Phil Parsons hates the way he's forced to exist in NASCAR. So do James Finch, Larry Gunselman, and Joe Nemechek. They live check to check, race to race, each hoping to make enough money to pay for the next race.
It is a thankless and hopeless way to do business. All lack sponsorship, so they live on their race winnings. That means showing up every week, racing hard enough to make the starting lineup, and quickly parking once the main event starts.
After all, a last-place check is better than no check at all. On the surface, it looks like an easy way to make a quick dollar. In reality, it's a tough way to survive. Nemechek finished last at Richmond, Va., on Saturday and got $65,512. But he also had to pay his crew and their expenses, buy tires and he left with a crashed race car. The final check probably didn't cover the costs.
Parsons brought two cars to Richmond and both failed to qualify. After getting at least one of his cars in every race this year, he was forced to skip a necessary pay day.
"When you have a business like this, there's no room for error like that," he said.
Kyle Busch won the race at Richmond and earned $264,506. Sponsorship from M&M's, however, was worth three times that much. Busch made more in one night than some start-and-park teams can hope to make in a year. And that separation continues to push the competitive teams further away from the back markers.
Finch is tired of trying to race against big money. His team, which includes cars in the Sprint Cup and Nationwide circuits, is for sale. He is disgusted with running at the back -- and being criticized for it.
"They need to make it cheaper so more people can race." he said. "The guy with the most money wins here. It's the New York Yankees syndrome. I've had enough. I'm tired of fighting this."
NASCAR's purses promote quick exits. Casey Mears finished 26th at Richmond, one lap behind Busch, and he earned $67,325. That's only $1,813 more than Nemechek. Mears' team, however, had the added expense of five extra sets of tires -- at a total cost of $9,500 -- and the expense of refurbishing the engine.
"I don't want to race like this," Parsons said. "None of us do. We're just trying to stay in racing."