Why Is "Pro" Racing So Expensive?

By Tom Martin, Winding Road Staff

January 18, 2017

Winding Road Team TFB provides full "arrive and drive" services for both club and semi-pro racing series. In the latter, we run cars and drivers in several Pirelli World Challenge classes and we also support cars and drivers in IndyCar's Battery Tender Global MX-5 Cup series. We know from talking to many drivers that the costs of doing these "pro" series seem high. We thought a little explanation might assist drivers who are on the fence understand whether they would be getting good value in one of these series. Because sometimes things are expensive, but they're worth it.

First, let's start with pricing. We charge $16k to $22k for an event weekend, depending on the class. And, as far as "pro" racing goes, we're pretty much doing the least expensive end of the spectrum (e.g. IMSA GTD weekends are about $100k).

Without going into gory detail, here are the main things we have found contribute to the cost of these weekends to a greater degree than many club racers think:

1. Transportation. When you run a national series, you have to get your car to many different locations. A series that runs Watkins Glen, Barber Motorsports Park and Laguna Seca, for example, will involve a lot of transport. And you're not just transporting a car, but also a lot of equipment and spare parts. So, you might budget about $1.50/mile in transport costs and figure each race involves 2500 miles of travel, which is around $4k.

2. Tires. Pro series have rules about tire usage. And the series are very competitive, so you'll need to be on pretty fresh rubber, even if the rules don't require it. For basic series like MX-5 Cup and PWC TC, we figure a minimum of $3k per weekend in tires, including rains.

3. Entry Fees. These vary by series and class quite a bit, but you might figure $2k per weekend just to give you a rough idea. Also, this is the source of prize money in many cases, so you might earn some of your entry fees back.

4. Coaching/Data. If you are working hard to improve, you'll want a coach and data analyst who can help you shave precious tenths and also work with you to improve your skills so that you are coming from a more competitive baseline after each weekend. All in, with transportation, hotel and food, we figure $3k per weekend is a pretty frugal number for this.

Adding those items up, we're at $12k per weekend. These numbers aren't exact, but you can see that these four items can be a large portion of the cost of a weekend.

Of course, there are other costs. On top of the above you need a mechanic, an engineer, logistics, set-up, fuel, fluids, storage, hospitality, crew clothing, tools and test gear, crew hotels and food. Most of those items are familiar from club racing, but because of the distances traveled you'll pay these expenses for longer periods (typically crews are on the road for 5 days per weekend).

Naturally, if you can't afford these numbers they are absurd. But if you can, you might still ask "is it worth it?" That depends on many factors, including your interest in epic tracks and your degree of focus on driver development. You might read this for one perspective.