsor, he's expected to hire Ken Schrader as his driver. Hamilton is without a ride for 2003.
ATHLETIC DRIVERS: A study by the University of Miami concluded drivers are athletes.
''We were able to match the science with the drivers on the track where they compete and confirm that they are well-conditioned athletes with cardio-respiratory fitness comparable to other elite athletes,'' said Dr. Patrick Jacobs.
The research included seven drivers from the Championship Auto Racing Teams circuit.
PIT STOPS: As expected, John Andretti finally signed a contract to remain with Petty Enterprises next season. He will drive the No. 43 Dodge.
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