The Indianapolis 500 is known for being one of the most prominent races in all of open-wheel racing. Held on every Memorial Day weekend, this race in the IndyCar Series has been run 97 times since it was first held in 1911. Over the years the amounts of money top drivers have earned at this race have grown to staggering numbers.
This is partly because the Greatest Spectacle in Racing is part of the IndyCar Triple Crown. Since 2013, the IndyCar Triple Crown has linked three of the most prominent races in the IndyCar season together. The Indy 500, Pocono IndyCar 500 and California 500 are combined to make up this prestigious racing achievement. If a driver can win all three in the same season, they will earn themselves a $1 million bonus. It was introduced in 1971 and went defunct in 1980 after the California 500 was discontinued, but with the return of the California 500 in 2013, the Triple Crown was also revived.
Needless to say, winning all three races it is a real challenge. Al Unser did it in 1978 but other than that, no one has been successful in doing so.
Today the Indy 500 has a massive purse payout. In 2013, the total purse was worth $12,020,065. This was generated from such sources as sponsorship rights, television broadcasting rights from ABC and other entities and from the sale of tickets. The fact that close to a quarter of a million people will descend upon the Indianapolis suburb of Speedway, Indiana for this event each year certainly adds to the prominence of the race and potential value of the purse.
The total prize money for Indy 500 winners can be close to 20% of the total purse. The grand prize has been $1 million or more since 1989 when Emerson Fittipaldi took home $1,001,604.
The prizes that Indy 500 winners get to claim these days includes more than just a bottle of milk (or in Fittipaldi’s case orange juice), a kiss on the brick line or even a chance to climb the fence in Hélio Castroneves’ case. These prizes for winning show just why the Indianapolis 500 is a race that so many IndyCar drivers look forward to with anticipation.
So, who has earned the most for coming in first? Let’s take a look.
10. Hélio Castroneves – 2002 – $1,606,215
The first entry on this list is marked with some controversy. Hélio Castroneves won his second Indy 500 in 2002, but Paul Tracy attempted to pass him on the final lap. However, a caution flag came out after Buddy Lazier and Laurent Redon came into contact with one another. The race official called for a caution signal right before Tracy could get around Castroneves. This was heavily protested by Tracy’s Team Green, but a review was found stating that Castroneves had the lead at the time that the caution was announced. This was a real blow to Tracy’s wallet as he got only $489,315 while Castroneves made a cool $1.6 million from a $10 million purse.
9. Dario Franchitti – 2007 – $1,645,233
Dario Franchitti needed just 166 laps to win his first Indy 500 race. On the 162nd lap, Marco Andretti and Dan Wheldon were in a wreck that caused a caution situation with Franchitti in the lead. During the 166th lap, while the same caution signal was out, a large rainstorm rolled in. Eventually the race was called and Franchitti was named the winner. He was leading since lap 155 and managed to get $1.64 million for the race. Wheldon and Andretti both got only $230,000 in spite of them both being in the top ten in qualifying. This all came from a $10.66 million purse that was split between the 33 drivers.
8. Sam Hornish Jr. – 2006 – $1,744,955
Sam Hornish Jr. is the last American to have won this race as of 2013. He only led for a bit as Dan Wheldon had the lead for 148 laps. Wheldon finished fourth and got $571,000 after having to make an early pit stop to change a punctured tire. Hornish Got $1.74 million while Marco Andretti got $688,000 for finishing in second. This huge million-dollar change came after Hornish passed Andretti on the final lap. Hornish had a 0.0635 second margin of victory, the second-closest finish in Indy 500 history. That record goes to the 1992 edition of the race when Al Unser Jr. won over Scott Goodyear by 0.043 seconds. Unser was only paid $1.24 million for that one, keeping him from being on this list.
7. Buddy Rice – 2004 – $1,761,740
Buddy Rice won $1.76 million at the 2004 Indy 500 and didn’t even have to go all the way to do it. The race was cut to 450 miles after a serious thunderstorm that evolved into an F2 tornado hit the area. Fortunately for Rice, he had by far the best weekend on the track as he not only won the pole but also led for 91 of the race’s 180 laps. The $10.25 million purse was weakened in value because so many drivers failed to get to 180 laps (only 14 of the 33 drivers actually made it to that point). The ones that didn’t all got less than $250,000 each. The fact that the race was stopped after 27 laps for a few hours due to the rain didn’t help either.
