It is a mistake to call NASCAR drivers “athletes”

Spencer Chase

Let me give you two scenarios.

In scenario one, I get in my car and drive across the country in heavy traffic, nonstop for five or six hours, stopping once or twice to refuel the car, maybe changing a tire or two.

In scenario two, I wake up in the morning, gather up some assorted friends and family, and we toss around the ol’ pigskin for a couple of hours.

Now which one of those two scenarios involves a sport? If you answered scenario two, you clearly have the ability to use common sense. If you answered scenario one, you are probably one of the incredibly incorrect people who operate under the assumption that NASCAR is a sport.

Don’t get me wrong; I can appreciate the value of a good stock car race. I grew up in a very pro-racing household, so I’ve watched, and enjoyed, plenty of races. But I don’t know where we got the idea that NASCAR was on the same level as, say, the NBA or the NFL.

If NASCAR were a sport, then we would have to consider the drivers to be professional athletes. If the drivers were athletes, their bodies wouldn’t be able to withstand NASCAR’s preposterously long 10-month season. The longest season on any of the big three major sports — NFL, NBA, and MLB — is the six months it takes to decide baseball’s champion.

Some make the argument that drivers are so unbelievably talented that NASCAR should be considered a sport. Yes, the drivers are very talented. But at the end of the day, how would they fare without the car? In other sports, such as golf and tennis, the athlete is in direct control of the device, be it the racket or the golf club, and must physically relocate himself or herself towards the ball. With NASCAR, the driver walks to the car … and then sits down for five or six hours. Doesn’t that make the driver less of an athlete and more of a skilled machinist?

Somehow, we’ve moved from judging athletics by their actual athleticism to judging them more by their popularity. Soccer, which is only popular for reasons that rhyme with World Cup or Olympics, has some of the best athletes in the world. Tennis is the same story. But we simply discredit these sports because they’re too European and don’t hearken back to the days of moonshine bootlegging.

So what, other than crazy popularity, makes NASCAR a sport? The drivers are immensely talented, but that doesn’t make them athletes. It has recently developed a playoff system as a way to disguise it as a sport, but it still runs on a point system instead of win-loss like every other major professional sport. And where else is a competition immediately followed by an interview that name-drops the driver’s five different major sponsors with a thick southern accent sprinkled in just for the fun of it?

Skill isn’t the same thing as athleticism. If it was, everyone that was skilled in their particular field — be it agriculture, business, research or whatever else is considered a career option these days — would be considered athletes.

Let’s draw the line at the same place we drop the green flag.