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Knowing NASCAR: Is NASCAR a sport?
By Bob Heiss

A reader wrote in, "A friend says that NASCAR is not a sport, just driving. What do you think about it?"

Let's take a look at some of the world's sports - football is played in an hour long game that takes 3 hours to play. In that time the average player is actually moving or exerting himself 7 minutes for the entire game.

Basketball is more strenuous but players take an hour-long game, turn it into a three hour deal, and they rotate on and off the bench. A lot more time on the floor than football, but not constantly.

Auto racing - take that 3 and a half hour long football game and put it into a place like Bristol, add in 43 3,400 lb. cars traveling at around 100 miles an hour, and there are no breaks. Oh, there are yellow flags for accidents or debris, but they slow, not stop.

They still have to get into their pit, hit their marks, the crews change four tires and add 13 gallons of Sunoco Racing Fuel, and they get back to the track, in less than 14 seconds.

Let's add some other factors in - temperatures for instance. The air temps may be in the 70's or 80's, sometimes in the 90's or higher. The sun bakes down on the track bringing the track temperatures up over 130 degrees.

Throw in the heat from a 800 horsepower motor located just three feet from the driver with the exhaust pipes running under his feet, and enclose the driver in a several layers of fire-retardant material, but a helmet on his head, buckle him in with a six-point harness that severely restricts mobility.

Add in the HANS devices and a seat that almost full encapsulates a driver, and then add in 500 laps without getting out. Strapped in a rocket for 3 and a half hours with in-car temperatures often hitting over 130 degrees and you have athletes now who often lose 10 pounds of water weight throughout the course of a race. No bathrooms either, folks!

They are constantly on edge watching through several mirrors while watching in front of them for trouble or openings, at speeds exceeding 200 miles an hour. The mental fatigue is as heavy as the physical wear and tear, and I defy any basketball or football player to place themselves in the same situation.

Drivers are some of the fittest athletes there are these days. They have to be to survive the mental and physical exhaustions that are placed on them for 500 miles in three or more hours.

By the way, it took me about 8 seconds to read that last sentence. In that time a car going 190 miles an hour at Daytona will have traveled over one-half mile. Do that surrounded by 42 other drivers going the same speed in the same place, and do it without benefit of time-outs, commercial breaks, or when the defense is on the field.

You don't think their athletes? Go into a steam sauna wearing a snowmobile suit and a helmet, lock the bathroom door and the refrigerator, spin around in circles in the sauna for three hours with 42 others, and tell me how you feel.

A final note here and a bit of tribute - Last week's race at Bristol was the final points race driven by driver Dale Jarrett. With over 30 wins to his credit in a career that spanned 24 years and 668 career Cup starts, Jarrett is retiring to the broadcast booth in the footsteps of his father, racing legend and race broadcast legend, Ned Jarrett.

Dale won the 1997 Winston Cup Championship and three Daytona 500's for Joe Gibbs Racing. He is considered by many in and around racing to be one of the "true gentlemen" of the sport. He was known as a tenacious but fair driver, a good friend, a proud father and an equally proud son, and his presence on the track will be missed.

Good luck to you, Dale Jarrett, and thanks for the fine memories throughout your career.

Well see you all back here in a week or so. In the mean time my best wishes to you and your families for a Happy Easter and we'll talk again after the Goody's Cool Orange 500 at historic Martinsville Speedway, the paper-clip shaped track on Martinsville, Virginia.

NASCAR checkered flag

Take care, and remember, "Rubbin's racin'!"

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Bob Heiis, NASCAR fan

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