In-between races I read an article on how physically intense driving an Indy car can be and the flack drivers get for making it look easy.
Imagine being strapped to a wall standing straight up so only the balls of your feet touch the floor. Then, someone wraps a belt around the back of your head and pulls it as hard as possible while you try to stop your head from moving forward.
As you try to keep your head up, you also must hold two bricks out in front of your body and twist them up and down in a circular motion when the belt gets pulled.
Yet, the article contests, the people who do this aren’t called athletes like pot-bellied baseball players are.
When talking about sports game design in class we inevitably get to the question: is car racing a sport? The people who think it isn’t tend to fall back on the idea that to participate in a sport one needs to be fit. So here, I want to address that question.
I’m on board with the idea that drivers are athletes. I must admit, it is sometimes hard to argue when people think all racers look like this NASCAR fellow:
Sure, not all kinds of racing require one to be able to run a triathlon but not all physical sports need that too (I’m looking at you NFL).
Car blog Jalopnik also wondered about the physical acumen of drivers and asked an Indy Lights champion about it. It’s clear that you do need to be strong and have good stamina to race. Here’s his take on a day or relatively light racing after a break from the sport:
My face became blotchy with purple splodges, and I felt incredibly sick. I could hardly breath, and my arms didn’t work. I wasn’t sure I could get back in the car, meaning I would have to admit to my lack of fitness, and potentially blow my opportunity to impress a team as esteemed as Ganassi.
After a glass of water, I held back the vomit and clambered back into the car. Fortunately, I finished my session without crashing and ran to the bathroom to finally throw up
He also concludes that F1 and similar are harder sports. Just take a look at this video with former F1 driver Martin Brundle exploring the physical hardships of being an F1 driver.
TL;DR: With all of the above in mind I can’t help but think that race car drivers are indeed athletes.