NASCAR drivers, like any athlete, follow strict training and nutritional regimens that may give them a competitive advantage. However, this competitive advantage may not be what you think. Regarding how much NASCAR drivers weigh, the numbers point to various ranges.
Most NASCAR drivers weigh between 150 and 180 lbs. However, there are a few deviations, with drivers like Mark Martin and Danica Patrick weighing 125 lbs and 100 lbs respectively, in 2013. NASCAR drivers that weigh less have had to add weight to their cars to meet NASCAR’s weight mandates.
Below, we will outline how weight may affect NASCAR racing, and the steps NASCAR has taken to neutralize a lighter driver’s perceived advantages. We will also check out if NASCAR’s mandates have given heavier drivers a fair chance to succeed against their lighter competitors.
NASCAR teams will try to make sure their cars are as light as possible during the latter stages of the race, believing it can give their drivers a speed advantage. Especially if those drivers are in contention to win.
You see it all the time in varying sports. Collectively, lighter athletes are faster. There are exceptions to this belief, but in the NFL, when you see a player weighing 185 lbs or less, you know they have speed. The same holds true for MLBS, NHL, NBA, etc.
In horse racing, jockeys tend to be lighter and therefore,it may give them and their horse a bit of an advantage during a major race. There have also been NASCAR crew chiefs who stated they would take light over heavy,believing lighter drivers could gain a benefit.
The theory is that even in NASCAR, lighter means faster. However, whether this theory holds true is not set in stone. NASCAR mandates that their cars make a minimum weight, and they do account for minimum weights regarding lighter drivers versus cars that seat heavier drivers.
There isn’t a minimum weight requirement for NASCAR drivers, but there is a minimum weight requirement for the car with the driver inside. This minimum weight varies depending on the weight of the driver to negate any perceived advantage from having a very light driver.
Adjusting For Driver Weight
In 2013, NASCAR’s website stated that lighter cars often make for better cars. But NASCAR still has a minimum weight for cars. At the time, the Generation 6 car debuted, and NASCAR mandated the Next Gen’s predecessors to weigh at least 3,300 lbs with the driver inside. But there was a catch.
They also noted that NASCAR’s rulebook assumed each driver weighed at least 140 lbs. However, this was not a minimum requirement for the driver to weigh 140 lbs. Just as there is no minimum weight requirement for the driver in the 2020s.
However, for drivers that weighed between 140 and 149 lbs, teams were required to increase the car’s weight to 3,340 lbs. If a driver weighed between 150 and 159 lbs, teams needed to increase the car’s weight to 3,330 lbs to compensate. For the 160-169 lbs driver, cars must have weighed 3,320 lbs.
So while there is not a minimum weight requirement for drivers, there is a minimal requirement for individual cars. If the driver weighed 180 lbs, the car would remain at 3,300 lbs. Finally, for the driver that weighed between 170 and 179 lbs, NASCAR mandated the cars weigh 3,310 lbs.
In 2016, for drivers weighing less than 139 lbs, the car had to weigh at least 3,325 lbs. If they weighed between 140 and 149 lbs, the car must weigh at least 3,315 lbs.
The minimum weight for the car continued to descend in 10 lbs increments for every 10 lbs more the driver weighed. So, if they weighed 180 to 189 lbs, the car must weigh at least 3,275 lbs. Between a weight of 200 and 210 lbs, the minimum weight was 3,245 lbs.
NASCAR made the change during the Gen 6 car’s life span, which lasted until the 2022 season when the Next Gen car came along. This means that NASCAR’s sliding weight scale may change at any given time,and that they don’t need to unveil a new car design to replace it.
There is no clear evidence that lighter NASCAR drivers have an advantage. This is still hotly debated by teams and experts, but analysis of race data has yet to show a clear advantage to having a lighter driver rather than a heavier one.
You might remember the old video game Mario Kart 64. The reason we bring this game up is because its instruction manual divided the 8 drivers into 3 distinct weight classes. Mario and Luigi were your middleweights, who had average acceleration and speed, but they never deviated one way or the other.
Wario, Bowser, and DK were your heavyweights. They never reached the top speed as your lightweights (Yoshi, Peach, and Toad), but they had greater acceleration. They were also capable of knocking their opponents out of their way.
The lightweights, however, reached higher speeds than the middleweights and the heavyweights. Just like in Mario Kart 64, you may hear lighter is faster in NASCAR. But in the above section, NASCAR’s weight mandates for cars indicate lighter drivers may not be better off.
NASCAR teams also add the bare minimum amount of weight to their cars, and they try to keep that weight as low as NASCAR allows it. For the Next Gen car, cars must weigh at least 3,200 lbs without the driver and fuel, and at least 3,400 lbs with the driver and fuel. NASCAR’s mandates for compensating weight mean the true minimal weight for the car will vary depending on the driver fielding it.
Despite NASCAR’s sliding minimum weight rules for their cars, controversy that surrounded the popular belief that lighter was faster stemmed from the fact Danica Patrick won the pole for the Daytona 500 in 2013. Former NASCAR crew chief Andy Petree also claimed that less weight is always an advantage. But he could not determine how much.
However, when Patrick won the pole for the 2013 Daytona 500, Matt Kenseth stated he did not believe it was as big of a deal as others made it out to be. So, was Petree or Kenseth in the right? Let’s see what the data says.
