Estimates are that it now costs about $3.5 million to campaign for a season on the CART Indy-car circuit, and that tends to keep the riffraff out.
Unless he is A.J. Foyt or the principal of a shoestring operation, the owner's role is to pay the bills and stay out of the way. He doesn't even get to drive the car.
One owner, Maurice Kraines, 65, took a weekend race-driving course a few years ago, "Just to see what it took to make a race driver."
"I haven't really found out yet, (except that) it takes a certain breed."
Kraines, the red-haired founder and board chairman of Kraco Enterprises in Compton, has no idea how much money he has spent trying to put a first-class setup on the track for the last six years, watching his flashy blue and gold cars finish somewhere down the track, when they finished at all.
But it all became worthwhile Sunday when Michael Andretti delivered his and Kraines' first Indy-car victory in the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach.
Kraines' closest previous brush with success occurred three years ago when the late Mike Mosley qualified for the front row at Indianapolis, faster than anyone except Teo Fabi.
"We had the pole position for about 20 minutes," Kraines said.
Other efforts with Larry Cannon in 1980, followed by Dick Ferguson, Bill Vukovich Jr., Vern Schuppan, Geoff Brabham and Kevin Cogan all ended ingloriously but not discouragingly.
"Larry (Boom Boom) Cannon," Kraines said. "We backed him at the Indy 500 in 1980. It was an experience. Two laps around and a blown motor, but he'd qualified. We knew it was for us."
Among car owners, it seems, there is a built-in system for paying one's dues.
"We learned the business the hard way," Kraines said. "It's a very competitive business and no one wants to get you on the right track to ace them out. So you just learn by experience, and we kept learning for the last five years."
It was about the same when Kraines started work on his first million in 1954 by selling imitation whitewalls, then branched out into floor mats and, ultimately, the car stereo business.
He didn't know anything about car stereos, either. "But I learned in a hurry," he said.
In recent years, Kraco ran two-car CART teams and also sponsored the CRA series for sprint cars at Ascot Park. Kraines decided this year, however, to streamline his racing program for an all-out assault on the summit: Indy.
"The basic problem is that it takes four times more effort to run a two-car team than it does a one-car team," he said. "This way we can concentrate on one car, one driver."
Somewhere in all of this, Kraines' accountants tell him, there is a write-off.
"The money comes out of our advertising budget," he said. "If advertising is a write-off, I guess this is, too. We use the racing to advertise. It's been rewarding."
And the stock just went up. After Sunday's race, Kraines' public relations man, Hank Ives, was standing around in his Kraco racing jacket when a man wearing a Toyota Grand Prix jacket offered a straight swap.
"No way," Ives said. "The price just went up."