When looking at a NASCAR driver’s racing career, you see that they often race for over ten years with 36 points-paying races per season, resulting in over 300 starts for many of them. With so much repetition over a long time, many fans may wonder if NASCAR drivers ever get bored when racing.
NASCAR drivers likely don’t get bored when racing. Driving at close to 200 mph for hours on end against 39 other talented drivers for 3 or more hours requires immense concentration and physical exertion, and so it would be almost impossible for NASCAR drivers to get bored while racing.
Below, we will answer whether NASCAR ever gets boring for any drivers. We will also reveal a driver’s thought process during a race, and we will even look into the physical demands of NASCAR racing. Although the sport may look sedentary on the outside, it is taxing on the body and mind.
Does NASCAR Get Boring For The Drivers?
NASCAR may get boring for some drivers. It all depends on the individual driver and how much they love their job. Some drivers have particularly long careers, never seeming to get bored of the sport. Others retire early, lasting only a few seasons and then opting to pursue other interests.
At one point or another, we have all worked in jobs that we found boring. Or, they may have been exciting at first before perpetual boredom stepped in from repetition. You may ask yourself why some co-workers, who have been at a job for ages, still act as though they look forward to going to work?
This is because some people love what they do, and they were literally born with a specific approach and aptitude that lets them enjoy their job despite repetition. NASCAR is no different. So, although it may get boring for some drivers, there are many who will never grow bored of the racetrack.
Racing For The Enjoyment Of It
Look back into the history of NASCAR and you will find drivers who have tried to race well past their prime. Richard Petty is one of those drivers whose career spanned over 35 seasons. However, he was largely ineffective from the late 1980s until 1992, suggesting he was racing out of enjoyment rather than success, implying boredom never set in for him.
On the other hand, a few NASCAR drivers retired early. Drivers like Carl Edwards called it quits after 12 full-time seasons (an impressive tally). Edwards never explicitly stated whether he had gotten bored racing. However, he did state that he was interested in pursuing other opportunities, and so had likely just had enough of NASCAR for one lifetime.
Notable Drivers Who Never Got Bored Racing
When you ride with a NASCAR driver via an in-car camera, you may think that it is impossible to get bored while racing considering the mental demand required to race at such high speeds around NASCAR ovals. The truth is many NASCAR drivers either never grew bored racing or they hid their boredom well.
J.D. McDuffie, a driver who met an untimely death in the Cup Series, was 52 and was beginning his transition from driver to car owner. When he died in 1991, McDuffie was racing in his 29th NASCAR Cup season.
Darrell Waltrip is another devoted NASCAR racer that never seemed to tire of racing. His NASCAR career started in 1972 and he did not retire until after the 2000 season. He remained active through the 1990s and drove full time despite having not won a race since 1972.
Perhaps the driver that stands out the most is Morgan Shepherd. Shepherd never reached the same level of success as most of the drivers mentioned above. However, he became the oldest driver to start a NASCAR Cup Series event in 2014 at age 72. Shepherd ran his first Cup Series race in 1970 and compiled four wins in his career, plus a career high 5th place finish in points in 1990.
Have Drivers Grown Bored?
Carl Edwards retired at a much earlier age than most drivers. However, he was so private with his personal endeavors that it is unclear whether he grew bored or if he just wanted to open more boxes in his life. Edwards isn’t the only one who retired at a substantially earlier age than the drivers mentioned above.
Drivers Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt Jr, Jimmie Johnson, Kasey Kahne and Tony Stewart all retired before age 50. Gordon, however, did return for a few races in a timeshare with Alex Bowman back in 2016 when he substituted for an injured Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Michael Waltrip provided insight as to why drivers are retiring at younger ages. He stated he believed they could still compete in their forties, and some did. He also cited lack of desire as the top reason drivers are hanging up the helmet. This does not necessarily mean NASCAR drivers have grown bored with racing, they may have lost their drive to compete every weekend.
Why Drivers Leave NASCAR Early
Drivers who seemingly raced forever, like Petty and Darrell Waltrip, are massive outliers. And while you can point to a plethora of drivers who raced well into their 50s, Michael Waltrip provided even more insight on why drivers may leave NASCAR early.
Waltrip made it big in NASCAR during the late 1980s and early 1990s, and he stated that many drivers back then did not make it big until their early 30s. In other words, drivers who are retiring early are also starting earlier. Jeff Gordon was an outlier for his time, having raced in his first Cup series event in 1992 at age 21.
Kasey Kahne was 24 when he ran his first full season in the Cup Series. However, most of his Rookie of the Year competitors were older. Brendan Gaughan was 29. Scott Wimmer was 28, and Scotty Riggs was 33. Johnny Sauter was 25, as was Carl Edwards, while Kirk Shelmerdine was 44. Only Brian Vickers (21) was younger than Kahne.
If most NASCAR drivers truly grew bored with the sport, they would not have stuck around to fulfill other roles. Gordon became an announcer and remains a car owner. Stewart is both an owner and an announcer. Jimmie Johnson raced in the Indy 500 in 2022.
