Are Drivers Athletes, Yes or No?

Like this guy, in almost 18 years of sports reporting, I’ve covered virtually every major professional sport. And, like this guy, I’ve even competed in my share over the years, a few at a reasonably competitive level and with some success. But, unlike this guy and at risk of pissing off a whole bunch of people, I just don’t think NASCAR drivers are athletes, per se.

Of course, it will likely come as no real surprise, then, that I don’t consider NASCAR a sport in a conventional sense. But then, I don’t consider golf a sport in a conventional sense, either. Hell, I’m not terribly impressed by most professional baseball players (former Philly John Kruk, who once famously told a female fan, "I ain’t an athlete, lady, I’m a baseball player," remains a hero). Regardless, I love each competition and appreciate and respect the unique skills necessary to do any of them at a high level. 

Are there athletes, as I define the term, who are drivers? Sure — and just as I tend to think Tiger Woods is an athlete, I acknowledge that Elliott Sadler or Kyle Petty or Dale Jarrett could well be excellent athletes. I just don’t happen to think one needs to be an athlete to be a successful NASCAR driver. Put another way, I can and have played 18 holes of golf before, but, I can promise you, I’m no golfer.

Do NASCAR drivers need to be athletes to do what they do? I don’t think so. And to all those who will doubtless be annoyed and disagree, I give you … Tony Stewart.