The 2013 NASCAR season has begun and this weekend has provided some exciting stories.
1) Danica Patrick will start from the pole for the Daytona 500
2) Danica Patrick is in a relationship with NASCAR Nationwide Champion Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
3) Kevin Harvick won the Sprint Unlimited, a race Danica was not in.
4) The Gen-6 car is amazing, just ask Danica
Okay, enough of the jokes against Danica, she was very impressive in her qualifying run and if she can translate that performance to replicate on Sunday, we may have ourselves an exciting and entertaining race in store.
But this isn’t about Danica, relationships, car models, or Sprint advertising themselves heavily by changing the Shootout’s name to Sprint Unlimited; this is about the question I get constantly about NASCAR being a real sport.
Every time I sit down and watch a race on TV, my friends walk in and say “You watch NASCAR?” My response is as follows, “Yeah?” and is followed by this: “Why? They are just going around a circle.”
Let me explain something to everyone right now before I educate you on NASCAR being a sport. I am the Sports Scholar, which means I don’t discriminate any sport because sports are the fuel to my existence. If I didn’t like sports, this wouldn’t exist.
But I digress. When you watch a NASCAR race, you notice three things: 1) The cars are pretty 2) The cars are going fast 3) The cars are going left. For the typical non-NASCAR fan, those are the only things you realize and when you compare it to a sport like football, you question the validity of NASCAR being a real sport. So I say this.
I challenge you to strap yourself inside a NASCAR stock car with no previous experience. Slow in NASCAR (50 mph) is considered fast on the highway so when you are at pit road speed (55 mph), you are about 3.5 times slower than the average speed car’s reach in a race. As the speed increases, you start to experience G-forces, which is the sensation you are exposed to on a fast-paced roller coaster like Nitro in Great Adventure. Nitro reaches speeds of 80 mph, not even close to half of the average NASCAR speed. You think you can experience twice the impact of Nitro for 500 miles?
Next thing is hydration. NASCAR drivers don’t have a halftime, timeout, or commercial break. They are strapped inside the car from the drop of the green flag until the checkered flag waves, which means they must multitask by staying hydrated inside the car as well as intently focusing on the car’s behavior, track behavior, and the race itself for one slip can mean disaster. Drivers are offered water when they come in for a pit stop, which only lasts 13 seconds. A timeout in other sports can range from 30 seconds to a full minute, depending on whether or not it is an official or media timeout. When NASCAR goes on commercial break, the drivers are still inside going at a speed of 185 mph, all the while staying hydrated so they don’t lose focus inside the car.
Next, reflexes. If you are going at 185 mph, chances are the time to react is very minimal, which means when a car in front of you is spinning out or there is a wreck in front of you, the amount of time to react can decide whether you are part of the wreck or a part of the lucky few who make it out; however, if you are the chosen one and happened to get involved in the wreck, then you must maintain your focus to correct the car so you can avoid more damage and avoid any more collisions. We saw with Dale Earnhardt Jr. that concussions do exist in NASCAR and Rusty Wallace supported the argument by recounting his experience with a concussion. A wreck can happen at any moment and each driver must be ready to react at any moment.
500 miles. On average, NASCAR drivers cover a distance of 500 miles in each race. The longest race is 600 miles and takes place at night on Memorial Day weekend. Can you imagine driving 600 miles, 185 mph, with no breaks? Driving 500 miles though means these drivers have to be in shape to have their bodies in that position for a prolonged period time while being exposed to the elements of racing that include smoke, hot temperatures, pollution, and G forces. Drivers like Mark Martin have been able to be in the sport for such a long time because of physical fitness. Jimmie Johnson, Kasey Kahne, and Aric Almirola took to the track, but not the racing track, the Daytona Beach Half Marathon track, after competing in the Sprint Unlimited. That is just an example of what shape these drivers have to be in, in order to stay healthy and be able to race.
No breaks, exposure to natural elements and injury, minimal reaction time, hydration, if you were to ask me, you can find all but one of those in every other sport known to man.
Bottom line, NASCAR is a real sport and it is a sport rooted in American tradition. If you really think it’s so easy, do it for 36 weeks a year, then come back and talk to me.