NASCAR Driver Thinks $500,000 Salary For Fellow Drivers Is 'Underpaid'

Photo credit: Sean Gardner/Getty Images
Photo credit: Sean Gardner/Getty Images

Sometimes, when you have a new 30,000-square-foot mansion with an indoor basketball court, bowling alley and a helicopter pad, talking about salaries isn’t a good idea. Most of us poors don’t want to listen. But that didn’t stop Denny Hamlin, who thinks NASCAR drivers should make more money.


To be clear, Hamlin said, he wasn’t talking about himself. Despite saying “we” four times, he said he was talking about the drivers toward the back of the field.

But that’s not the problem. The problem is, maybe now—when NASCAR itself is having to help Danica Patrick and Darrell Wallace Jr. find sponsors, the common perception is the sport has been declining for years, the top series’ title sponsor reportedly asked for an extension to decide whether to renew, and when Dale Earnhardt Jr. says young drivers are signing deals for far less money—isn’t the time to have your complaints about driver salaries make the headlines.

Here’s what Hamlin, who just advanced to the second round of NASCAR’s new playoffs system and will start the round seventh in the championship standings, had to say, from ESPN:

“We’re way underpaid as race car drivers,” he said. “There’s no doubt, doing what we do, the schedule that we have and the danger that we incur every single week, NASCAR drivers should be making NBA, NFL money.” ...

“I’m sure this will be in some headline somewhere where Denny says drivers aren’t paid enough, but I’m basing it off all other sports,” said Hamlin, who recently built a 31,300-square-foot home. “I’m not including myself.

“I’m including the back half of the field — those drivers are risking the same amount I am and they should be paid a hell of a lot more.”

Hamlin continued by talking about the dispersement of money from NASCAR’s television deal, which ESPN reports totals about $820 million a year. NASCAR divides the cash up by giving 65 percent to tracks, 25 percent to teams and keeping 10 percent for itself, according to ESPN, and about 75 percent of driver salaries come from sponsorship on big teams. From ESPN:

“There’s got to be a reset, and it doesn’t come from the drivers,” Hamlin said. “It comes from NASCAR helping the teams survive on a better basis. ... There just has to be different revenue-sharing.”


“Helping the teams survive.” That’s the word.

Getting past the “We’re way underpaid” part, let’s break this down. Hamlin said drivers should be making NFL or NBA money, and his reasoning was the danger drivers have to face every week.


To address drivers not at the front of the field: ESPN reports that when Landon Cassill drove for the underfunded BK Racing a few years ago, his contract was based on race finishes but guaranteed him a minimum of $500,000 a year. It’s not nearly what the top drivers make, but it’s, uh, livable.

And for NASCAR drivers at the front of the field, it’s not like the other sports are making an extra figure on them. Look for yourself, with data from Forbes and Business Insider on the highest paid athletes in each sport for 2016:

Illustration for article titled NASCAR Driver Thinks $500,000 Salary For Fellow Drivers Is 'Underpaid'

Then there’s the “danger” part of Hamlin’s statement, which was just plain bad—people in the military risk their lives for something other than recreation, and you can bet most of them don’t make a minimum annual salary of $500,000. Plus, think of the countless other jobs out there that pay dirt in exchange for the same or more danger than hopping into a race car or a sporting arena.

If you’re going to complain about salaries, do it the way most normal people do: In the comfort of your own (in this case, 31,300-square-foot) home, not in front of a bunch of people recording your words to publish them on the internet.


Please. It’s for the best.

Thanks for the tip, Nick!

Staff writer, Jalopnik



Are we seriously doing this? Are we seriously going to engage in this vapid, smug, equivocating exercise to tell everyone how woke we are?

I’m by no means rich, but I’m lucky enough to have a job that keeps me well above the poverty line and generally lets me live a comfortable life with a fair amount of minor luxuries. That doesn’t mean I don’t have a point if I look over at someone doing a very similar job than me and see that they’re getting paid notably more. I may be right, I may be wrong, but it’s not out of touch or wrong to make my case if I do.

Hamlin is generally right. Race car drivers incur more risk than most other professional athletes (though it’s hard to compare the immediate single-incident risk of racing crashes with say the long term cumulative degradation of CTE). It’s fair to point that out and it’s fair whether you think all athletes are overpaid or not to point out that others are making more or less. If Steve in the next cubicle or officer or whatever is making 30% more than me and I feel he does half the work I’m not wrong for raising that just because there are people on food stamps.

Where Hamlin loses traction though is that, fair or unfair, it doesn’t matter. People don’t get paid on risk, nobility, or any other such things. They never have. The pay for a job even in communist systems is generally what is required to get applicants or candidates of the desired skill and quality, tempered by how much money or value the work brings. Nobody at NASCAR is going to give a shit that he makes half of an NFL player’s salary unless NASCAR has NFL money and teams feel they need to spend that kind of money to get a winning driver.

I’m all for laughing at him actually thinking he deserves or will get more money but this whole “rich guy complains about other rich guys” shtick is tired and hamfistedly dishonest.