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Athlete of the Year?

posted by Scot McKnight

How in the world can a NASCAR driver, Jimmie Johnson, no matter how talented, be considered male “athlete” of the year? Is driving a car an athletic feat?

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – There was little recognition outside the racing world when Jimmie Johnson won his first NASCAR championship.

Same with his second, and again with his third.

But four straight championships? That’s a different story.

Johnson, the first driver in NASCAR history to win four consecutive titles, earned mainstream recognition Monday when he was honored as the Male Athlete of the Year by members of The Associated Press.

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posted December 21, 2009 at 5:57 pm

No clue how a NASCAR driver can be considered a better athelete than a Kobe Bryant, Peyton Manning, etc.
If driving a car around a circular track at 200 miles an hour counts as atheleticism, than driving a car into work everyday in Atlanta traffic merits Olympic medals.

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John W Frye

posted December 21, 2009 at 6:34 pm

Scot and Robert,
Your questions reveal more about you than they do Jimmie Johnson and other NASCAR drivers. NASCAR driving is a sport and they truly are athletes. I’d like to see either one of you in a tight pack of cars going over 200 mph on an oval track and see your athletic reflexes at work. :-)

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Scot McKnight

posted December 21, 2009 at 6:50 pm

John, first off, I wouldn’t drive that fast. Second off, I wouldn’t drive that fast in tight pack of cars. Third off, … I forget.

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posted December 21, 2009 at 7:07 pm

Let’s get the boys out of their cars with their, supposedly, fast reflexes and see how well they do tracking down a tight spiral in the midst of double coverage, or use their own energies to finish a 100 meter dash, or slip by defender and into the lane for a fade-away jumper, or use their abilities to put a small round ball just off the outside lip of home plate that is 60 feet away.
Anyone who sits in a seat for hours at a time and does not have to truly test the endurance of their will, strength, and skill beyond avoiding another driver is not nearly the athelete as others. I’m not saying that NASCAR or Indy car drivers are not fit atheletes, but I am saying they pale in comparison to other more rigorous sports.

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John W Frye

posted December 21, 2009 at 7:14 pm

Scot and Robert,
I reckon that sports are like food…everyone has their own tastes so to speak. :-) The reason I like NASCAR is that I have two grandsons who live in Texas and are thrilled by NASCAR racing. I’m advocating for them :-) I can just hear them, “You tell ‘em, Grandpa John!”

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posted December 21, 2009 at 7:47 pm

I’m no fan of NASCAR at all, but are you going to be consistent in your logic and also disparage any labeling of Tiger Woods golf achievements as “athletic”?

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The Barking Unicorn, Denver, CO

posted December 21, 2009 at 7:53 pm

Scott Eaton

posted December 21, 2009 at 8:17 pm

Your constant disparaging of NASCAR is deeply disturbing. Where is the effort to discover a “third way” in this issue? Must you be so dogmatic? I’m not feeling the love here.
Have you ever watched a baseball game? (he he he) Most of those guys are sitting there picking their teeth and chewing tobacco for most of the game. Even your best hitter strikes out more than he hits. Outfielders? Standing around (or sitting in the dugout) for more than a third of the game. Designated hitters? They only get to actually do something three or four times a game if they’re lucky. (Oh, I forgot, that’s the American League and they don’t count.)
A NASCAR driver MUST be actively engaged for approximately three hours for 400-600 miles at 150 to 200 miles per hour in heavy traffic. Have you ever seen a driver inside the car? He has hands and arms are constantly moving (i.e. fighting with the car and the track and the other drivers). I’ve heard that a NASCAR driver can lose 4-10 pounds in fluid per race (can’t verify that).
And besides, I have never seen a NASCAR driver with a gut. Can you say that about a baseball player? Didn’t think so.
You’re just sore because Tiger is in trouble and the Cubs are well…the Cubs.

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Matthew Montonini

posted December 21, 2009 at 8:20 pm

I agree with you wholeheartedly in that race car drivers should not be confused with great athletes.
I probably would have to go with Usain Bolt on this one.

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posted December 21, 2009 at 8:26 pm

Ah John, – everyone knows the real athletes play hockey.
Baseball, football, golf – nothing but poor attempts at imitation (and Nascar not even that).

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Scot McKnight

posted December 21, 2009 at 8:35 pm

AHH, golfers get out of their carts. The PGA golfers don’t even get to ride carts. That’s a big difference.
Scott, Third Way theology has its limits: in sports, NASCAR is not a sport.
Matthew, yes, Bolt might be the greatest athlete of our day right now. Tiger’s lost his status for me.
RJS, for this contest, I’d even consider a hockey player.

