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Historic Moments

NASCAR’s Payday Milestones

Once Daytona International Speedway opened in 1959, race purse records immediately began to fall. And they continued to fall.

Racers get rewarded in a lot of different ways, including trophies, points and bragging rights.

Arguably the most important form of recognition – and the only one that pays the bills – is money. When Darlington Raceway opened in 1950, the Southern 500 was the richest race of the season, and for most of the rest of the decade, it continued to be the highest-paying race.

Once Daytona International Speedway opened in 1959, all that changed. From the first year on, the Daytona 500 paid more money than any other race on the calendar.

Here are 10 NASCAR milestone paydays:

The 1950 Southern 500, won by Johnny Mantz, was the first NASCAR race with a purse that exceeded $10,000. Photo courtesy of NASCAR Archives & Research Center via Getty Images

First $25,000 purse

The inaugural Southern 500, run in 1950, featured a 75-car field and a $25,325 purse, the largest in NASCAR’s brief history at that point. It took winner Johnny Mantz 6 hours, 38 minutes and 40 seconds before he took the checkered flag at Darlington Raceway. But the long day was worth it: Mantz won $10,510, which was more than the total money paid out in any of the other 18 races that year.

Lee Petty’s victory in the inaugural Daytona 500 in 1959 was the first of many record-breaking paydays in what quickly became NASCAR’s biggest race. Photo courtesy of NASCAR Archives & Research Center/CQ-Roll Call Group via Getty Images

First $50,000 purse

One of the most important races in NASCAR history was the inaugural Daytona 500, won by Hall of Famer Lee Petty (2011) on February 22, 1959 after a photo finish with Johnny Beauchamp that took three days to finalize. NASCAR paid out $53,050, with Petty’s winner’s share coming in at a cool $19,050.

The first of Richard Petty’s record seven Daytona 500 victories came in 1964. Photo courtesy of NASCAR Archives & Research Center/CQ-Roll Call Group via Getty Images

First $100,000 purse

Hall of Famer Richard Petty (2010) won his first of a record seven Daytona 500s in 1964, the same year he won the first of his seven championships, another record and one later equaled by Dale Earnhardt (2010) and Jimmie Johnson. The ’64 Daytona 500 barely inched into six figures with a purse of $100,750, including $33,300 for the race winner.

Driving his iconic Petty Blue and STP Day-Glo Red Dodge Charger, Richard Petty claimed his fifth Daytona 500 victory in 1974. Photo courtesy of NASCAR Archives & Research Center/CQ-Roll Call Group via Getty Images

First $250,000 purse

Another Daytona 500, another Petty victory, another record purse. In 1974, Richard Petty won his second consecutive Daytona 500 and fifth overall, pocketing $39,650 of the total prize money of $252,440.

A last-lap crash between leaders Cale Yarborough (car No. 11) and Donnie Allison opened the door for Richard Petty to win the 1979 Daytona 500, at that time the richest race in NASCAR history. Photo courtesy of NASCAR Archives & Research Center via Getty Images

First $500,000 purse

One of the most famous races in NASCAR ended in controversy when leaders Cale Yarborough and Donnie Allison crashed on the last lap of the 1979 Daytona 500, the first 500-mile NASCAR race with live flag-to-flag television coverage. The last-lap crash opened the door for Richard Petty to win the Great American race for the sixth time and take home $73,900 of the $538,330 purse.

A dominating performance in the 1985 Daytona 500 saw Bill Elliott win NASCAR’s first race with a million-dollar purse. Photo courtesy of NASCAR Archives & Research Center/CQ-Roll Call Group via Getty Images

First $1 million purse

One of Bill Elliott’s nicknames is “Million-Dollar Bill,” so it’s fitting the 2015 Hall of Fame inductee won NASCAR’s first million-dollar race, the 1985 Daytona 500, which paid the field $1,097,925, including $185,500 for Elliott, who won the race from the pole in his Ford Thunderbird.

Davey Allison (from left) went to Victory Lane with parents Judy and Bobby Allison after winning the 1992 Daytona 500, which had a purse of more than $2 million. Photo courtesy of NASCAR Archives & Research Center/CQ-Roll Call Group via Getty Images

First $2 million purse

Davey Allison (2019) excelled on superspeedways, including Daytona International Speedway, where he won the 1992 Daytona 500 in a Ford owned by fellow Hall of Famer Robert Yates (2018). The total purse was $2,008,710, with the driver and team owner splitting $244,050.

A hard-fought victory in the 1998 Daytona 500 ended in glory for Dale Earnhardt and a purse of more than $6 million for the field. Photo courtesy of NASCAR Archives & Research Center via Getty Images

First $5 million purse

When Dale Earnhardt (2010) ended 20 years of frustration by capturing the 1998 Daytona, the payout to the field was a whopping $6,379,965, nearly double the $3,441,145 that the ’97 race paid. The winner’s cut for Earnhardt and team owner Richard Childress (2017) was $1,059,985.

Driver Ward Burton (center) and team owners Bill (right) and Gail Davis after winning the first NASCAR race with a $10 million purse. Photo courtesy of Jon Ferrey/Getty Images

First $10 million purse

The $10 million mark was cracked in the 2002 Daytona 500, won by Ward Burton in his Bill Davis Racing Dodge. Total payout that afternoon in Central Florida was $10,573,184, including $1,409,017 for Burton and Davis.

The richest race in NASCAR history, with a total purse of more than $18 million was the 2014 Daytona 500, won by Dale Earnhardt Jr. Photo courtesy of Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

Richest purse ever

NASCAR quit reporting race winnings after the 2015 season, but the single richest race up to that point was the 2014 Daytona 500, which was worth a staggering $18,092,441, including $1,505.363 for race-winner Dale Earnhardt Jr. (2021). The 500 purse fell by about $50,000 when Joey Logano won the 2015 edition of the Great American Race.

Tom Jensen

Tom Jensen

Tom is the Curatorial Affairs Manager of the NASCAR Hall of Fame and a veteran of more than 20 years in the NASCAR media industry.

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