How much does it cost to field a car in the Indy 500?
INDIANAPOLIS — Buddy Lazier and his supporters bought a year-old race car for more than $300,000 for this Indianapolis 500, but they had to hire people to secure and organize the equipment necessary to participate this month at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
It was no small endeavor, especially at the last minute. And while everyone associated with the 500 wants to see more participants, it’s a costly venture.
The figure to participate this month starts at about $650,000 and increases considerably from there. Commit to a full program — with crash damage built in — and the number soars to seven figures, and that’s assuming there’s already a car in hand.
The cost to join teams owned by Roger Penske, Chip Ganassi, Michael Andretti, Bobby Rahal and A.J. Foyt can be more than others due to their brand equity.
There’s a lot to it.
“So Buddy gets a car,” said Eric Bachelart, whose race team is fielding Lazier’s No. 91 entry. “But then you have to go find all the things to make this happen.”
That’s what Bachelart was doing Sunday in Gasoline Alley … finding support equipment, lining up people to turn the wrenches, obtaining the latest bodywork pieces to make the car competitive.
“A lot of stuff,” he said.
Sam Schmidt has a financial number in mind to allow his extra car — No. 99 — to participate, although he won’t share it publicly and likely modifies the figure depending on the driver to whom he’s talking. But Schmidt also has the same fixed costs as other IndyCar team owners.
The entry fee is $12,000, plus another $2,000 for the electronics package. Fuel for the month is $1,500.
Thirty-three sets of Firestone tires is the maximum. Firestone officials don’t reveal costs, but three teams said they pay $2,600 a set, which makes the bill $85,800.
Chevrolet and Honda lease engines two ways. There are full-month programs — entrants get two engines, the second arriving for use on Carb Day and the race — and what’s called a short program. Entrants on the latter have pre-race mileage limits and must use the same engine for qualifying and the race.
A one-engine program, like Lazier is on, is $125,000. Most teams pay $225,000 for the full month.
What fans don’t see are the costs behind the scenes, and The Indianapolis Star surveyed teams big and small to obtain their costs.
Wheel guns to change tires are $5,000 apiece, with four and a spare standard per car. Setup tables come to $12,000, gears another $44,000.
Add in all the needed tools, carts, painting, body fitting, shop supplies and such — not to mention $1,000 for the nitrogen for the tires and the wheel guns — and costs mount in a hurry.
Some teams budget for crash damage, some don’t. Those who don’t risk having their month end with even the most routine of accidents.
“There is no such thing as a cheap crash at Indy,” said Ed Carpenter, an owner/driver.
A repair bill of $200,000 is common at this high-speed oval track, more if the tub breaks.
IndyCar restricts testing, but most every car that runs this month is put through the same steps. It’s $35,000 for a day spent in a rolling wind tunnel, another $4,000 for time in a low-speed wind tunnel. A few hours on the seven-post shaker rig, which measures shock activity, is $5,000.
“You’ve got to do all that stuff,” Andretti said.
The cost of the crew varies as much as any item in the paddock. Most teams with Indy-only employees figure it’s a 20-day position.
A quality engineer can command $750 per day, a sum of $15,000 for the event. A chief mechanic and a data specialist are half that individually, but combine them to get a monthly expense of $16,000. Add in gearbox and tire specialists — a combined $6,500 — four mechanics at $3,000 each and a couple of helpers to run errands, and the salary toll is steep.
Then pay the driver. One respectable veteran received $150,000 last year, and that doesn’t include a percentage of the prize money. Less-experienced drivers get less, $100,000 on average.
Fire suits cost $1,150, and a team needs at least 12 per car — five for crew members that go over the wall to service the car, seven more for others, including the driver.
Crews are outfitted with work clothes bearing sponsor logos. They get three sets (shoes aren’t provided). Teams budget $4,000 for that.
Many of the teams are based in the Indianapolis market, which keeps lodging costs manageable, but invariably there are out-of-towners who require hotels and per diems. At minimum, teams budget $5,000, but Foyt’s Houston-based team, for example, surely spends more.
The crews also need to be fed — catering averages $7,000 — and customers need to be entertained.
Figure a suite at $60,000, then buy the food and beverage required to be purchased from IMS. There’s even a motor home parking fee ($4,500).
IndyCar’s season-long credentials are $500; an Indy-only participation badge is $175.
All told, it can cost $1 million to run one car at the Speedway this month. Of course, making the field earns you about a quarter of that back.
Out of money yet?