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posted December 21, 2009 at 9:16 pm

I live in the heart of NASCAR country in NC, and have a number of people in the racing industry in my church. You would be surprised at how much goes into making a car go around a track. Driving a race car is not at all like driving your nice SUV with leather seats, cd player, power steering, automatic transmission, and power everything else. It’s much more difficult to handle and take years of intense training to master – not just the worthless drivers ed. classes we all took when we were 15.
So, is driving car an athletic feat? No. Is driving a race car for NASCAR an athletic feat. Absolutely.
Scott Eaton got it right. Driving at 200 mph, just inches from other cars, for 5-6 hours, in no air conditioning, with your life on the line is incredibly intense for those guys, both mentally and physically. Not to mention that navigating the track is actually more difficult than any normal road.
To be honest, I’m not actually a NASCAR fan, but I respect what goes into the sport.

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posted December 21, 2009 at 11:00 pm

I can certainly appreciate the endurance aspect of the sport of NASCAR. My point is not to diminish the racers, crews, or technology that goes into the sport. My point is that when you compare the atheletes of varying sports the “athelete of the year” should never go to someone in a racing sport.
So to all the advocates for racer as the best athelete, why not:
Usain Bolt
Peyton Manning
Larry Fitzgerald
David Beckam
Anthony Kim
Kim Clijsters
Kobe Bryant
LeBron James
Nastia Liukin
Just curious. All of these people above are some the best at their respective sport. How is a NASCAR driver better for athelete of the year?

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Dave Leigh

posted December 21, 2009 at 11:32 pm

Perhaps high schools should beging counting driver’s ed as a gym credit?

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posted December 22, 2009 at 7:44 am

The question is who had the best year, not who is the best athlete. U. Bolt, R. Federer, M. Phelps would have to be at the top of any list of overall best athletes, but did they have a year that stands out?
I too am wary of NASCAR as an athletic sport (golf too for that matter), so I would have to say Kobe had the best year.

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posted December 22, 2009 at 8:35 am

I think the problem here is that there’s a narrow definition of “sport”. Is it because there is the technical aspect (blending of man and machine) the is absence from other sports? Does that segregate ‘motorsports’ to it’s own category? I think there’s also an ignorance about the physical and mental aspects of driving a race car.
I’m glad a NASCAR driver won this year, because I hope it will give a little more legitimacy to sporting’s awkward redneck Other.

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Steve K.

posted December 22, 2009 at 11:10 am

I reckon you oughta come down here to Charlotte, North Carolina, some time because I know a few rednecks who can learn you a thing or two about NASCAR and the real sport that it REALLY is! Yep, they’ll learn you REAL good, I reckon …

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Scot McKnight

posted December 22, 2009 at 11:18 am

Steve, I was in Charlotte last spring and folks were driving very normally. We encountered no rednecks — though we spent most of our time in Asheville.

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John M.

posted December 22, 2009 at 3:02 pm

It’s obvious that a lot of you don’t get it. I once raced some friends at a high-level go-cart track where a lot of top level race drivers began as teenagers. I was amazed at how much physical demand came from a 30-minute competitive session in that little thing!
Many, if not most, race car drivers go to the gym and condition for their sport like other athletes do for theirs. It’s not called “motor sports” for nothing. And yes, there’s as much distance between driver’s ed and a NASCAR (or any other competitive professional genre of racing) as there is between gym class and the NFL or any other professional level sport.
Granted that comparing any professional sport with others is apples and oranges. People will always be promoting “their” sport as the most demanding and as requiring the greatest skill level. Perhaps they should just choose one “Athlete of the Year” from each sport. Of course that would not lessen the debate about which sport is toughest and best and who should REALLY be the athlete of the year.
Four straight NASCAR championships is like four straight Super Bowls, World Series, Stanley Cups, NCAA National Basketball Championships, World Cups, Masters, Ryder Cups, Wimbeltons etc.

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Kevin D. Hendricks

posted December 23, 2009 at 10:09 am

People who say racing isn’t an athletic sport prove how very little they know about racing.

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Chad Hall

posted December 23, 2009 at 5:27 pm

I have to strongly agree with Kevin (#20).
Maybe Jimmie Johnson will post a blog entry saying that Scot McKnight should not be considered a real author since “Blue Parakeet” is a work of non-fiction and writing non-fiction isn’t as hard or writing fiction and is not as interesting to read. Of course, he’ll probably just stick with what he knows. :)

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Kevin Bushnell

posted December 23, 2009 at 11:16 pm

Scott –
I completely agree with you.
– Kevin

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