NASCAR has evolved from a weekend pastime to a highly demanding business. That progression to professionalism includes the drivers. Driving hundreds of miles for hours at a time at speeds between 160 and 200 mph (257 and 322 kilometers per hour) would be hard enough. Now imagine doing it with 42 other drivers who would like nothing more than to leave you choking on their exhaust. The romanticism of stock car racing is easy to imagine. The reality, however, is that it imposes great physical and mental strain.
Obviously, you must like to go fast and have a high tolerance for risk. NASCAR has put numerous safety innovations in place over the past several decades. Placing the driver seat closer to the car's centerline and roof flaps that deploy to lessen the occurrence of cars flipping are two such improvements.
All that said, serious accidents do occur, injuring or killing drivers and much more rarely, fans. The sport lost one of its most beloved heroes, Dale "The Intimidator" Earnhardt Sr., when he crashed in the final lap of the Daytona 500 in 2001. The incident, which closely followed several other fatal wrecks, put a spotlight on the dangers of NASCAR. These tragic events are few and far between, but anyone considering a career as a driver should be aware of this risk.
Are you disciplined? You'll need to be. NASCAR drivers work out regularly. You need great stamina and upper-body strength to wrestle with the steering wheel for hours on end. Since stock cars lack air-conditioning, you can expect to lose several pounds in sweat during each race. Even with a fresh-air ventilation tube that blows cool air onto the driver, temperatures inside the car can reach 120 degrees Fahrenheit (49 degrees Celsius) [source: Martin, Tuschak].
In addition, NASCAR drivers' schedules are crammed with media interviews, public appearances, travel and practices.
In an organization as competitive as NASCAR, there will be personality clashes. Due to the teamwork involved in NASCAR, there will be strong differences of opinion, too. A successful driver will also need to master people skills like communicating effectively with teammates, fans, the media, sponsors and team owners.
If you want to join the star drivers in NASCAR's Sprint Cup series, you'll have to pay your dues. To learn about breaking in, go to the next page.