Commentary

Carl Edwards' fitness advantage

Updated: May 17, 2011, 3:42 PM ET
By John Brenkus | Special to ESPN.com

There are still a lot of people out there who hold on to the misconception that NASCAR drivers are just guys who climb into their cars, floor it and make a lot of left-hand turns. The fact is, these guys are phenomenal athletes whose sport requires incredible strength, endurance and lightning-fast reaction times. To examine and quantify some of the physical gifts required to drive hundreds of miles -- at hundreds of miles per hour -- we brought one of NASCAR's top drivers, Carl Edwards, into the Sport Science lab.

We used state of the art visual motor assessment technology to test Edwards' quickness and visual agility. This new machine requires test subjects to track and tap a series of flashing lights scattered around the field of vision, while simultaneously calling out numbers that flash for a split-second in the center of the grid. And if that's not hard enough -- and trust me, it's hard -- a speaker system is blasting noise to simulate decibel levels at a race track. Sensory overload, to say the least. In spite of the fact that Edwards had never tried this challenging test, he performed brilliantly, with times averaging under a half a second.

Then we wore him out. We put him on a stationary bike and put him through an intense workout to measure his aerobic capacity with what's called a VO2MAX test. Edwards' results were amazing -- his cardiovascular fitness is actually on par with elite endurance athletes like marathon runners and cyclists. Then, dripping with sweat, Edwards stepped up to the light grid for a second go at the reaction test. Edwards actually improved his times by 11 hundredths of a second. That's not much -- about a third of the time it takes to blink your eye -- but when drivers are moving at 200 mph, that equates to roughly two car lengths.

I think our testing demonstrates that drivers like Carl Edwards are a lot more than just guys pointing fast cars around in circles. NASCAR drivers are some of the best athletes on the planet, with reaction times, endurance, strength and concentration that rival the best in any sport.


Sport Science host John Brenkus helps uncover some of sports' biggest myths and mysteries by utilizing cutting-edge technology to measure momentum, friction and the laws of gravity.