I know now probably isn't a good time to point out any shortcomings in the Series Formerly Known as CART, what with Cristiano da Matta lying in a hospital bed surrounded by observant neurosurgeons. But I have been considering writing about this for a while and it's a slow news day nonetheless.
Auto racing is a bit different than other major US Sports in that we are not explicitly told how much drivers are paid by their respective teams. Everyone knows about Alex Rodriguez and his $252M contract, but we can't just go out on the internet and find out if Boulder Sam is paid $1M, $2M or even $5M per year by Roger Penske. What I CAN find out is how much he has earned by winning.
Now, in all truth the winnings are secondary in purpose. While at one time drivers would try to earn their keep by winning purses - much as a horse-racing jockey will do even today - the current drivers are paid by the team for both their ability to drive successfully and to pull sponsorship cash to the team. It's not that the earning don't matter - it's that they constitute the proverbial drop in the bucket when compared to their other sources of income. OK, maybe two drops.
Of course, being an astute race fan of the IRL you probably knew that. The reason I wanted to point this out is because while Champ Car teams are often touted (perhaps justifiably so) as having deeper pockets on average than IRL teams, the actual money they are awarded for driving is comparatively pithy. Seriously, it's a fraction of what the IRL drivers earn.
The IRL has had 11 races this year, and Champ Car has had 9. That's not equal but it is close in total. Let's look at the top 5 drivers IRL earnings list first, and note these aren't necessarily the Top 5 in order of Championship Points (or "the Chase" as Old No. 2 is apt to slip up and say).
1. Boulder Sam $2,521,655
2. Well Done $1,382,455
3. Spiderman $1,190,305
4. Andretti 3.0 $1,172,105
5. The Kiwi $1,104,405
OK, those numbers look pretty fair for guys who drive cars for a living. Now, before anyone accuses me of bias - and as you can see from the site's name I am, so it's no big deal - I will note the winnings are weighted based on driver performance at Indy. That should explain how the winless Marco is up there. Still, they got paid so it goes into the series earnings.
Now, let's look at the Champ Car earnings list.
1. Sebastien Bourdais $520,000
2. A.J. Allmendinger $403,500
3. Justin Wilson $398,000
4. Paul Tracy $255,000
5. Mario Dominguez $235,500
Uh, quite a bit lower. Again, I realize Indy skews the list, but to be four to five times lower is staggeringly embarrassing for the senior circuit. Let's put this in perspective:
• Max Papis is 23rd on the IRL list and he's made just a few thousand less than Dominguez.
• Mike Skinner is 11th on the Craftsman Truck Series earnings list, and he's made a touch more than Dominguez.
• The #5 earner on the LPGA (that's ladies golf) is Natalie Gulbis with $249,037 - which is more than Dominguez.Yes, women golfers are earning more than Champ Car drivers.
Now, I know since the new ownership has taken over Champ Car they have sought to remain fiscally solvent. But is this how they do it - by shaving a few million off the purses? Bear in mind that although Bourdais has around 25% more in earnings than Allmendinger, Sebastien has won five of the nine series races and has finished in the top 5 in eight of them.
Read that again - he's won over half of the freaking races! Paul Tracy has no wins and only four top fives but he's nearly halfway to Bourdais. That's unbelievable.
It's almost to the point that they should just do away with the earnings per race and just have year-end payouts for Champ Car driver points. Don't get me wrong - I don't think these guys are going to be on the dole anytime soon. But it remains hard for the Champ Car series to be taken seriously when drivers are paid embarrassingly small amounts for winning.