For some riders, the appeal of competing as a motocross racer lies in risk: the physical risk of the task and the financial risk of pursuing the sport professionally. An adrenaline rush and an unpredictable financial adventure, motocross racing is not the kind of career that makes for simple average salary calculations. Pay rates vary widely based on success, moto class, venue and location.
Because the earnings of motocross racers are not public knowledge, it is difficult to pin down an average salary. Beginning moto riders usually start out as privateers, self-funded racers without factory sponsorship. The bulk of their earnings comes from purses distributed for each race. A mid-sized race such as Live Nation pays a purse of roughly $5,000, but local events -- the entry-level playing field for most racers -- might pay only $200. When they are starting out in their career, riders will probably have to supplement their salaries with other work.
As a motocross racer gains success in the sport, the purses start to grow. For instance, the 2008 EPSN Moto X events of the Summer X Games and the Moto X World Championships have a purse of $100,000 per event. At this point, bike manufacturers may take the racer under their wing, offering them salaries and sponsorship as factory-supported riders. Salaries of very successful factory motocross racers can reach up to six figures. Racers at the very top of the heap earn millions of dollars per year. According to "Sports Illustrated," Ricky Carmichael -- one of the biggest names in motocross during his day -- made $8 to $10 million in 2005. According to David Pingree of enthusiast website Racer X Online, the best privateers in the sport typically earn between $100,000 and $200,000 each year.
In addition to purse money, motocross racers receive bonuses for winning. Amounts range from a few hundred dollars to six-figure amounts. Successful riders supplement their income with endorsements and sponsorship deals, commonly for products such as racing gear, apparel and energy drinks. In 2005, Ricky Carmichael bolstered his $4.5 million salary from Suzuki with $1 million in championship bonuses and about $4.25 million in endorsements. Even privateer moto racers without factory sponsorships often receive discounts on bikes, parts and service.
Though bike companies cover the expenses of factory-supported racers, reaching this status is a rare feat. Most riders are privateers, paying out expenses from their own pocket. Each rider must maintain a bike, with a minimum expense of around $1,500 for a used model. In addition, privateers must front the costs of bike modifications, parts, mechanic services, team pay and transportation.