By Pete Williams
We’ve long believed NASCAR drivers are among the best conditioned athletes in sports. Anyone who sits in an oven for five hours in a firesuit and navigates a car going more than 150 miles per hour is a serious athlete.
Jimmie Johnson and Kasey Kahne proved it again yesterday on a rare Sunday off. They jumped in the James Island sprint triathlon near Charleston, an event consisting of a 600-yard swim, 12-mile bike, and 5K run.
The drivers, who raced with colleagues from their pit crews, posted more-than-respectable times, according to their Twitter feeds. Kahne, 32, finished in 1:11:30, slightly ahead of Johnson, 36, 1:11:57.
They competed just hours after racing in NASCAR’s Coke Zero 400 race in Daytona Beach on Saturday night. Presumably they jumped in a private jet and did not make the five-hour drive, but that’s still an impressive turnaround.
No word on how they did in their age brackets, but the guess here is pretty well since the race was limited to 375 participants. Johnson, whose birthday is in September, raced as a 37-year-old under USA Triathlon rules, and in the always competitive 35-to-39 age bracket. Kahne, who turned 32 in April, competed in the 30-to-34 division.
It’s an impressive accomplishment, to be sure, but perhaps not as noteworthy as the doubleheader Michael Waltrip pulled off on April 30, 2011. Waltrip, a longtime NASCAR driver and team owner, celebrated his 48th birthday by watching his two Sprint Cup teams compete in Richmond, Va. The next morning he was an hour away in Charlottesville, Virginia for the Monticelloman Olympic-distance triathlon.
That event was significantly longer than the James Island Sprint, with a 0.9-mile swim, a 24-mile bike, and a 10K (6.2-mile run) and Waltrip is significantly older than Johnson and Kahne. Then again, the semi-retired Waltrip did not drive the previous night and only had to travel an hour between venues. Waltrip posted a time of 3:35:41. Either way, we can’t think of pro athletes in any other sports who attempt triathlons during the season.
There’s not much crossover demographic between NASCAR and triathlon, though a promoter did stage an Olympic-distance triathlon last summer at Homestead-Miami Speedway, attracting about 500 participants. The event began and finished along pit road on the track that hosts NASCAR’s season-ending event.
A spokesman for the Miami Speed Triathlon said scheduling conflicts prevented the race from returning to Homestead this year but that there are plans for 2013.