By RICK MINTER / Universal Uclick
It’s a debate as old as the sport itself: Are NASCAR drivers really athletes? Of course it’s usually those with no first-hand knowledge of the sport who ask that question. Those who have been around it know otherwise.
In the early days, NASCAR’s athlete drivers generally stayed in shape for driving race cars by driving race cars.
But in today’s world, most of the top drivers have personal trainers, strict workout routines and well-planned diets.
Still, there are a few throwbacks, like three-time and defending Sprint Cup champion Tony Stewart, who still considers himself an athlete despite his old-fashioned approach to fitness.
“I definitely think race drivers are athletes,” he said. “We’re not necessarily running, jumping or trying to knock people over, but we’re wrestling with a 3,400-pound car, with a firesuit, helmet and gloves on, and you’re sitting in a hot area for three and a half or four hours.”
And he’s won 47 Sprint Cup races, in some of the toughest conditions, by preparing for driving a race car by driving not only his Sprint Cup cars, but winged sprint cars, dirt Late Models and various other short-track vehicles.
“To this day I don’t like working out,” he said. “I know there are benefits to it. I don’t mind being out on my property and working, but I’m not big on sitting in a gym. I probably work out less than anybody in this garage area, but I race two or three times more than most of these guys do, too. That’s what keeps you race-fit and gets you in the best shape.”
His Stewart-Haas Racing teammate Ryan Newman takes a similar approach, staying in shape by building fences and baling hay on his North Carolina farm.
But there are plenty of others who spend hours in the gym and eat special foods to maximize their performance behind the wheel.
Jimmie Johnson and his Hendrick Motorsports teammate Kasey Kahne participated in a triathlon in Charleston, S.C., just hours after racing at Daytona in July.
The event consisted of a 600-yard swim,12-mile bike ride and 3.1-mile run.
Kahne finished fourth in his age group, while Johnson was seventh in his.
Johnson has often spoken of his fondness for ice cream, but his physique indicates that he rarely indulges.
Instead, he’s into more healthy foods.
“Breakfast burritos in the morning, that’s a pretty regular deal for me,” he said. “Then it’s really just chicken, fish, a bunch of steamed vegetables throughout the day. Good carbs from brown rice to sweet potatoes, things like that.
“I’ve been pretty focused on the diet side lately.
“If I’m home and in control, that’s kind of the lineup. But on the road, it changes dramatically.”
He said that when he can, he tries to eat a small meal every three hours.
“If I’m on the run, a power bar,” he said. “Gatorade has these good bars to eat as well. Just focusing on lean protein five, six times throughout the day.”
Before and during races, Johnson and his fellow drivers focus on hydration as much as anything.
Johnson’s crew packs 80 ounces of Gatorade into his in-car drinking system for each race, and he usually consumes it all in addition to three or four bottles of water he takes on during pit stops.
Danica Patrick said she tries to eat healthy all the time and work out, too.
Continues on next page
Continued from page 21..“It makes me feel better as well as makes it easier to do photo shoots and look the way I want to look,” she said. “I work out a lot because I need to obviously stay fit and have endurance for the car.
“For all those reasons, I eat egg whites and oatmeal, salads, sandwiches with good bread and things like that.”
At the track, she eats salmon, brown rice, grilled peppers and grilled onions for dinner the first night. Then it’s chicken the next night, plus yogurt and cottage cheese during the day.
“Inside of the car I have a drink mix that I put in my camelback that is a blend of carbohydrate and protein that is recommended by my trainer,” she said.
Carl Edwards, whose workout routine and general fitness helped land him a spot on the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition, isn’t keen on revealing the specifics of his diet or his pre-race preparation, but he does say that he puts a lot of emphasis on it.
“I’m not going to tell you what I do, but I do prepare for it,” he said. “I feel at the end of these races that I usually feel like I could start the race again and go run.”