The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

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Sara Hummadi, Video Editor • May 18, 2024
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Racing requires athleticism, courage

NASCAR Bristol Auto Racing
Driver Jimmie Johnson (48) leads Matt Kenseth (20) and David Ragan (34) during the NASCAR Sprint Cup series auto race at Bristol Motor Speedway. (Courtesy of AP)

The argument has been going on for generations, but was recently reinvigorated when Donovan McNabb mentioned that Jimmy Johnson, six time Sprint Cup champion, was not an athlete because “he sits in a car and drives. What, athletically, is he doing?” enraging the entire motorsport community.

Anyone who has driven a car has experienced danger at least once. The car is suddenly sliding, perhaps you took the corner too fast, perhaps there was a sudden lack of grip. Whatever the reason, you accept that for a brief moment, death was near.

There are two ways people respond to surviving that moment. Some recognize the fear, vow never to drive fast again and avoid death and danger for as long as possible. Others relish it and dance on the line between adrenaline and death. The latter are the fans of motorsport.

Skirting death in a 900 horsepower monstrosity doesn’t necessarily make the race driver athletic, the preparation in anticipation of controlling said monstrosity does. Racing drivers are constantly teetering on the edge between gaining an extra tenth on their lap time and untimely death.

Drivers must do weight training to be able to cope with the massive mount of forces they experience when braking for a sharp corner, the tight hairpin turn at the apex and accelerating to top speed before doing it all over again.

On a Formula 1 track there are between 16 and 19 corners, an average speed of over 150 miles per hour and G-forces between 2 and 5.5 Gs.

In the 1991 Brazilian Grand Prix, Ayrton Senna experienced such high G-forces in the tight hairpin turns, he passed out after crossing the finish line in first and woke up a few minutes later with muscle spasms in his shoulders, but still went to the podium to lift the first place trophy and wave a Brazilian flag in his home country’s
Grand Prix.

Driving a racing vehicle at speed also requires intense mental concentration. Focusing on hitting the apex of every turn perfectly while controlling the car and managing the fuel consumption and tire life simultaneously is a demanding task, especially when you have to do it for over two hours. Losing focus for even a moment could be the difference between life and death in a high speed machine.

Chris Hemsworth worded it best in the movie “Rush” when he said, “for all intents and purposes [an F1 car] is a bomb on wheels.”

Watching races on TV doesn’t really do the sport justice either, the cars have no traction control to stop the wheels from spinning out of control, no anti-lock braking to stop the wheels from locking up under heavy braking, and no other driver aids at all to help the driver control the car and stop it from throwing itself into a wall at 150 miles per hour.

The looming shadow of a fiery death follows the drivers at every event.

Top Gear host Jeremy Clarkson said “racing drivers are missing the part of their brain that tells them what fear is.” All of these combined make McNabb’s comments seem interesting. To him, being able to sprint for 10 seconds and throw a semi-spherical object followed by a minute of rest is greater than the ability to drive and handle a machine that is actively trying to kill you.

Janmohammad is a sophomore majoring in mehcanical engineering.

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