This blog was written by Bethany Garrity. Meet our blogging fitness specialists at the NIFS website.
I’m not an Indianapolis native and I didn’t grow up around racecar driving. I’m a Buckeye―I’m all about the football. For me, baseball, hockey, and golf are sports. They're not sports I love, but I do view them as athletic pursuits (though I’ll admit, it took me a while to come around to golf as a “sport”). Racing is a different story. Unless we’re talking about racing on foot, it just doesn’t resonate with me as a sport.
What's the Physical Challenge of Driving Around in Circles?
I originally chalked up that “it’s not a sport” mentality for racecar driving to the fact that I simply wasn’t into the hype. I don’t know anything about racecar driving, and to be honest, I didn’t see the physical challenge in driving a car in circles. So I started researching the Indy Racing League (IRL) to see what I could find out about stock-car racing.
I started seeing the term “land rocket” in my search results, and I noted that the drivers sometimes maintained speeds of 200 m.p.h. for four to six hours and in high heat. My education in exercise science and my experience in corporate fitness began to kick in and I realized that those physical demands had to have some kind of traditional exercise component, and thus, perhaps stock-car racing really was an athletic pursuit. There has to be something “fitness-y” about drivers expected to produce under those conditions.
Racecar Drivers Have High Levels of Exertion
My conclusion: It turns out racecar driving is a sport! I found quite a bit about training regimes both on and off season. But what hit home most for me was a press release from the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) for a December 2002 article in the Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise journal. It noted that drivers reach levels of exertion similar to those athletes playing basketball might attain.
They also noted that the work level for a driver is comparable to someone running at an eight- to ten-minute-per-mile pace. Now that is something I can relate to. I’ve trained for the Indianapolis Mini-Marathon with a nine-minute-per-mile pace group. It’s hard for me to imagine maintaining that pace for four to six hours with temperatures in the high 90s to over 100 degrees.
Go NASCAR, go IRL―race your hearts out! I can’t promise I’ll watch with enthusiasm and follow like a true fan, but my appreciation has grown. Now, if we could just get more sports fans to adopt a piece of the exercise routines from their most beloved drivers, pitchers, shooters, goalies, defenders….