Last week while on the track shooting pics of the Jackson hillclimb, I saw the inevitable: snowmobiles tumbling down the steep slope of Exhibition Hill. Gravity makes fine wreckage at someone else’s expense.
And just whose expense is that? I heard fans talk about wreckage and dismiss it casually, saying, “It’s OK, they’re pro racers they don’t pay for their sleds.”
’Scuse me? Let’s get some facts straight. While it’s true that some pro racers have padded contracts that include all the sleds and parts they need for a season (and a salary to go with it) it’s the exception rather than the norm. With the exception of Bubba Stewart, Tucker Hibbert and a few select others, it’s absurd to think people race and make money. Scores of people know that at the end of a racing season, breaking even was a great year.
The majority of racers – professionals or otherwise – pay for their race machines. Most drivers in a race program get a discount, but manufacturers don’t build between 300 and 500 race sleds to give them away. Because of the high performance parts, cutting edge design and small production, race sleds are more expensive for manufacturers to build. Racers buying machines even at a discounted cost is a big bite to chew.
Other outside sponsorships might help cover expenses, and it might even get snowmobiles paid off, but those, too, are rare. Most racing sponsorships are product, not cash. As many sponsor decals that can fit on the bodywork doesn’t cover all the expenses of racing a stock class. In hillclimbs, racing in the Improved Stock or Mod classes only makes the equipment more valuable, and little if any of it comes complimentary.
“At best, drivers have a product sponsorship. There aren’t many drivers who get cash sponsorships,” Nathan Zollinger said. He also told me that a driver’s typical factory support in the race program is a $500 parts allowance. Drivers can eat that up in a single weekend or in a supply of drive belts.
Drivers who get to race at a hometown track once a year are lucky. While on the road, they have hotel rooms. Does 2 rooms, one for a driver and a spouse and one for crew sounds about right? That’s 2 rooms at $85/night x 3 nights = $510. People stock up the race hauler with groceries for a few meals, but feeding the crew all the meals for the weekend is easily another couple hundred bucks.
Average race entry fees are $100/class, and so four class entries is easy math: $400. An entry typically covers the admission and pit pass for the driver and a crew member, but that means a driver’s family and additional crew members have to have pay gate fees. For drivers who use race fuel the going rate for 112 octane is about $7.00/gallon. Then there’s fuel for the truck. Drivers commonly travel 1,000 round-trip miles at 8-10 miles per gallon with diesel at $2.50/gallon. That’s more than $300 in fuel for the tow rig. Now multiply those expenses by the number of races on a calendar for a minimum annual race budget.
People don’t race for money. People race because they are passionate about competing. They love it. Some people will tell you they need to race. And spectators need to support it and support the companies and businesses that support racing. Because when sleds get wrecked, sure, someone other than the spectator pays the tab. But often it’s the driver watching the cost of racing growing even more expensive.
– Tim Erickson