|NASCAR: If it’s not a sport, then what is it?|
|Written by Kristi Demonbreun, Sports Editor|
|Monday, 04 February 2013 16:13|
As the granddaughter of stock-car racing legend Jim O’Connor, I would like to point out that writing this column will be severely frowned upon. But despite the fact that I grew up around racing and it is totally going against my family’s nature, I am still going to hash out the heated question: Is NASCAR really a sport?
When it comes to NASCAR, you either love it or you hate it. Those that love it are typically die-hard fans — you know, the ones that wear the gaudy T-shirts and the brightly colored racing coats with sponsor patches covering nearly every inch. And then there are those that hate it, and I am not even sure if hate is a strong enough word.
Regardless, when someone questions if NASCAR is a sport in front of a fan, he or she should expect to be in a very heated argument.
The controversy is not so much if racing is a sport, but rather if the drivers should be considered athletes, as technically it is the car that is doing all the work, right?
I mean, Tony Stewart’s beer belly does not exactly scream “athlete,” but he is one of the best drivers in NASCAR. He has also been successful in racing Indy cars, stock cars, midgets, sprint cars and pretty much any car he jumps into. Stewart is one of the best drivers there ever was, but is he an athlete?
Now taking a look at Carl Edwards, with his fine physique and constant display of back flipping off his car, I might be more inclined to believe he is an athlete. But is it his athleticism that makes him a successful racer?
NASCAR haters are quick to say no, but the die-hards disagree. They also bring up some valuable points.
For starters, anyone can say they can get in a car and race, but it cannot be that easy to drive at nearly 200 miles per hour for four hours. Without a halftime or timeouts besides a few 13 second pit stops, it has to take some endurance to race for that long.
Another well made point by NASCAR supporters: non-drivers may think it is easy to just jump in a car and race, but have they ever driven a car that runs manually? It is not like cars on the street that you can drive with your knee while turning the corner. I have never driven a race car, but when I see grown men struggling to work the wheel, I am not going to argue that it is easy.
And finally, the argument that I think is the strongest: the hand-eye coordination drivers must have. If a driver loses focus for just one second, his life will be flashing before his eyes as his car smashes into the concrete wall. Athletes or not, NASCAR drivers are pretty gutsy, or maybe just crazy, for risking their lives like that.
NASCAR driver Jimmie Johnson, the only driver to ever be named The Associated Press’ Male Athlete of the Year, told Autoweek, “go to one of the local driving schools and give it a shot. After you’ve been in the car and you climb out of the car sweating and going through the paces, and you still don’t think we’re athletes, I’ll listen to you then. Until then, I’m not paying attention.”
My conclusion: NASCAR drivers are professional athletes, just in a different way than NBA or NFL players. But I guess until I get in a car and drive myself, I will never know.