Memorial Day weekend is almost here and while our nation’s focus should be remembering those who made the ultimate sacrifice for the freedom we enjoy in the United States, there is also the uniquely American ritual that takes place on the last Sunday of every May.
The Indianapolis 500, “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing”, as it is known, brings 33 of the world’s fastest cars and drivers together for a 200 lap race on a 2.5 mile oval track with cars running at average speeds of 230 m.p.h.
From the weekend warrior running a local dirt track in an old Camaro, to the sleek technological marvels of Formula 1, all levels of racing are expensive. But if you are thinking of participating at Indy, you better have a particularly fat checkbook. The cost of running the race will set you back somewhere in the neighborhood of a cool million dollars.
Let’s break down the numbers:
Car – The centerpiece of your Indy 500 dream of sipping milk out of the glass jug in Victory Lane will be your car. If money isn’t a consideration, you can buy a state of the art Dallara Indy Car, but if you have to stay within a budget, you can buy a used car from last year’s race for $300,000.
Engine – You won't get your car very far down the track without an engine. You have a choice of either Honda or Chevy power, and it will cost you $125,000 for one engine. However, engines that turn over 10,000 RPM over hundreds of miles of practice and qualifying tend to break. So it may be worth it to have a backup engine ready. The second engine will cost you another $100,000.
Tires – Good news! The rules state that teams are not allowed to buy more than 33 sets of tires during the weeks leading up to the race. The bad news is at $2,600 for a set of four Firestone racing tires; your tire bill will add up to $85,000
Wheel guns and other assorted parts – Since your pit crew will have roughly 8 seconds to change tires and fuel your car at each stop during the race, they’re going to need air guns to remove and replace the old rubber. Total cost for 4 guns and a spare, $20,000. Gears for the transmission run about $44,000. Setup tables, which will allow your team to balance and setup the car, cost about $12,000.
Team – No one can get up to speed at Indy without a top-notch team. And those folks don’t come cheap. A team engineer can cost $15,000. A chief mechanic and a telemetry specialist will cost $7,500 each. Fill out your team with a tire specialist, a gearbox specialist, and some general mechanics and other support staff, and you have a payroll of around $50,000 for about 20 days of work.
Driver – Driving down the front straightaway at Indy at 250 M.P.H. and then having to turn left may not be something you are willing or able to do. No problem. There are plenty of capable drivers willing to drive your car. For $150,000 you will get an experienced veteran.
Fire Suits – Everyone participating in the race (driver, pit crew, engineers) will need a fire suit. They go for about $1,200 each and figure on needing 12 of them for race day.
Odds and ends – Fuel for your ride, $1,500. Shop supplies, $1,300. Feeding and housing your crew, $7,000.
The entry fee – After gathering your car, your engine, and all the assorted people and parts you need to go racing, you’ll still need to pony up a $12,000 entry fee to compete.
And finally, since fast cars driving in circles with other fast cars sometimes crash, you will probably want to budget another $250,000 for repairs just in case a wreck in practice means you need to put your car back together just in time to take the green flag at Indy.