Although, Jimmie Johnson did not win NASCAR’s last race today at Homestead-Miami Speedway, he secured his sixth championship.
Johnson has been consistent in his wins and standings this year, finishing in the top ten – 24 times this year. He has won his sixth championship in eight years, including five consecutive wins from 2006-2010. With that kind of dominance in his sport, it is best to say that Jimmie Johnson is an athlete, whether many in the sports industry like it or not.
Donovan McNabb, a former NFL player, doesn’t believe that Johnson should be considered an athlete, saying “He sits in a car and he drives, so that doesn’t make you athletic.” This is a common misconception from McNabb and many others who think NASCAR isn’t a sport. They also don’t realize it takes quite a lot of mental and physical capacity to become a race car driver.
It is one thing to drive a car around and around multiple times, without a bathroom break, for hours on end. It is another to add in the fact that these drivers are going over 200 m.p.h at any given time. The mental demand to stay focused going around without feeling dizzy, just might lead other athletes to tire very quickly. The sport is a challenge of mental and physical prowess, demanding a constant state of alert.
Another aspect that people might not think about is that the drivers are going in one direction, left, for up to six hours (the longest race is the Coca-Cola 600). To keep one’s hands and body in a turning position can make a person’s arms extremely sore. It could equate to someone holding a weight straight in front of them for the same amount of time.
Like a basketball or football player that has to read plays and execute them, so does a NASCAR driver. Whoever is in front of them, they have to think many steps ahead and determine if they are going to pass them or not. They also do not have side mirrors, so they rely on “Spotters,” people who sit high above the racetrack and let them know when they should move left or right to pass a car. A wrong move and cars can go flying and people would get injured.
There is also the fact the drivers wear fire suits to protect them in case a car does crash and start to go up in flames. They have to think fast and get out of there to prevent severe injuries. Additionally, when these athletes are driving, there is no air conditioning and if it is a hot day for racing, then the car can reach high temperatures. This rising temperature can cause the drivers to become heated, even if they have vents on their suits to keep them cool. They are also wearing helmets, so basically they are cooking in a small space for an average of four hours each weekend from February to November every year.
Maybe, the fact is that since Jimmie Johnson and the rest of the racers don’t have to become physical with each other, they should not be considered athletes. Consider other sports that don’t deal with two people getting physical with each other, such as, golf – it is an individual person working towards winning and they don’t have to slam into another golfer. Tennis is a physical and mental duel between two competitors and it is a matter of the other person faltering. They do require trained physical regiments, but they are not running up and down a court with a chance of a penalty landing them hard. They also do not have to worry about the full-back slamming into their bodies. Even if NASCAR is more mental than physical, athletes in general must have the mental fortitude to go out there and battle, regardless they look the part of football players.
For example sake, consider if Jimmie Johnson is the best athlete in NASCAR. Sure, he’s not going to run a 40-yard dash, nor hit 50 home runs, but he is one strong athlete. Like it or not, NASCAR shows a variance of demands on the body and mind, making it very much a sport.
By Renayle Fink