6. Tony Kanaan – 2013 – $2,353,355
The most recent Indy 500 was punctuated by 68 lead changes between fourteen drivers. Tony Kanaan led for 34 laps and had been in the lead on fifteen separate occasions. Kanaan won the race but four other people, including rookie Carlos Munoz, finished the race less than a second behind him. Two separate crashes in the final ten laps ended up causing two separate caution flags to come up. Kanaan won $2.35 million while Munoz got $964,000 for his performance. The $12 million purse was relatively low compared to other races in recent years. Also, Ed Carpenter got $405,000 for finishing in tenth thanks to being in the pole position at the start of the day.
5. Dario Franchitti – 2012 – $2,474,280
Dario Franchitti won his third Indy 500 in 2012 and did so with Scott Dixon, another former winner, right behind him. This was the first time in some years that the race allowed for many engine companies to compete with each other. Honda was used by Franchitti and Dixon and had been the exclusive engine in the IndyCar series for a few years. Chevrolet and Lotus had engines in the race too. However, both Lotus vehicles finished in the bottom two spots. Jean Alesi made $251,000 and Simona de Silvestro earned $303,000, but Franchitti got a huge $2.47 million payout for winning. This thrill didn’t last for too long though; Franchitti parted ways with his wife, actress Ashley Judd, during the same year.
4. Dan Wheldon – 2011 – $2,567,255
Dan Wheldon won his second Indy 500 race in 2011 in spite of not even leading during the race until the end when rookie J.R. Hildebrand crashed on the final turn of the final lap. While Hildebrand’s car was able to get to the finish line in second from the momentum of the wreck, Wheldon was still able to surpass him at the end. A huge chunk of change exchanged hands between the drivers as a result of the crash as Wheldon got $2.56 million while Hildebrand went home with $1.06 million. Wheldon got only $1.53 million in his first Indy 500 win in 2005. Unfortunately, Wheldon died in a wreck at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway a few months later, becoming the first driver since 1946 winner George Robson to have died in the same year as winning the race.
3. Dario Franchitti – 2010 – $2,752,055
After unsuccessfully competing in NASCAR for a few years, Dario Frnachitti returned to the IndyCar series in 2009. He won five races that year and placed seventh at the Indy 500. He ended up winning the 2010 edition for his second career Indy 500 win. He led for 155 laps after having the pole position, giving him several bonuses for his strong efforts. He got $2.75 million while runner up Dan Wheldon got $1 million. One noteworthy point about the race is that Tony Kanaan, who was the last person on the grid, finished in eleventh and came very close to the lead at one point. He did get $328,000 for his run which was around $73,000 more than what Davey Hamilton got for getting in last place.
2. Scott Dixon – 2008 – $2,988,065
Scott Dixon became the first driver from New Zealand to win the Indy 500 in 2008. Much of the nearly $3 million that he won from a $14.4 million purse came from the tenacity he displayed during the entire race. While he was the pole sitter with a 226.366 mph run, Dixon kept losing the lead to other drivers. He held the lead seven times during the race and had it for a total of 115 laps. But on lap 172 he took the lead from Vitor Miera and never looked back. Miera did get $1.27 million for finishing in second place. Marco Andretti, the son of Michael Andretti and grandson of Mario Andretti, won $782,000 for finishing in third in the unusually named Team Indiana Jones presented by Blockbuster car.
1. Hélio Castroneves – 2009 – $3,048,005
This top 10 list comes full circle with 2009 winner Hélio Castroneves who set the record for the most prize money of an Indy 500 winner. He took home a little more than $3 million for winning his third Indy 500, a total much higher than the $1.27 million he earned in 2001. Castroneves led for 66 laps and had the pole position for the race after qualifying at 224.684 mph. This was part of a purse that was good for around $14.3 million that year. Castroneves wasn’t the only million-dollar man at the race, though. Runner-up Dan Wheldon got $1.25 million despite never leading a single lap. Danica Patrick made history for the best finish a woman has ever had at the race. Her third place finish was good for $763,000.
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