Drivers in all levels of racing know that the end could be near.
Tragedy can hit at any moment. Dale Earnhardt Sr died after a crash on February 18, 2001 on the last lap of the Daytona 500. Dan Wheldon died after a 15-car crash on October 16, 2011 on lap 11 of the IZOD IndyCar World Championship at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. On June 12, 2013 Jason Leffler died after an accident during a 410 sprint car heat race at Bridgeport Speedway in New Jersey. These plus many more instances serve as somber reminders that it could happen at anytime.
So why do drivers strap in and put their life on the line constantly?
First and foremost is the thirst to win and be successful. It is the same reason other athletes play the sports they do. Winning and winning championships is what drives athletes and that is what drives drivers as well. The love to race and be in a car is something these drivers can't live without doing.
Racing is a battle of machines but the machines are driven and set up by humans trying to win. There are a lot of elements that go into winning races and championships as drivers.
There has to be the acknowledgment of the danger but the willingness to not think about it at all during the competition. A driver needs guts. They have to be risk takers and be able to make split second decisions about where to put their car. If a driver is thinking about the risks they are taking they will not be a championship caliber driver. Racing is a reaction sport where the driver's senses and car control need to take over almost before the mind even tells their hands or feet to do something.
Of course there are plenty of other factors that make for a successful driver. It never hurts to be in the best equipment which usually means having the backing from some big time sponsors and some of the best minds in the sport. Fitness level is important to be able to muscle a car around a physical race track for hours on end sometimes in grueling heat conditions.
But without a driver that is willing to risk it all to go fast, races will not be won.
Drivers at the NASCAR Sprint Cup level love to race so much that even during their busy 36 race weekend schedule many find other races to compete in on off weekends or during the week.
Three-time Sprint Cup Series champion Tony Stewart is one of these drivers and he has caught some heat lately for being involved in some recent Sprint Car wrecks. Just last night Stewart was involved in another one in which he broke two bones in his right leg and will now miss at least the race at Watkins Glen this Sunday. Another one, which Stewart triggered at Canandaigua Motorsports Park in New York, fractured 19-year old Alysha Reynolds back.
Still Stewart and other drivers know they need to push past accidents and move on to keep competing at a high level, even if it makes them seem arrogant like when Stewart called the media asking him questions about his Sprint Car wrecks mortals.
Drivers know they are not immortal but need to act as if they are to perform their jobs to the best of their ability.
The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver lineup is an aging one and many drivers have their own kids now. Once they have their own family it seems as if it may be a little harder for them to act immortal. A good example of that seems to be Jeff Gordon. He just turned 42 on Sunday and almost won the GoBowling.com 400 at Pocono Raceway as a birthday present.
Gordon has seemed to not be as aggressive, especially on double file restarts that usually make or break a driver's race. When he entered the Sprint Cup Series in 1993 as a 21-year old kid Gordon was one of the most aggressive drivers. As Gordon has gotten older and in the past few season's now that he has two kids it seems like he is racing as a mortal and driving with a conscious.
That even goes out the window when anger and competitiveness take over behind the wheel like they did last November at Phoenix International Raceway when Gordon intentionally crashed into Clint Bowyer.
There are certainly a lot of things that fuel a racer past the fear of a life-threatening accident but the thirst to win and the love of racing is what keeps them coming back to the track and buckling in on a weekly and yearly basis.
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