Mario posts about racing and it’s physical demands.
I’d like to begin by showing you a commercial
As you may have guessed, my post is on race car drivers. However I impose a question. Are race car drivers athletes? Race car drivers, and fans, have been accustomed to many people saying that race car drivers are not athletes. For the most part this debate isn’t such a big deal. However, every once and a little while some big time athlete makes a statement that throws this debate back into action.
In 2011, during the ESPY awards, Jimmie Johnson was nominated for male athlete of the year. Golden Tate, wide receiver for the Detroit Lions was quoted as saying, ““Jimmy Johnson up for best athlete???? Um no .. Driving a car does not show athleticism” (NBC http://profootballtalk.nbcsports.com/2011/07/15/golden-tate-says-nascar-drivers-arent-athletes-hears-it-from-racing-fans/) This quote threw the debate back into action of whether race car drivers were athletes or not. And after some time the debate watered away. However, the debate was quickly brought up again last year by famous quarterback Donovan McNabb. Donovan McNabb was quoted as saying (about Jimmie Johnson), “Do I think he’s an athlete, absolutely not… he’s not an athlete…he sits in a car and drives that doesn’t make you athletic.”
Both of these gentlemen do have a certain amount of credibility. They are professional athletes and neither one of these athletes has ever driven a race car which brings me to my third athlete. He goes by the name of Shaquille O’neal who’s had the opportunity to drive a race car and was asked by a reporter what he had to say about people who don’t believe race car drivers are athletes, “They can kiss my ass, these guys are athletes.” He would go onto say, “I’ve been in the league 17 years, and that was one of the hardest days of my life.”
Do these accounts by athletes prove race car drivers are athletes? No, however they do show how much credibility does matter when it comes towards making a judgement. Next up, I’d like to talk about statistics in racing, the physical side at least. For you statistics people out there, I know they teach us about how statistics can be easily manipulated or skewed to outcome in there favor. However, these statistics pretty much get to the point so bear with me.
First off, race cars are extremely hot things to be in. On a typical 90 degree day during the summer, the inside of a nascar stock car will be at or over 120 degrees. This is a huge problem especially in the South due to the humid air. One drivers car once reached temperatures of 150 degrees. What does this all mean? Well NASCAR in particular runs 3 to 5 hour races. The end result is, that the average driver will lose anywhere between 5 – 10 pounds. They can lose more weight than that on occasion. Brian Vickers, NASCAR driver, once lost 16 pounds in one race when his air ventilation tube and water tube stopped working.
Incredible heat and weight loss is just one of the battles race car drivers have to endure. G forces is the next issue race car drivers deal with. G force, explained simply, is the force of gravity on an object. Formula 1 one drivers in particular have the worst of it. This is due to the specific design of a formula 1 car. Formula 1 cars are based off an open wheel design. They essentially look like airplane on wheels. They produce enough downforce to theoretically drive upside down. Downforce is essentially the force of the wind pushing down on the car. This high downforce ratio, along with high horsepower, and light weight body designs make formula 1 cars stick to the ground like glue. They corner at unbelievable speeds and because of this a formula 1 driver can experience anywhere from 2-5 gs in the corners. The average race last somewhere between 1.5 hours and 2 hours making endurance and body strength key to winning races in formula1. Indycar in particular does not experience g’s as high as formula 1 however, the car designs are similar. The main difference is that indycars do not have power steering. If you’ve ever driven a car with no power steering, as I do everyday, you’ll know how tiring it gets to drive a car with no power steering. It is not an easy task. To make matters worse, race car drivers do crash. The second highest impact in nascar history was recorded at 80+ gs. Yes this is an extreme case however, it is not uncommon to see the impact of crashes exceed 20gs.
As we’ve discussed, race car drivers are subjected to high temperatures, long periods of racing, and high g forces. What effect does this have on the body? In particular the cardiovascular system takes a toll during races. The average human being has a resting heart rate of around 70 beats per minute, sometimes higher. The average formula 1 driver has a resting heart rate of around 50 beats per minute. Prior to the race, formula 1 drivers experience and adrenaline rush before the lights go out. There heart rate reaches 180 beats per minute. Once the race has started the drivers will average around 170 beats per minute during the race. A typical formula 1 race, as mentioned earlier, last anywhere between 90 minutes and 120 minutes. In formula 1 there are no breaks like in baseball, football, basketball, soccer, etc. Once your in that car, your there until the race finishes or you crash. In nascar, there heart rate isn’t as high. They range between 130 and 170 during the race, sometimes even higher during adrenaline rushes. However, NASCAR drivers are in the cars for longer periods of time, sometimes up to 5 hours. http://edition.cnn.com/2008/SPORT/06/17/formulaone.fitness/
So far we have seen how important the physical aspect of racing is. What about the mental aspect of racing? The mental aspect of racing is far more interesting in my opinion than the physical side. Drivers are subjected to split second decisions consistently during the race. While traveling at 200 mph a race car covers the size of a football field every second. During races drivers also have to deal with changing car and track conditions. When tires get old hot, the car will begin to slip and slide and drift. Track conditions can also change to. Rain in particular makes driving a race car an almost impossible task. And unlike most sports, death is a possibility. Studies done at the panasonic toyota F1 team has shown race car drivers brain is in economical brain state during day to day activities. When comparing the brains of a normal person and a formula 1 driver the results were surprising. In a reaction test, both the driver and normal person scored about the same score. However, the formula 1 driver used far less mental capacity than that of the normal person.
As we’ve seen race car drivers have a lot to deal with during races. Websters dictionary defines athlete as, “a person who is trained in or good at sports, games, or exercises that require physical skill and strength.” Without a doubt, it is easy to see that race car drivers really do fit under the definition of what an athlete is. Thank you.