This Just-In… Much More Than ‘Just Drivers’

Justin Prakaiphetkul, Asst. Sports Editor

With Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Danica Patrick, two of stock-car racing most famous drivers, announcing their retirements this year, I found myself once again asking: Is NASCAR a real sport?

After all, should a bunch of drivers racing around an oval be considered athletes, especially in the same tier as LeBron James and Tom Brady? After researching how these drivers prepare and train for races, along with the dangers they have to endure on the track, I have come to the definite conclusion that NASCAR is a sport.

According to, a sport is defined as “an activity involving physical exertion and skill in which an individual or team competes against another or others for entertainment.” Believe it or not, NASCAR meets all of these requirements.

NASCAR drivers have to train rigorously in order to endure the ordeals of the racetrack. These drivers have to keep their bodies in great shape to withstand multiple obstacles, such as the 3 G’s of force on turns–three times the force of gravity, the equivalent of a 40 pound support on a driver’s neck, according to ESPN Sports Science. This constant strain on a driver’s neck results in their heart beating over 120 beats per minute throughout the entire race, which is comparable to that of a marathon runner when running.

Additionally, temperature inside the cockpit often surpasses 120 degrees. During every race, drivers endure these conditions for at least a few hours in full body suits and helmets. These factors, without a doubt, requires drivers to maintain high stamina.

There is a reason why NASCAR driver Jimmie Johnson beat out athletes such as Roger Federer, Usain Bolt and Kobe Bryant to become the first and only NASCAR driver to win the Associated Press Male Athlete of the Year in 2009. Johnson, now 42 years old, still lifts weights four times a week while completing 10-mile runs and occasional triathlons. Johnson won his seventh NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Championship in 2016, tying him with Richard Perry and Dale Earnhardt Sr. for the most championships in the sport’s history.

During races, drivers can also lose around five to fifteen pounds due to the amount of sweat released. This loss of water can negatively affect reaction times by up to 30 percent. If you have not grasped it yet, you need pretty quick reflexes to narrowly avoid crashes while driving at 200 miles per hour.

The split second decisions these drivers make every race can be the difference between life and death.

Although NASCAR may be distinctly different from the good old sports we love such as basketball, baseball and football, we cannot view these drivers as ordinary individuals. We should not  view NASCAR as simply driving just because these athletes don’t run around in arenas or stadiums. It’s time that we stop dismissing NASCAR as “a group of people making left turns” and start acknowledging it as a sport.