Other drivers will fade into the sunset because they prioritize other endeavors. Sadler wanted to spend more time with his family. His brother, Hermie Sadler, never had the same type of career, but the elder Sadler has always been involved in professional wrestling promotions.
When you look back through the previous two decades, you will find many drivers sticking around the NASCAR circuit in different capacities. Brett Bodine, for example, drove the pace car for years. Kyle Petty spent time in the broadcast booth, as well as Clint Bowyer.
KEY POINTS• NASCAR racing is not boring for the drivers, as it requires immense skill and concentration
• While many drivers do retire young, many others continue racing even when they’re no longer successful
• Many drivers leave the sport in pursuit of other racing and non-racing endeavors, implying they do lose their desire
What Do NASCAR Drivers Think About During A Race?
NASCAR drivers try to think clearly during a race, focusing on one task at a time. This strategy allows for less stress and better concentration, both of which are essential at 200 mph. Luckily, drivers have their spotters and their crew chief to help them process thoughts efficiently.
NASCAR is a sport, and if you know anything about the psychology of sport, it requires a unique thought process. While you may believe the primary thought is winning a race, such a mentality would be overly-taxing on the driver’s mind, and they are already facing enough mental scrutiny competing against 39 others.
Instead, there is a strategy called compartmentalizing. This allows NASCAR drivers to not necessarily think about the win, but to focus on the sub-tasks it takes to either finish atop the field or to score a high finish. It also allows them to concentrate on one thing at a time, be it drafting another car or keeping pace to the cars in front.
Enter The Spotter
Fortunately, NASCAR drivers are not alone in their compartmentalization odyssey. Their spotters basically help them process things. This is one reason spotters often relay just one set of instructions at a time in a calm, clear voice. Even when a driver spins, you hear the spotter staying calm. This is done to keep the driver focused only on what the spotter is relaying.
To further help drivers compartmentalize their thoughts on just a single sub-task, some crew chiefs and anyone else on the radio will not speak to the driver. Instead, they will relay instructions through the spotter, allowing the driver to focus on just one primary voice.
What About Driver To Driver Communication?
Despite the spotter acting as a NASCAR driver’s primary point of contact during the race, NASCAR drivers used to be able to talk to each other. However, NASCAR banned the practice in 2012. While some drivers loved the idea of talking with one another, most drivers predictably found it distracting.
At the time, NASCAR’s director, John Darby, confirmed driver to driver communication became so distracting that drivers lost focus during the race. This motivated NASCAR to ditch driver to driver communication and revert to the driver communicating only with the spotter plus the crew chief, pit crew, team owner, and manager when necessary.
The few drivers who supported communication between one another did so because it made it easier to make deals on drafting during green flag laps. To remedy this problem, NASCAR continued to let spotters listen in on radios from other driver-spotter teams. This allowed the spotter to relay information pertinent to their driver.
NASCAR also allowed the spotters and crew chiefs from opposing teams to talk to one another. The only difference is that spotters act as a conduit between driver communications. Opposing drivers will still offer to make deals, but they must go through both their spotter and the other driver’s spotter.
KEY POINTS• NASCAR drivers must think clearly for the duration of a 3+ hour race
• They are in constant communication with their spotter
• They cannot talk to other drivers, as this could distract them
Is NASCAR Physically Demanding?
NASCAR is very physically demanding. From the G-forces that drivers are exposed to, to the 100+ degree temperatures inside the cockpit, NASCAR drivers must be physically fit to withstand the conditions. Just like any other sport, drivers are expected to remain in good shape.
In NASCAR’s past, it was common to see a driver crack open a can of Coca Cola or Pepsi during a pit stop. Today, NASCAR drivers have complete hydration systems that allow them to drink water or any drink of their choice provided it keeps them hydrated.
Drivers also follow strict nutritional programs both during the racing season and during the offseason. Like anyone else, they will occasionally cheat on their nutrition plan. However, don’t expect them to be eating large amounts of empty calories daily.
The same goes for a driver’s physical fitness regimen. These days, NASCAR drivers train all year round, just like athletes in the NFL and NHL. They realized, starting with Mark Martin in the 1990s, that keeping themselves fit helps prolong both their career and their overall longevity.
Trusting The Science
NASCAR isn’t a game of quick, explosive plays like what you see in the NFL, NHL, and MLB. Instead, it’s a marathon for these drivers. NASCAR drivers can be exposed to up to 3 G’s during cornering.
Most drivers weigh between 140 and 180 lbs (64-81 kg). This means that during a race, they feel between 420 and 540 lbs (192-243 kg) of excess weight. Additionally, the cockpit inside a NASCAR vehicle can reach temperatures above 100 degrees Fahrenheit (38 degrees Celsius). These conditions are extremely demanding for NASCAR drivers.
Most NASCAR drivers do not get bored when racing. NASCAR is a physically demanding sport that requires strong mental focus as well as physical strength and stamina, and so it’s unlikely drivers get bored when racing 39 other cars at speeds close to 200 mph for 3+ hours.