Viewpoint: Nascar is a Sport – Superb Athletes

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By Laken Stewart

There has long been a heated debate between those from the South and those from everywhere else. Is NASCAR really a sport? Are drivers of these cars really legitimate athletes?

I am guilty of thinking I could take on car racing. If my dad sank enough money into my mom’s Mazda 3, I could have a mean racing machine. I’ve played NASCAR 2006 on the GameCube plenty of times to know how the tracks operate. I am competent in my racing lingo, such as loose, spring rubber, yellow flag and spotter. What else could there be to this? I found out recently.

I rode in a NASCAR Grand National West Series car, which is the minor-minor league of NASCAR racing. This car had 450 horsepower, compared to 750 in a Nextel Cup car and 148 in my mom’s Mazda 3. The moment the ignition switch was flipped, I could feel each of those 450 ponies blast heat into the cabin. The five-point harness was tugged even tighter on me for a second time as I tried unsuccessfully to wiggle inside my molded seat.

When the car accelerated, the engine grew even louder and the heat quickly rose to a super uncomfortable level. In the Nextel Cup level, temperatures reach 120 degrees in the car and drivers regularly sweat off anywhere from five to 10 pounds per race, according to “NASCAR for Dummies” by Mark Martin, a retired Nextel Cup driver.

With every turn, my face squished against the side of my helmet. I was pulling about two Gs of force with the sharp turns. When the car braked for these turns, I was jolted forward and on the verge of losing my morning’s Honey Bunches of Oats. I had to continually readjust myself because I was being pushed down so hard by the forces that were continually acting upon me.

The first lap around the track I just enjoyed the ride, letting my head and feet flop around. The second lap I tried to stay in a normal position by keeping my head up straight and feet on the ground. It wasn’t an easy task. The forces I felt are identical to that of riding a roller coaster. Can you imagine driving a 3,400-pound car going 200 mph while feeling 4-5 Gs for 15-20 seconds at a time? That is what the Nextel Cup drivers experience each lap at a majority of tracks.

“If you weigh 200 pounds, at five G’s you’re being pushed sideways at 1,000 pounds,” Brian Beckman, a physicist for Microsoft and amateur racer from Washington, told USA Today.

The Nextel Cup cars can cover a football field in less than one second and accelerate from 0-100 mph in three seconds flat, according to the International Racing League’s Web site. According to Mazda’s Web site, my mom’s Mazda 3 needs 9.2 seconds to go from 0-60 mph.

Envision yourself in this incredibly powerful machine under such physical, gravitational forces. Add concrete walls whizzing literally inches away from your head. Not only that, but add other cars 6-12 inches on each side of you, front and back and to the side. Now try to turn actual corners and maneuver your way through the field to reach the front. If you aren’t a top runner, your sponsor will drop you like a rock and you and your team are out of a job.

With all the factors involved, the heat, noise, G forces, incredible speed, hazardous surroundings, pressure to finish well and maintaining the will to live all must require incredible skill, concentration and continual training. There is so much that goes on with the fragile handling of the racecars, the average Joe will never fully understand what goes on behind the steering wheel, qualifying these drivers as superb athletes.

From this experience, my respect and awe for these drivers and this sport has been increased a hundredfold. Maybe it’s something you need to feel for yourself before you can completely understand. Until then, I ask that you place NASCAR in the “Respectable Sport” category and the drivers in the “Valid Athletes” group.

Please direct comments, complaints and all other responses to

Laken Stewart is a senior from Salem, majoring in public relations and minoring in political science.

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