Those who suggest that racing for more than a million dollars might not be a powerful motivator haven’t spoken to Jamie McMurray, NASCAR racing’s self-confessed resident skinflint.
After getting the better of Carl Edwards in a breathtaking game of chicken at 190 mph, McMurray held off fast-closing Kevin Harvick to win Saturday night’s NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
After the race, McMurray couldn’t contain his elation at winning the million-dollar prize that goes to the winner.
“I can’t explain to you guys how unbelievable that is to hold a check up for that much money,” McMurray said. “It’s crazy. I can’t even make sense of what’s going on right now. It’s awesome. Really, … it’s ultimately what a race car driver wakes up every single day to be put in that position.”
Danica Patrick suggested the day before the race that the value of a dollar—or a million dollars—isn’t what it used to be. And to the driver of the No. 10 Chevrolet, it’s the victory that counts more than anything else.
“If it was about money, I don’t think that would be enough for any of us,” Patrick said, when asked whether she might use aggressive tactics to secure the million-dollar prize. “It’s about heart, and it’s about doing your best, and it’s about making the most of the night.
“So, that’s what’s running through your head is passing the car in front of you. Now, more than anything since it’s not really about money more than anything, it’s just a one-off race, so the results don’t necessarily matter unless you win, so you might as well go for it.
“For me, that’s what my attitude is toward it. Now if you win a million dollars, that’s great. But if you win the race, you probably already have a million dollars. So it’s icing on the cake. Now if it was like $5 million, it might make you think: ‘I’ll pass for $5 million.’”
McMurray didn’t need the extra incentive. He took the green for the final 10-lap segment—and then he took the green.
But before he could claim the cash, he had to clear Edwards’ Ford, and that was no small accomplishment. Edwards, in the bottom lane, edged ahead at the restart with 10 laps left, but McMurray countered with momentum off Turn 2.
For six straight corners, the drivers repeated the high-speed dance. Driving high into the marbles and tempting fate, McMurray finally prevailed.
Sitting at the dais in the media center several hundred photos and a half-bottle of champagne later, McMurray was still reliving the experience.
“A couple of those laps when he was inside of me, we drove off into Turn 1, and I felt like I was 300 feet deeper than I’ve ever driven into that corner in qualifying trim,” McMurray said. “And I could hear his exhaust, and he hadn’t let off yet.
“And I’m like, I don’t care. I’m just staying wide open until he lets off, and I’m going to carry a little more speed, and it was so much fun to run up the race track with him knowing that on the end of that it’s a million dollars…
“A million dollars is what made me say ‘The hell with it–I’m going to go for it.’”
Even before winning the prize, McMurray already had thought about what he would do with the money.
“I’m going to send my two kids and probably my next child that’s not here yet to school,” McMurray said. “Honest to God, that’s what I’ve thought about.
“School is really expensive, and you guys don’t know this about me probably, but I’m very frugal, just outright tight, and I’m paranoid about money every day of my life. … I’ve looked at what school costs, and college and just getting to college, and it’s most likely going to go to that.”
In that respect, McMurray is much like the late Dale Earnhardt, who, even after seven NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship and enormous success on the race track, still expressed the fear of losing everything.
Earnhardt never forgot that he grew up in a family where his father, Ralph Earnhardt, raced to put food on the table.
McMurray has won NASCAR’s biggest races—the Daytona 500 and the Brickyard 400—with their accompanying paydays.
But even after an unforgettable battle against Carl Edwards and a million-dollar prize at the end of the evening, McMurray likewise isn’t about to forget the value of a dollar and what it can mean to his family in human terms.