Are NASCAR Drivers True Athletes?

Kara MartinSenior Analyst IOctober 5, 2008

As a NASCAR fan, how many times have you heard, "racing isn't a real sport, those drivers aren't athletes, anyone can drive fast and turn left!" Why do we as fans constantly have to defend our favorite pastime? 

Look up the definition of the word sport on and this is what you will find:
Sport, an athletic activity requiring skill or physical prowess and often of a competitive nature, as racing, baseball, tennis, golf, bowling, wrestling, boxing, hunting, fishing, etc.
Bowling....really? I find it hard to call something a sport that I get better at after a couple of pitchers of beer.
Seriously, who are we to judge what is and isn't considered sport or what makes a true athlete?
We all love to coach from the sideline or in NASCAR's case, backseat drive. We love to think that we could do better than "so and so," but the hard truth is, few of us in this world are truly gifted enough to prove it. Even 43rd place is better than most of us could ever hope to do.
The NFL season is 17 weeks long, basketball and baseball each 6 months in length. The NASCAR season is a grueling 10 months out of the year with very little downtime. Drivers and their crews are constantly on the go. Cup drivers often moonlight in the Nationwide, Truck and/or Dirt Track series, allowing little else but to eat, sleep and drive. 
Sports psychologist Dr. Jack Stark, wrote: "Football, you go hard for 15 seconds, rest 30 or 40." "Basketball, you have timeouts. You can't stop a race and get out of your car. You've been going hard for four hours and you have to have a tremendous amount of mental toughness and a tremendous amount of drive and desire to win."
While the income gives me the desire to win, I simply couldn't cut it as a NASCAR driver. Heck, my mind wanders during my 15 minute commute to work. The skill needed to rank in the top 43 is as awe inspiring as it is profitable. Aric Almirola, who as of this print was in 43rd place has earned a total of $1,033,560. In my opinion he is worth every penny!
Nice work if you can get it, but you've got to have fortitude to do so.
I fancy myself to be a bit of a daredevil, I've been to the Richard Petty Driving Experience. In no means does that make me an expert, but what I do know is that it took my brain a full 3 laps to catch up to my body that was traveling at 160 MPH. It was the same feeling that I experienced skydiving for the first time.
NASCAR is the free-fall.
Forget that a driver must maneuver a 3,600 pound car, straining to steer the wheel around curves, debris and other drivers.
Never mind the G-forces that result from the banking turns at 180-200mph causing intense pressure on the driver's torsos.
Disregard the lack of oxygen in the cockpit mixed with carbon monoxide fumes which can cause confusion and disorientation for the driver during the race.
NASCAR is the free-fall. One that lasts for 500 miles instead of a mere 9500 feet with no safety chute to soften the blow. Even the slightest mistake could prove fatal in this sport. A driver must always be aware of his car and it's surroundings. The sheer discipline and mental strength are untouchable.
To get a driver to the finish line in one piece requires absolute perfection on the crew's part. A stock car is a monster of metal and fuel, we've all seen what can happen when things go wrong.
Think of it in terms of kinetic energy.
Kinetic energy (Ek), is a measure of how much work—or damage—an object can do in motion. The more massive an object and the faster it’s moving, the more kinetic energy it has. (Ek equals one-half mass times velocity squared, to be precise.) For example, a 3600-pound stock car running at 180 mph has a kinetic energy of 3.9 million ft.-lb. If you were to catapult a 150-pound man into the air with the same energy, he would travel 5 miles.
Pretty heavy stuff!
Tell me again why NASCAR drivers aren't considered true athletes?!