Monday, December 29, 2008

Athlete or Not? Are NASCAR Drivers really Athletes?

It's an age old argument, that I'm quite frankly getting tired of.  Listening to a recent Christmas edition of Sporting News Radio, I head a guest host say that NASCAR drivers are not athletes.  "They drive around in circles, for Christ's sake" the host exclaimed.  "Anybody could do that!"

I'll refrain from my usual arguments about the 120 plus degree heat.  I'll refrain from my usual arguments about losing up to 8 per cent of total body weight during a 500 mile race in the summer.  No, I have a different argument that I'd like to bring up that will prove for once and all that yes, indeed, NASCAR drivers are true athletes.

Hand and eye coordination has long been touted as the main ingredient for any athlete.  Yes, any idiot can drive a nice climate controlled passenger car for hours in circles.  Most of us, who happen to be male, have done this with families in the car while looking for our vacation destinations.  Asking for directions?  That's truly a non-sport.

I personally have never driven the family minivan at 180 miles per hour in circles around anything.  I've never been able to get the minivan up to even half that speed on a dead flat stretch of interstate.  My face pours sweat, my perfectly arranged hair sprouts horns, but the dang thing won't go over 75, no matter what I do to it.  I asked a racing experienced guy that I know why that phenomena exists.  His answer was succinct.  "Well, it's like you're driving a dang barn door through the air.  It just ain't going to go that dang fast."  I thought, with my superior hand and eye skills, that I could make a UPS van go 180 on a dead, flat, straight road.

I was wrong.  As it turns out, there was some stupid deal called aerodynamics that made my minivan, and indeed, the big brown truck, move relatively slowly through the air.  A really huge vehicle with a huge profile will go slower than something shaped like a bullet through the air.  I'm guessing that this is why we don't see many bullets shaped like UPS delivery vans.

But, naturally, I digress.  The main point of what I'm trying to say here is that very few sportscasters could maintain control over a 3500 lb stock car at speeds much over 45 MPH for more than a lap or two, on any track in the nation.  There is no CD player, there is no Garmin.  There is no cruise control, nor is there any gas gauge.  In many cases, I'm guessing some of these NASCAR haters couldn't do without a regular shot of thier favorite beverage at regular intervals.

Here's one for you, sports experts.  Try driving any vehicle on a straight line at 180 plus mph for more than 5 seconds.  Now, try doing it while having to steer and turn corners, and try to keep that vehicle out of the wall.  Try doing it with 42 other vehicles on the track.  Try to pass a slower car in front of you without crashing.  It's not a sport, huh? 

Try it for real before you say it's not a sport.  In NASCAR, it's not just Hand to Eye coordination.  You have to have your hands, eyes, feet, and basically your entire brain utterly coordinated, sometimes at extreme heat, pulling extreme G's.  

Do it before you criticize it, please.  I don't know crap about soccer, but I'd say it takes some skills.  Racing takes some extreme skills most sports types have never even thought about.

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