|Credit: Debbie Ross for Skirts and Scuffs|
However, there is something above all that can really grind our gears; when common, everyday people with no knowledge of NASCAR state that racecar drivers are not athletes. It doesn’t matter who says it or which driver or drivers they say it about. When you tell a NASCAR fan that our drivers aren’t athletes, that sets us off above anything else. It’s a time-old argument NASCAR and motorsports fans face on a regular basis.
While I respect that each of us are entitled to our own opinions and thoughts, I personally beg to differ in regard to this particular matter. Here is why.
On Friday night following the Camping World Truck Series finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway, former NFL player turned FOX Sports 1 analyst Donovan McNabb was asked whether or not he thought five-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Champion Jimmie Johnson is an athlete. His response was that Johnson is "absolutely not" an athlete because "he sits in a car and he drives.”
Hmmm … well if that’s the case, then in most other sports all the “athletes” do is run back and forth between a rink, court or field. But that is beside the point.
Donovan, with all due respect, here’s some food for thought:
According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, an athlete is defined as person who is trained or skilled in exercises, sports or games requiring physical strength, agility or stamina.
Jimmie Johnson and every other racecar driver on this planet can be considered an athlete as they are skilled in operating 700 horsepower machines that require both mental and physical capacities. Competing in NASCAR, as with any other sport, requires drivers to be in the best physical shape of their lives.
Here are some cold, hard facts for you (courtesy of CNN):
1) On straightaways at speeds close to 200 mph, NASCAR drivers in one second travel 293 feet, almost the length of a football field.
2) Temperatures in the car can exceed well beyond 100 degrees, whereas it can rise to be 170 degrees closer to the floorboards. Keep in mind that drivers wear protective firesuits that retain heat; they can lose anywhere between five to 10 pounds during a race.
3) Drivers experience 3 Gs of force against their bodies when entering turns on the track, which is considerably comparable to the forces pressing down on shuttle astronauts at liftoff.
4) In a race, a NASCAR driver maintains the same heart rate - 120-150 beats per minute for three-plus hours - as a serious marathon runner for about the same length of time.
5) A study in "anticipatory timing" found racecar drivers to possess the same ability to anticipate what was going to happen as a hockey goalie or a quarterback.
To meet these demands, drivers participate in various physical activities outside of stockcar racing. Johnson himself is a consistent marathon and triathlon competitor. When he isn’t behind the wheel of his No. 48 Chevy, he takes to the road with his feet. Kasey Kahne is another driver who enjoys running in competitive marathon events outside of racing. Mark Martin is 54 years of age, always tweeting about his workouts at the gym and how he constantly strives to be in the best physical shape he can be.
Donovan, the next time you sit in a regular chair at a roundtable on any sports network, it is my hope that you will have done your research. I recommend participating in a NASCAR-related driving experience. Go take a ride in an actual stockcar for a few laps and tell us first-hand if you could handle doing that for 200 to 500 miles every weekend. Tell us if you could do what Jimmie Johnson has done and will continue to do behind the wheel of his stockcar - win five consecutive championships and race for a sixth. We would all be intrigued to hear your thoughts then.
On behalf of NASCAR Nation,