High speeds, G-Forces and focus make drivers athletes

Feb. 16, 2015

Alexander Nedd
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“Boogity, Boogity, Boogity, let’s go racing boys!”

While perhaps unfamiliar to the average person, starting next week this slogan will capture the hearts and ears of racing fans all over the nation, signaling another start to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Championship.

While not a popular sport in Colorado, the state offers the only team for NASCAR Sprint Cup competition based west of the Mississippi River. NASCAR boasts a large fan base from all over the country.

But when you get down to it, it’s simply driving. How are these guys’ athletes? What’s hard about turning left? The question has surrounded the sport since its inception back in the 1950s.

What many see as a daily and leisurely activity, professional drivers experience at 200 mph. Physical demands are placed on drivers within a racecar, and they are constantly on the field.

And yes, it’s referred to as a field.

Whether it be a half-mile race track such as Bristol with 33 degrees of banking, the raging monster 2.66 mile track known as Talladega, or the series of sidewinders at the road courses, NASCAR drivers are constantly working out their legs and arms by using manual transmissions.

Drivers push their 3,400 pound racecar to the limit in every turn. Yes, the objective of going fast seems as easy as pushing the petal to the floor, but if you’re doing it constantly while facing G-Forces three times the normal pressure of a human, then it starts to take a toll on the body.

For those who like examples, the lightest driver and only female racer on the circuit is Danica Patrick. She clocks in at about 100 pounds. That means while racing Patrick is feeling up to 300 pounds of force in every turn.

A typical NASCAR racecar records temperatures from 90 to 160 degrees inside. The drivers are given a cooling system while racing, but such systems have been known to fail. Drivers have recorded losing up to 10 pounds during a race.

There is no seventh inning stretch.

In addition to the physical part of racing, many drivers compete in other sports to help train and stay fit. NASCAR stars such as Jimmie Johnson and Kasey Kahne compete regularly in triathlons, while others take up working out at the gym and running to gain every inch of muscle over their competitors.

Halftime, what halftime? NASCAR drivers are constantly on the go from start to finish and rarely are given a break unless an unsafe condition has arisen on the track. Though yellow flags are seen as a break to viewers, drivers are still handling their machines.

Then there’s the most shocking point of the races, the crashes. Crashes add excitement and drama to a race and can make surviving just a bit more rewarding.

Hitting a wall at 200 mph takes guts, flipping at 200 mph is painful and although protected by a roll cage and safety features, the impact and force is still felt on the driver which always leaves a chance for injury.

The pit crew, the team’s lifeline, is just as taxing. Lifting a 90-pound fuel car, while changing tires, is every bit as competitive and athletic as any other sport. Most NASCAR pit crews consist of older players from professional football who say it is more exhausting on the body.

NASCAR is not just some Sunday drive. The 57th annual Daytona 500 will be broadcast on FOX at 9 a.m. on Feb 22. Tune in to see why these athletes are arguably the best drivers in the world, and witness the next chapter in motorsport history.