I've had it up to here with people saying that NASCAR is not a sport, and that its drivers are not athletes.
I can understand why people would say it. I mean, driving a car is something millions of people do every day. Many users on this site have drivers' licenses and/or cars. Thus, they take for granted the entire notion of competitive driving as something that's easy, or mindless, or unathletic.
These people must think that NASCAR stock cars are the same cars as you or I have at home. They're not.
First of all, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to look inside a Sprint Cup Series garage to figure out that stock cars are not the same cars you or I drive to school and work.
These cars are not only heavier, aerodynamically superior, and more expensive than a normal Toyota Camry or Chevrolet Impala, they go much faster—up to 100 miles per hour faster, for those of you requiring cold, hard figures.
If you can get a street-legal Camry to go 190 straight out of the factory, there's either something wrong with it, or something wrong with you.
Now, place those 190 mile per hour cars on a large track, such as Texas Motor Speedway, where they will have to maintain said speed while turning around a radius of 750 feet. Immediately as each driver turns, he is hit with G-force, which is defined as the force of the Earth's gravity in any given direction, and represents acceleration. One G is equal to 32 feet per second.
According to this G-force equation at HowStuffWorks.com, the drivers would experience about 3.2 G's around the turns, or 3.2 times the force of Earth's gravity pulling on them in the corners.
However, because Texas has 24 degrees of banking in the turns, the drivers only experience about 1.9 G's at top speed, because those 24 degrees of banking put about 1.3 of those G's on the wheels of the car, helping it stick to the track.
Even so, the driver must push back, resisting those 1.9 G's.
How does this relate? A human being must be in impeccable shape to withstand such force for almost three straight hours. During takeoff, the space shuttle exerts about three G's of force on its passengers, nearly a fair straight-up comparison.
Most roller coasters exert about three G's on their riders, but for no more than three seconds or so. Even so, many people throw up from the forces exerted upon them.
And you tell me that a NASCAR driver, who withstands those kinds of forces for three hours (and up to 64 G's in an accident, such as Jeff Gordon's 2006 crash at Pocono), just sits around and turns left all day?
Any person who can withstand those types of blunt forces on his or her body is an athlete.
We haven't even gotten to the behind-the-wall crew yet.
There's a good reason why many former football and hockey players are now pitting NASCAR teams—pit crews train as hard as any other athletes in any other sport. They must jack up half of their 3400-pound car, change four tires, add 22 gallons of Sunoco fuel to the fuel tank, and make no mistakes over the span of 15 seconds.
Try getting together six of your friends and doing that to the family minivan.
Almost no matter what your definition of "sport" is, NASCAR racing fits that definition—if you truly understand the sport.
Wikipedia defines sport as "an activity that is governed by a set of rules or customs and often engaged in competitively."
Under that simple definition, NASCAR racing must be a sport; it is governed by a set of rules drawn up by the sanctioning body (as is baseball under the MLB and basketball under the NBA) and is always engaged in competitively.
A football-playing friend of mine once said that sport requires offense, defense, and physical exertion. While he noted that "offense" and "defense" are more abstract in NASCAR racing than in sports like baseball or football, they do exist, especially on the last lap when one driver is attempting to hold off another for the victory.
If you don't like those abstract definitions of "offense" and "defense", you can quit calling golf a sport, too. Where's the defense in golf? Can I kick the ball away from my rival while he putts? (For the record here, I wholeheartedly believe both are sports.)
Joon Song, in his recent article Open Mic: Do Golf and NASCAR Make The Cut?, defines a sport as requiring the following:
1) Competition against other participants to win as an individual or team
2) Skill and physical training required to succeed
3) A combination of at least three athletic qualities such as strength, speed, quickness, leaping ability, hand-eye (or other body) coordination, agility, and stamina required to excel
4) Running or an alternative athletic/physical exertion (e.g. swimming, boxing, cycling)—beyond merely walking or sitting
I don't think I have to justify No. 1 or No. 2 in regards to NASCAR. If given simply the list of athletic qualities provided above, I can name a situation where every one of those is required at a given point during a race. Just try me.
And, as I've stated above, the ability to withstand between two to 64 G's (64 to 2048 feet per second) of force against yourself at any given time is an athletic quality and extreme physical exertion.
So all you minivan drivers, football freaks, whatever—those of you who still say that NASCAR (and, by nature, any form of auto racing) is not a sport—ought to go out and try it. Once you've driven 325 laps at Texas, you'll realize how physically exhausting the sport is. Maybe then you'll understand.
But until then, don't even try to tell me that NASCAR is not a sport, just because you can drive your personal car. Any Joe Schmo can do that.
Only a true athlete can drive a stock car.