NASCAR: Want To Make Money? Start And Park Your Way To Riches!


Sunoco Red Cross Pennsylvania 500 Practice

By: DJ DeSpain

Mike Wallace is not one of the regular drivers at the Sprint Cup level of NASCAR, but at Pocono he was one of a growing breed of drivers that are making more race entries: a start and park driver. A start and park driver is where you have a team with little or no money that will bring a car to the race track, qualify it, run a few laps at the start of a race, park the car for the rest of the race, and collect the purse for coming in last or near the bottom.

In Wallace’s case, the situation was made easier for him because there were only 43 cars entered for the Pocono race so, even if qualifying did not get rained out this past weekend, Mike Wallace was still guaranteed to enter the race. After running 13 laps at Pocono, Mike Wallace parked the car and collected $64,952 for 43rd place.

Wallace was driving the #64 Air Combat USA car owned by Larry Gunselman. Gunselman Motorsports only has one car, and currently has Mike Wallace signed for the car. Out of 14 qualifying attempts of 21 races to date, the team has managed to field the car only 4 times, including this past week at Pocono.

As an additional sign of how the economy is affecting NASCAR, start and parkers are on the increase this year. The concept has been around for awhile, Morgan Shepherd and Derrick Cope are two such drivers who have done it. The money in the sport, from sponsors and the race purses, is still lucrative enough to attract low-funded teams to try for the low-hanging fruit. Do it enough times during a year, and a team could conceivably make a tidy sum.

It is estimated that during 2008, if a team made every Sprint Cup series race and finished in the least paid position, it would have made $2,880,640. Gunselman Motorsports have only managed to field their car 4 times year-to-date, with an average finish of 41.25 and have collected a total of $301,731 in purse money.

In the first 3 races Gunselman Motorsports made, there were attempts to actually race the car but then either an engine would break or would wreck, which was the case at Bristol when Todd Bodine qualified well at 16th, but got wrecked early. The Pocono entry was a pure case of start and park, as the team did not have a crew chief, or even a tool box, in the pit stall at the start of the race.

Of course, there are costs involved before even putting the car on a track. Here are some of the known obvious costs:

  • $200,000 average for car, engine, labor
  • $3,630 Entry Fee
  • License fees – $2,420 driver, $2,970 team
  • $1,850 per tire set
  • Gas is free via Sonoco sponsorship with NASCAR

Then there’s the travel cost to get cars and team to the track but that of course will vary depending upon track location. With all that, and with help from sponsors, it appears that Larry Gunselman may be breaking even so far this year with his team after paying his driver their share of the purse, plus whatever salary dollars or amount agreed to in the contract. Having sponsor money helps defray some of the costs but Gunselman’s team has been intermittently sponsored so he’s not attempting to enter a car for every race.

The owner says “I tell people all the time, if you don’t have the money, you’ve got to race smart, and you can race hard if you do have money.” Part of racing smart in Gunselman’s case, is keeping track of the number of “go-or-go-home” drivers that try to make the field, in order to know if his team is better off staying home to save money. “We have to watch every, and I mean every, dollar to be able to make to it to the track.”

NASCAR has no rules to discourage this activity, and the only comments to date have been to say that they do not perceive it to be an issue. According to the sanctioning body, “It doesn’t impact the quality of competition whatsoever. NASCAR has always been about teams having the opportunity to participate in our sport; some teams might not have the full complement of resources to compete at the same level as others, but it’s all about having the opportunity.”

Contrary to popular belief, there is no rule that mandates a 43-car field for every race. In a recent statement, NASCAR says “It is NASCAR’s responsibility to have a reasonable field of cars for each of its events. However, there is no language in the TV contracts that demands what the size of the fields must be.”

While it might make for better TV to see a full field, does it make for better racing? Give us your thoughts on this issue on our Facebook page at facebook.rubbingsracing.com.

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