Weekly fair or foul: Is NASCAR a sport?

“Fail or Foul?” is a weekly series featuring a debate between two sports writers. This week: Is NASCAR a sport?

Sebastien: I can’t believe we’re even arguing this. NASCAR is not a sport.

While NASCAR may be competitive, it is not an athletic event, and it does not require physical prowess. How athletic do you have to be to sit in a car and drive around? I’m fairly certain that a survey of NASCAR drivers will not find them to be among the fittest people in the world. Although I’m sure it’s hot enough to sweat in those cars and that many calories are burned, we cannot declare something a sport — let alone as a professional sport ­— just for those two reasons.

Frank: “Hot enough to sweat” is an understatement. NASCAR drivers lose an average of 5 to 10 pounds per race.

The main flaw in your argument is your perception of this motorsport as an individual sport. It takes years of training to be able to get a race car traveling at 175 m.p.h. both within an inch of a wall and within an inch of the car in front of it, but the “physical prowess” criterion is also fulfilled by the driver and the crew team. There are six men who lift the car, unscrew tires, screw on new tires, refuel the car and lower the car — all in 12 seconds. That job that would take hours for an average mechanic.

Sebastien: You make some valid points, but I fail to see how being locked in a hot box for a few hours constitutes a sport.

According to your definition, are the pit crew athletes as well? What kind of training goes on at NASCAR facilities? A morning jog and weightlifting before hopping into the driver’s seat and stepping on the gas? Actually, skip the jogs and the weights — I’ll just take the car for a spin.

If NASCAR is a sport, then illegal underground racing is equivalent to pick-up basketball. In that case, “Need for Speed” and “The Fast and the Furious” are comparable to “NBA Street” and “White Men Can’t Jump.”

I’m not saying it’s easy to do the things NASCAR drivers do, but it does not take any athletic prowess. Actually, the only reason racers are not overweight is because the heat inside their cars makes them sweat.

Frank: “Need for Speed” is not circuit racing, so it’s not the same — not to mention it’s illegal.

As for your contention that racing takes no physical strength from the driver, did you know that a driver experiences four to five times the force of gravity on a turn, which usually lasts five to 15 seconds? This is the equivalent of getting hit in the side by something the size of a large male gorilla or getting pushed by 300-pound linemen.

Race car driving was ranked second on USA Today’s list of the 10 hardest things to do in sports.

The pit crew has to practice every day.

Sebastien: As tough as NASCAR seems, it’s still not very athletic. At the end of the day, you’re still seated for the entirety of the event.

I think NASCAR has been branded as a sport simply due to the revenue that it brings in and the fact that it has millions of fans and many sponsors.

A lot of things are very difficult to do, but not all of those activities are sports. I can’t call driving a sport. I just can’t.

Frank:  Let me compare race car driving to other, more familiar sports.

In the same way that a tennis player switches grips to give a ball a different spin, the driver switches gears to move his or her car in a different way. Just as the quality of a racket affects the way a tennis player performs, the NASCAR driver’s performance is affected by the vehicle he or she uses. The car is only an extension of the athlete, just like cleats to a soccer player.

Anyone who says NASCAR is not a sport is simply ignorant.

 Sebastien Van Heyningen is deputy sports editor. Email him at [email protected] Francisco Navas is a contributing writer. Email him at [email protected]