What makes an athlete and why isn’t a driver considered one?

Most of you have probably already heard about Donovan McNabb’s statement about Jimmie Johnson (and all others drivers) are “not athletes”.  With that said, Johnson’s reply was, “Yes, I am an athlete, and so is every other driver in one of these race cars.”  So I wanted to go a little deeper into the subject as to why motor sports in general is not seen as a sport.

In today’s world, many new sports have been recognized, such as chess and beach volleyball.  So why is it that motor sports is not taken seriously?  Racing or now NASCAR originated from the moonshine runners outrunning each other and/or the police.  Since it was primarily in the south and for years was not shown live on television, I can see why it wasn’t initially nationally recognized when it first became an actual series.

In the 70’s, the sport then started to really bloom and finally started seeing more and more coverage on radio and television.  Were the drivers back then athletes?  Perhaps not as much as a football or basketball player.  Back then, many of the drivers drove and were their own mechanics.  It wasn’t about sponsorship’s like today, it was more about racing.

With growing popularity, the cars, teams, sponsors and the sport became more streamlined.  Live television coverage and additional races were added to the series schedules.  Somewhere from running moonshine, to the late 80’s the sport grew up, NASCAR became a sport.  With more races and a longer season, the drivers needed more endurance and the teams needed to be in great shape.  Drivers and teams began to work out, they became athletes.

Today NASCAR or racing in general is still not recognized as a sport, such as football.  It’s time for some respect for the sport. It’s time for football players and all other athletes to open their eyes to what the sport truly entails. As one driver I spoke to stated, “I work out up to four times a week, run roughly five miles three times a week, and mountain bike five miles 2-3 days a week to help with my stamina and concentration, if this is not athletic I do not know what is.”

In short, whether you are a pro-football player, a weekend warrior, or any type of athlete, just show some respect to racing.  That’s really all that we are asking for.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of SpeedwayMedia.com

Michelle Lippold
Michelle Lippold
I've grown up watching racing of some sort from midgets to Stock Cars since I was a child. I run the FB page Everything NASCAR but really want to explore my love of writing and racing together. I love both things so I decided to try combining them.


  1. Let’s say a typical 500 mile drive for a normal person at 70 mph takes about seven hours. Imagine doing that without any “stretch leg” stops in have LA or NYC traffic. Now we change the picture a bit. Try doing that drive at 150 – 200 mph, banked road ways, and inches (not feet) away from other cars still in heavy traffic. Besides concentrating on traffic around you, concentrate on track/road conditions and being in the fastest lane possible. And oh yeah, if there’s an accident in front of you, you’re still driving at high rates of speed, cars going in unpredictable directions while you have to make split second decisions.

    How can anyone but an athlete do all that?


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