A report in 2015 found that taller drivers may actually have an advantage over shorter drivers, but as of 2015, the issue remained debatable. On the other side, shorter NASCAR drivers did not possess a special advantage over their taller counterparts. At least in terms of the 2015 NASCAR Cup Season, there was no correlation that lighter drivers saw more success.
Looking at past champions’ height, they noted that Cale Yarborough (5’ 7), was the shortest driver to win a NASCAR Cup Championship. Richard Petty and Dale Jarrett (6’ 2), were the tallest.
Assuming the average BMI for a NASCAR driver remained in-line with their average BMI of 24 in 2014, there was no correlation that shorter, lighter drivers were any more successful than their taller, heavier counterparts.
The average NASCAR driver weighs around 162 lbs. But NASCAR driver weight varies between 150 and 180 lbs, depending on height. It is also important to note that a driver must maintain a healthy weight for their height as driving in NASCAR is very physically demanding.
For NASCAR drivers in the 21st century, physical fitness is everything. So they strive to ensure they clock in with a healthy weight. Whether they range closer to the bottom portion of the spectrum (150 lbs) or the top portion of the spectrum (180 lbs).
The average height of all NASCAR drivers is about 70 inches, or 5′ 10″. This is on par with the average height of an adult male. The average weight, on the other hand, was drastically different.
The average weight of a driver clocks in at 161.8, nearly the median number of the 150 to 180 lbs range for any given season. This is an amazing 33.1 lbs lighter than the average male’s weight, which in 2015 sat at 194.7 lbs.
In 2015, NASCAR drivers collectively had an average BMI of just 24, which is 5 points lower than the average BMI of all US males. BMI has always been a good indicator of the health of an individual in the general population. But for athletes, it is a different story.
The BMI scale is not often used for professional athletes. For example, NFL offensive linemen often have a BMI in the 30s, which would place them into the overweight categories. If you have ever seen an NFL offensive lineman, they are for the most part solid blocks of muscle.
Even more interesting is that every active driver in 2015 sat under the average BMI of the average adult male and just one weighed over 180 lbs. That particular driver, however, was also plotted as the tallest active driver at the time, giving them a BMI of 24.
Most NASCAR drivers strive to stay physically fit. Though not always the case, fitness has been recognized as the key to success in the last 30 years, especially after seeing Mark Martin impress the NASCAR Cup circuit in 2009, when he finished second in the points standings at age 50.
NASCAR has made long strides since its inception in the late 1940s. While the Law of Probability states at least a few NASCAR drivers did something to stay in shape during the long racing season, fitness was hardly a blip on the radar for many drivers.
In fact, most of America did not become incredibly fitness-conscious until roughly the 1970s. But even then, fitness did not encroach NASCAR. For example, J.D. McDuffie was notorious for smoking cigars while racing, and he often averaged 5 per every race he finished.
It wasn’t until the 1990s did drivers begin to take their fitness seriously. The most well-known NASCAR fitness pioneer is Mark Martin, who co-wrote Strength Training for Performance Driving.In the book, Martin correlated fitness programs directly with the demands of driving a race car.
Martin’s book outlined the physical strain driving in NASCAR puts on the body. Heat, G-forces, and remaining in a driver’s compartment for an extended period of time will wear the body down. And it can dehydrate even the healthiest drivers quickly.
The adrenaline-pumping 300 to 500 miles one spends in a car during a race can cause a driver’s heart rate to elevate into the 75 % to 80 % range of their maximum heartbeat (220 minus age). This requires the driver to have outstanding cardio fitness.
They also need a combo of upper body strength and endurance, since they must keep their hands on the steering wheel during an extended timeframe.Drivers are also sitting for long periods, which requires core and lower back strength and endurance, plus the need for flexibility.
The life of a NASCAR driver is also a strenuous one. They are on the road for over 150 days out of the year, and that’s during the season. They also have a busy offseason with little time to rest. With the demands of their daily lives, exercise also acts as a stress reliever.
We see drivers compete on Sunday and the occasional Saturday night. Without thorough studying of what the NASCAR lifestyle truly entails, it is easy to think they just show up to a track, run a few practice sessions, qualify, race, head home, and do it again.
We only see drivers in their racing uniforms for driver introductions on race day before they climb into their cars and race for a few hours. We don’t see the constant travel, living out of mobile homes, numerous appearances, offseason meetings, and testing sessions.
Drivers are also paid to endorse products, often through their sponsorships, and that gives them further obligations during the offseason. The job may pay well, but it will be taxing on physical, mental, and emotional health, which provides even more reasons for drivers to remain physically fit.
Now that you know what a driver’s lifestyle entails, you may be asking when do they have time to take care of themselves? Especially drivers that, on top of everything discussed above, also happen to have family obligations.
The honest answer is this: NASCAR drivers work out when they can. Many of them only have an hour or 2 per day, and they probably aren’t getting 8 to 10 hours of sleep, considering their number of commitments.
If they can’t find time to work out, they make time to work out, which is what Jimmie Johnson did during his NASCAR career. Ditto for Carl Edwards. Johnson praised the level of mental discipline a fitness regimen gave him.
A 7-time NASCAR champion who in his time dealt with a horde of sponsorship obligations, media appearances, fan appearances, offseason driving sessions, and a 9-month tidal wave that was the NASCAR season, Johnson trained hard for 6 days a week.
NASCAR drivers weigh on average between 150 and 180 lbs. However, NASCAR does not mandate that drivers meet a minimum weight. Instead, they mandate that a driver’s car meets the minimum weight. It has been shown that lighter drivers do not necessarily perform better than heavier ones.
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