You Don't Think NASCAR Drivers Are Athletes? Try Doing Their Workout

Greg EspositoContributor IIApril 9, 2010

PHOENIX - APRIL 09:  Ricky Stenhouse Jr., driver of the #6 Roush Fenway Racing Ford, looks on from the grid during qualifying for the NASCAR Nationwide Series Bashas' Supermarkets 200 at Phoenix International Raceway on April 9, 2010 in Phoenix, Arizona.  (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images for NASCAR)
Jeff Gross/Getty Images

The Subway Fresh Fit 600 is this Saturday at Phoenix International Raceway. Knowing when the race is and that it takes place at PIR is usually the extent of my knowledge on the yearly NASCAR stop in the Valley.

I’m not exactly what you’d call a “NASCAR fan.” Okay, I’m not what you’d even call a “NASCAR tolerator.” I’ve been of the mindset that I could go out and simulate a similar experience to NASCAR at 2:00 a.m. on the 101 (especially if Jason Richardson or DMX happen to be around).

With that said, you can imagine my skepticism when I was invited to take part in a media NASCAR workout hosted by EAS and Athletes Performance, followed by a brief interview with Larry Fitzgerald . Admittedly, I was more interested in the interview than the workout.

My first thought was that I should prepare for the workout by taking my car around the Fanster parking lots only making left hand turns, maybe jumping in and out of my driver side window, drinking Gatorade from a straw while sitting in my desk chair, and then finish by doing a celebratory back flip in front of a Sprint phone, but I didn’t have a Sprint logo backdrop at my disposal.

Rather than preparing in that manner for the Thursday afternoon workout, I decided to do what most sane people do before a workout—okay, maybe not sane, but what most people who haven’t worked out in months do...eat a meal consisting of greasy pizza and a drink.

I mean honestly, this is a NASCAR “workout.” I probably could have chugged a few beers and eaten the entire pizza and been just fine, right?

With lunch over, I put on my workout clothes and headed out to the Athlete's Performance facility. As a guy who hasn’t had a gym membership in years, I don’t really own workout clothes though, so much as old shorts and a t-shirt.

Driving up to the facility, I was expecting a relatively easy workout followed by a brief interview with Larry Fitzgerald . Odd, I know, since he’s a wide receiver and not a NASCAR driver, but he’s an EAS spokesman, and also is a special guest at events surrounding the race this weekend.

The second I entered the facility I realized I was in trouble. Somehow the fact that it was called Athlete's Performance and not Fat Guy Performance had escaped me.

That point was made abundantly clear when I met Craig Friedman, the trainer that would be working with us—and by us I mean me and two other writers (the TV guys decided it was easier to stay behind the camera than make asses of themselves working out).

As I sat there in my shorts and t-shirt that suddenly felt like the casing of an over stuffed Italian sausage, I couldn’t help but begin to think I underestimated the work and effort it was going to take to live through the next 45 minutes.

Craig told us we’d start with some light stretching, which in my world consists of standing up from my desk and walking to the break room. I imagined stretching for a NASCAR driver would look something like my fifth grade PE class did. A bunch of gangly looking people bending over trying to touch their toes.

It was far from that, it included a message stick, a ball that stretches the muscles in the peck—or in my case the “man boob,” or “moob”—and something that I can only imagine is how people find out they have the talent to be a contortionist for a living.

With stretching done we moved on to warm-ups—which I always just assumed was what stretching was—where we did awkward crab walking lunges, some drills where we ran in place, and a drill where we threw a medicine ball against a wall.

The medicine ball exercise was probably the most difficult activity I had done since my slimmer, more athletic college days.

We had to throw a three pound medicine ball from our hip to the wall and catch it all without moving our upper body and core much—something that is difficult when your upper body and core consist mostly of years of drinking coke and eating fast food.

After ten reps on each side I was already gaining a new respect for those in NASCAR . The exercise is supposed to help strengthen the core of a driver so they can spend two to four hours in the car, and so their pit crew can perform tasks like changing tires in rapid fashion.

The main part of our workout consisted of circuits that included lunges while holding a dumbbell, pulls and body workouts, and doing something similar to push ups on a machine that vibrates.

(To borrow a line from the Simpsons, I’m sure many of the people watching this part of the workout were staring at me thinking “the giggling, it’s hypnotic”).

Midway through our second circuit, I was spent. My pulse was racing faster than Robin Williams’ during one of his ’80s coke-fueled rants, and I was sweating more than a NFL offensive lineman in a sana.

As I recovered from the temporary blindness that had occurred during my second round of vibrating pushups, representatives from EAS talked to us about the importance of nutrition. They gave us a Myoplex drink, reminding us that NASCAR athletes not only have to workout, but have to have a well-crafted plan to fuel their bodies.

I couldn’t tell you exactly how the thing tasted, at that point I was so thirsty I would have chugged the used motor oil from Jeff Gordon’s number 24 car (see, I know something about the Sprint Cup), but they assured me it tastes good.

Then came the part of the day that I had beaten my body up and made a fool of myself for. A few minutes to talk with Larry Fitzgerald .

Larry summed up the day in one quote.

“To be an elite athlete, I don’t care what your job is, if you’re a NASCAR driver, in football, in basketball, golf, you have to be in peak physical condition. They might not be running, but sitting in a car going 200 mph for 500 laps, you have to be mentally and physically strong and well-hydrated.

There’s training that has to be done to be elite at anything.”

Arguably the best receiver in the NFL was willing to put NASCAR drivers in the same athletic class as himself and other professional athletes, yet somehow this overweight 26-year-old writer had always assumed they were just normal guys that didn’t have to do much more than fasten their seat belt and turn left.

Needless to say, my viewpoint had officially changed by the end of the afternoon. Especially when I found out the workout was supposed to last an additional 20 minutes and include numerous human-powered treadmill activities, which were canceled because of my body’s lack of ability to stand, let alone run.

The training NASCAR drivers go through is rigorous, and the dietary regimen and restrictions they have to follow to keep them in shape and hydrated truly makes them athletes.

Participating in the workout also proved something to me. If I want to make fun of a “sport,” I should probably stick to bowling. Even I can sit in a seat, eat nachos, drink beer, and roll a ball. Then again, I should probably watch what I say. I wouldn’t want to get an invitation to a PBA Workout in my email box and have to fail at that too.