Being a NASCAR driver can be exhilarating, exciting and satisfying – especially when victorious.
However, there’s a grim and scary side to being a NASCAR driver. Needless to say, it’s a horrendously dangerous profession and it takes a strong individual to be able to face those risks week after week. Despite being grim, it’s worth thinking about these dangers in order to really appreciate and respect these bold and brave drivers.
Race after race, these incredible athletes literally put their life on the line in order to pursue their passion and deliver to their fans. We bow down to these drivers as we look through the challenges they face when racing for a win, up to 600 miles at a time.
We all know that drivers get no breaks, no rests and they’re constantly surrounded by looming danger. They’re wrestling with a 3,400-pound, 800 bhp beast at their hands for hours at a time. It takes a phenomenal amount of stamina and strength to be able to cope with that at uncomfortably high temperatures.
With no air-conditioning, in-car temperatures can soar as high as 49 degrees Celsius (120 degrees Fahrenheit), and it’s certainly not uncommon for drivers to lose many pounds of sweat during a race. In the 2017 season alone, drivers such as Jimmie Johnson and Bubba Wallace had to spend some time in the infield care centre, receiving IV fluids to treat severe dehydration. Despite this, both drivers got right back into the saddle, the following week. The mental strength to maintain that level of dedication is absolutely flabbergasting.
Next, concentration is crucial in order to not only ensure a driver does as well as possible in the race, but also to ensure safety and reduce risk. Joey Logano has commented on this previously and it offers a great insight as to what it’s like to be in that situation, week after week – even as an experienced and well-seasoned driver. A lapse in concentration could have detrimental results to the driver whose concentration has lapsed, as well as other drivers.
“In our sport, if you mess up, you crash and you are out. Zero chance of winning.
To take it back to the comparison I hear all the time about driving fast on the highway — well, imagine driving as fast as you can on the highway and doing it for hours, without letting up.
And that entire time, you need to stay completely focused on everything that is happening both inside your car and on what’s going on all around you.
In our sport, there are no timeouts, no water breaks, no opportunities to regroup.
It’s very easy for a single detail to slip your mind. And when it does, that’s when you lose.” – Joey Logano
— FOX: NASCAR (@NASCARONFOX) October 29, 2017
NASCAR is infamous for its wrecks. When you have forty cars all chasing a win and running in close packs at tracks like Talladega Superspeedway and Daytona International Speedway, it’s easy to see how a little spark from someone getting loose can ignite a terrible inferno.
Fatalities are not unknown in NASCAR, however the improvement in driver safety has meant that the last fatality in NASCAR was with Dale Earnhardt Sr in 2001.
That’s not to say that drivers have walked away scot-free every time though, because some serious injuries have still been sustained since then. To name a few: Denny Hamlin and Aric Almirola have both suffered fractured vertebrae, Brad Keselowski broke his ankle and Kyle Busch broke his legs.
All four drivers were side-lined for a few weeks, yet still made no hesitation to return to racing as soon as they were able to. Incredible.
Pit road can see lots of mishaps too. There’s the new pressure of trying not to exceed the speed limit, but also jostling with other drivers to make it into the pit box safely. The race never stops. So once drivers have (hopefully) completed a speedy and fruitful stop, bringing their pit crew into the racing equation – drivers then have to contend with the race off pit road.
Again, it can create bedlam – all with a speed limit enforced. It’s tricky, at best, and it’s no wonder we see drivers receiving penalties for speeding, overshooting their box or due to a pit crew mistake. Within this, there have been many wrecks on this relatively small piece of track.
We see drivers smashing into each other, turning each other around or – if they’re very unlucky – spinning themselves around. If they’re taking a wounded car to pit road for repairs, there’s also always the risk of not making it or worsening existing damage.
All of this can be scary as a NASCAR driver. We’ve seen drivers like Carl Edwards make the decision to “step away” from the sport. It’s no surprise really, especially if the risk of potentially losing their life just doesn’t weigh up anymore when trying to stick around for their families or to pursue other interests.
You’ve got to admit, it takes real guts to be able to do that week after week and still maintain a somewhat calm demeanour in front of the press and their fans. It’s bravery to the next level. Hats off to these gutsy drivers who regularly risk life and limb to do what they love, and provide entertainment to the fans who love what they do.