Are Professional Drivers Athletes? IndyCar Superstar Scott Dixon Weighs In On Age-Old Debate

by 1 month ago
IndyCar Superstar Scott Dixon

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In 2013, in the lead-up to Jimmie Johnson’s quest for a sixth Sprint Cup Series championship, former NFL quarterback Donovan McNabb ignited a firestorm debate after claiming that professional drivers are not athletes because they just “sit in a car and drive.”

McNabb became public enemy number 1 for racing fans worldwide, with the sport’s top drivers chiming in.

Seven years later, we sat down with five-time IndyCar champion and American Ninja Warrior contestant Scott Dixon about the mental and physical rigors required to race competitively.

Turns out, there’s a lot more to it than sitting in a car and flooring the gas.

Dixon claims you need to perfect so many different disciplines based on the event—short track ovals, super speedways, road and street courses—before detailing what goes into competing in the Indy 500.

Via our Endless Hustle Podcast:

The Indianapolis 500, which is still the largest sporting event in the world as far as attendance, is so mentally draining.

For that 3.5-4 hour period, you’re racing against 32 others at 230 mph, inches apart. The consequences are extremely high.

And then you go to where we kick off the season each year at St. Petersburg, Florida, which is extremely physical. It’s very bumpy. High G-forces. Up to 5Gs on the corners. Your average heart rate depending on who you are and how you’re built, is 160-180 for a 2-2.5 hour period.

So, like any sport, they’ve evolved so much.

I’ve worked with PitFit training here in Indianapolis for almost 20 years and they keep pushing the boundaries.

Now it’s kind of moved into a cross of all the endurance stuff plus a program with extreme lifting and the reaction testing and the protocols we use.

So I train six days a week. Four of those days, I work out twice a day, two hours in the morning, two hours in the afternoon.

It’s a very physical sport because the cars just become faster, more difficult to drive, and the competition is through the roof.

It’s a constant evolution and if you’re not covering all bases, you’re not going to win.”

Years back, ESPN’s Sports Science tracked a bunch of physical metrics on Denny Hamlin and found the following:

  • The in-car temperature hit 130 degrees.
  • His core temperature peaked at 101 degrees, one degree under the necessity for hypothermia. To combat this, his body poured out 3.5 pints of sweat per hour, or a total of 13 pounds of water throughout the four hour race.
  • The corner G-Force of 3G’s makes drivers necks support 40 pounds, which amounts to 800 40-pound reps with the neck in a 400 lap race.
  • Hamlin’s heart rate sustained 130 beats per minute sustained over 30,000 beats, about twice as many beats as a world-class runner during a marathon.

Even if you still don’t believe drivers are athletes, don’t you dare say they don’t have balls of steel.

You can listen to the entire electric interview with Scott Dixon below (55:40 mark). 

Scott talks about:

  • The stereotype that IndyCar athletes aren’t really “athletes.”
  • Speeding tickets
  • Michael Jordan/Denny Hamlin merger
  • Tom Cruise as a driver
  • His friendship with John Mayer

We also talk to NBA OG Jalen Rose, who is by all accounts, lightning in a bottle.

Listen below and subscribe if you like what you hear. We’ve got episodes coming out every Wednesday with incisive interviews with your favorite current and former athletes.

Subscribe and listen to the Endless Hustle below, and follow us on Twitter @Endless__Hustle.



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Matt’s love of writing was born during a sixth grade assembly when it was announced that his essay titled “Why Drugs Are Bad” had taken first prize in D.A.R.E.’s grade-wide contest. The anti-drug people gave him a $50 savings bond for his brave contribution to crime-fighting, and upon the bond’s maturity 10 years later, he used it to buy his very first bag of marijuana.

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