Can You Turn Left Like Jimmie Johnson?

One of the biggest misconceptions about racing is that it’s as easy as driving to the grocery store. Nothing could be further from the truth.

For new fans, it’s hard to fathom just how difficult it is to turn left for 200, 500 or even 600 miles. Turning a steering wheel doesn’t seem like a test of an athlete’s true potential, so drivers’ athletic skills are consistently dismissed.

However, comparing drivers with, say, basketball players is an apples-to-oranges exercise. We may not agree on the definition of athleticism but we can’t question the skill or grit drivers have. As with archery, we judge the athlete’s accuracy in hitting a bullseye, not by how fast they can run a marathon, but rather by how consistently they hit the target. In NASCAR, drivers should be judged on their stamina, strength, and agility during a race.

During a three-hour race, temperatures inside the car reach as high as 130 degrees Fahrenheit, and a driver’s heart rate ranges between 120 and 150 bpm, similar to that of a marathon runner.

We decided to take a look at seven-time Monster Energy Cup Champion Jimmie Johnson’s workouts on Strava to get a feel for how he stays fit for NASCAR.

During a three-hour race, temperatures inside the car reach as high as 130 degrees Fahrenheit, and a driver’s heart rate ranges between 120 and 150 bpm, similar to that of a marathon runner.

We decided to take a look at seven-time Monster Energy Cup Champion Jimmie Johnson’s workouts on Strava to get a feel for how he stays fit for NASCAR.

So far in 2019, Jimmie has clocked over 916 miles in 68 runs, which averages out to over a half marathon per session. There have only been 71 days in 2019 so far, so Jimmie is essentially running an incredible half marathon every single day this year. Aside from running, Jimmie has logged 116 miles biking over 5 stints and has swum 4500 yards in two swims. Safe to say, Jimmie’s workouts keep him quite fit for NASCAR and even more in shape than many professional athletes.

And that stamina is crucial on the race track. Turning accurately and consistently under race conditions is grueling. If you don’t believe so yourself, head over to a proper 60 mph go-karting track and I can guarantee that your shoulders and forearms will be sore for days, and you won’t be able to take the exact same line around the track twice. Speed this up about 150 mph and you find yourself in NASCAR territory.

To take the single fastest line around a corner, a driver must let off the gas and turn into the corner at exactly the same spot. Turn in two tenths of a second too late, and you’ll be off into the wall before you know it. Drivers often use specific landmarks on the track to initiate their turn. Ensuring this technical precision for hundreds of miles really takes a toll on a driver’s mental capacity throughout a race. Add in 39 fearless drivers screaming down the track at 200 mph waiting to pounce on your mistakes, and you get some of the most incredible moments in motorsports.

Without proper conditioning, the sheer mid corner G-forces would be enough to make many people lose consciousness. Many roller coasters exert about 3 G’s, but for only for a few seconds making many riders sick. Heavy G-forces lead to dizziness and severely hinder a driver’s ability to concentrate and race for victory. Drivers feel up to 5 times their weight when cornering, so the muscle memory in taking a turn in a simulator does not translate to a racetrack. Drivers must have good core stability and upper body strength in order to corner with these G-forces.

Alongside the sheer force of racing, the crushing heat of the cabin causes drivers to lose up to 15 pounds during a race. The dehydration these drivers experience through the race combined with the cornering G-forces requires a driver’s full concentration, something that most people are definitely not cut out for. Now, do you think NASCAR drivers are athletes?

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