They run half-marathons the same week as the Daytona 500, they take on 100-mile uphill bike races, they find time to golf during race weekends and they go for jogs hours before racing. And many pit crew members played football, among other sports, in college before joining NASCAR.
But whether or not NASCAR drivers are athletes based solely on their day jobs (versus their extracurricular activities) is always a popular topic, especially among those who aren’t racing fans. It’s just sitting in a car and driving, right?
Not exactly. And drivers regularly remind people why they’re athletes, what kind of shape they need to be in to race and the toll a single race can take on their bodies.
The most recent example of that is from the NASCAR Cup Series race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, where the National Weather Service said the temperature was 94 degrees not long before the green flag. Car temperatures regularly hit 120 or 130 degrees, and they can get even higher in the summer, especially with a heat wave.
It was so hot Sunday that during the race, driver Matt DiBenedetto lost nearly 10 pounds.
And he’s a physically fit dude.
This is what Landon Cassill’s heart rate looked like throughout the race. His maximum heart rate hit 173 beats per minute, and he’s one of the drivers who did a half-marathon days before the Daytona 500.
DiBenedetto finished fifth Sunday, while Cassill came in 26th.
On his podcast this week, Dale Earnhardt Jr. estimated that drivers lose an average of six to eight pounds per race, typically in water weight because they’ve prepared for the conditions. But it doesn’t always work, and sometimes, they get severely dehydrated and ill afterward.
The common thread between racing and many of the other physical activities drivers do is endurance. They need endurance to survive marathons, triathlons and long bike rides, just like they need endurance to handle a 130-degree car driving at 200 miles an hour for several hours on a weekly basis.
On top of the heat, the G-forces are out of control and wear their bodies down.
As Jamie McMurray, a driver-turned-NASCAR analyst for FOX Sports, noted a couple years ago oddly enough after a race at New Hampshire, his average heart rate for the race was nearly the same as it was for his 100-mile cycling race up a mountain.
And now thanks to DiBenedetto and Cassill, we have even more examples proving that drivers are athletes.