While the Indy 500 does not officially release their exact purse until after the race, we can get an idea of the winning driver’s prize money based on past data. Since 2008 the Indianapolis 500 purse has been at least 13 million for all but one race. Will Power earned $2,525,454 of the $13,078,065 purse for winning the 2018 race. The Indy 500 has awarded more than $363 million since the race began in 1911, per Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
According to the Indianapolis Star, the winning driver earns about 25 to 30 percent of the Indy 500 purse. Based on past data, the 2019 winning driver is expected to earn at least $2 million with a majority of winners earning about $2.4 to $2.5 million since 2010.
The Indy 500 purse differs from most sports given the specific amount varies based on each driver’s performance during the race. Not only is the prize money distributed based on finishing position, but a driver earns additional money for each lap led during the race. A driver earns $250 for each lap led as part of a $50,000 lap prize money fund and the pole winner also earns a prize, per the Indianapolis Star. Indianapolis Motor Speedway historian Donald Davidson spoke with the Indianapolis Star about the variable nature of each driver’s earnings.
“When you look, you would think the money would descend, but it doesn’t,” Davidson told the Indianapolis Star. “If somebody leads a lot of laps and then breaks down, or there’s been many times when the pole car was dead last or out early, and when you look at the prize money its equivalent to fourth or fifth place.”
The Winner of the Indy 500 Earns the Borg-Warner Trophy & Typically Drinks Milk as Part of the Race’s Tradition
It is as much about the prestige associated with winning the Indy 500 as it is the financial incentive for winning the race. As part of the race’s tradition, the winner typically drinks milk after the race as the Indianapolis Motor Speedway detailed.
Three-time Indianapolis 500 winner Louis Meyer regularly drank buttermilk to refresh himself on a hot day and happened to drink some in Victory Lane as a matter of habit after winning the 1936 race. An executive with what was then the Milk Foundation was so elated when he saw the moment captured in a photograph in the sports section of his newspaper the following morning that he vowed to make sure it would be repeated in coming years. There was a period between 1947-55 when milk was apparently no longer offered, but the practice was revived in 1956 and has been a tradition ever since.
The winner also gets their face carved into the Borg-Warner Trophy, a tradition that started in 1936. A new base had to be added to ensure there was enough space for new winners to be featured on the trophy, per Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
The new winner has been added every year since, and in 1986 (the trophy’s 50th anniversary), the final space became filled. The solution for 1987 was to add a base, but this too became filled, and in 2004, an even larger version replaced it, this one with enough spaces to last through 2034. The only sculptured face not of a winning driver is that of the late Speedway Tony Hulman, whose likeness, in gold, was placed on the base in 1987.