The athleticism of stock car drivers

Photo by NASCAR via Getty Images
Robert Richardson Jr. (23) leads cars during a practice session at Talladega Superspeedway. Richardson Jr. goes into detail of the athleticism and determination of stock car drivers.

By Robert Richardson Jr.
Driver Analyst
October 16, 2014



Within the auto racing world, we as race car drivers constantly hear criticism about whether or not we are athletes or if we are just a bunch of couch potatoes that are fortunate enough to wheel a race car. 

I’m hoping to end this ongoing debate once and for all. Let me tell you guys something: don’t underestimate the physical capabilities of a stock car driver, EVER.  Especially the drivers of the glory days. They had no power steering whatsoever, bucket seats with a standard seatbelt, leather helmets, and raced in regular street clothes. The cars couldn’t turn in a forty acre field. They literally ‘manhandled’ those four wheeled tanks around various race tracks exceeding speeds of more than 200 miles an hour for multiple hours on end. 

What most people don’t realize is that race car drivers have to deal with the most extreme conditions mentally and physically.  During a race, cockpits of a stock car can exceed temperatures of 150 degrees Fahrenheit or more.

You’re constantly breathing in toxic fumes from the exhaust of other vehicles; you sweat out every drop of moisture within your body, and all the while maintaining the focus of a hawk, pushing yourself to the limits.

You don’t do it for yourself, but for your crewmen who work night and day and busting their tails and spending valuable time away from their loved ones.

You do it for the men who work tirelessly through the blood sweat and tears and late hours of the night without complaint. You do it for the men who do whatever is necessary to fulfill a childhood dream of one day getting to work on a racecar. For our loved ones who have supported us through thick and thin and the highs and lows our entire lives. For our sponsors.

Robert Richardson Jr.

Without them, not a single engine would fire, nor make a lap around a track for your entertainment pleasure. It’s for the fans who spend their hard earned money to travel to the track and for the die-hards who camp out a week ahead of time so they can plaster their favorite drivers memorabilia all over their campsites and on themselves so they too can feel like they are competing with the guy sitting next to them.

Most of all, we do it for the men and women past and present who fight or have fought for this beautiful country everyday so that we can rest easy at night knowing that tomorrow we will be free to do whatever task we choose to do. But most of all, for God. That’s who and what we do it for.

So for all of you folks who still think racing is not an “athletic sport,” I ask of you to go to your local race track and see if they have a racing school for you to try your hand at for the full day. See how you feel at the end of the day, and then tell me you don’t feel like you just ran a marathon, played in the Super Bowl, and crossed the Sahara desert all in one day. Just Try it. I dare you. I’ll even give you a few links to look one up for yourself:

Race car drivers don’t get plastered on the covers of Sports Illustrated and fitness magazines for nothing. It’s like telling a Bull rider that he isn’t an athlete, or a fighter jet pilot that they aren’t an athlete, or a NASA astronaut whose body can withstand the bone crushing g-forces.

We all risk the chance of severe injury or death at any moment in our profession. Some of us race with broken bones, stitches, one lung, one eye, 8 fingers, 6 toes, the passion of a fighter and the give a damn of General Patton.  But to be quite honest with you, we love the criticism!

Photo by Sean Gardner/NASCAR via Getty Images
 Robert Richardson Jr. turns laps at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

It gives us fuel to run that extra mile, to bench press that last agonizing rep at the gym, to have the reaction time of a striking rattlesnake to avoid certain danger that is around every corner we take.

On our days and weeks off, we aren’t at home watching love stories sucking on bon bons. We dedicate hours at a time to various race tracks and/or simulators making lap after lap to try and make ourselves better than the last week.

Just like any athlete, we all do it to prepare ourselves for that chance at victory, to be able to reward the people who have gone to war with you every week for months and years, who have over-and-over witnessed multiple times the agony of defeat.  

I ask all of you who reading this article to go to a race in your area. It does not matter if it is dirt, asphalt, or horse and buggy. Check out the hustle of the crew members throughout the day. Check out the faces of the drivers after they climb out of their cars at the end of the race. Then tell me it does not resemble the same atmosphere as any professional sports arena in the world.

People pour their heart, blood and soul into what they do. It’s present at the local and national level. Go to your local racetrack and see for yourself the emotion in the air, the determination of the drivers and teams, and the thunder under your feet. Then, feel free to tell me that racing isn’t an athletic sport. Thanks for your time.



Robert Richardson Jr.

NASCAR Driver, American Athlete, Hay Farmer and Texan by the Grace of God.

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