When the NASCAR haulers roll into Kansas City this week, don’t honk your horn at the fellow on the bike in front of you or running alongside the road.
That guy could very well be NASCAR driver Jamie McMurray, who plans to run eight miles on Friday before this weekend’s races, or fellow racer Kasey Kahne, who took a bike ride of about 40 miles on the roads around Kansas Speedway in May and hopes to do so again.
Both men wrestle 3,300-pound stock cars around a racetrack for 38 weeks out of the year, but that isn’t the only physical test they put themselves through. They’re part of the “fitness buff” group in the NASCAR field, and when they aren’t racing on one of the nation’s premier tracks, they’re cycling up mountains or running long distances.
McMurray is in the process of training for his first full marathon. The 41-year old enjoys working out daily, like many athletes, but he also finds fulfillment in a different way when on a bike ride or a long run.
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“The thing that I like about the cycling and running is that it’s not necessarily about muscle or strength,” the driver of the No. 1 Chip Ganassi Chevrolet said. “It’s about endurance.”
Like their peers, both drivers are endurance specialists. The NASCAR schedule is a 38-race grind, including the two non-points paying races. And most are grueling 400- or 500-mile events.
“At times you get a little burnt out,” said Kahne, driver of the No. 5 Hendrick Chevrolet car. “Five hundred or 600-mile races are tough; that’s a long time to be mentally focused and to be right on the edge. It wears on you, and at the end of those races you are pretty worn out.”
Much like the 400-, 500- and once-a-year 600-mile races, it takes a great amount of stamina and focus to perform at a high level from start to finish on a bike or a run. Unlike NASCAR races, however, simply completing these arduous physical challenges is considered a reward to McMurray.
Most of the time, he and his fellow cyclists don’t get flipped off by motorists, as happened to Dale Earnhardt Jr. during a bike ride in May.
“There’s a little bit of psychological side when you get to that three or four hour mark and you’re in pain, of just sucking it up or toughing it out,” McMurray said. “I like that. I know it sounds really weird that I enjoy the pain part of it, but I look forward to that because I don’t feel like everybody can do it.”
McMurray has already accomplished things that not everyone can do.
In May he participated in The Assault on Mt. Mitchell, a 102.7-mile ride featuring an elevation rise of over 10,000 feet. Joining him on the ride were drivers Jimmie Johnson and Matt Kenseth, part of the NASCAR cycling enthusiast group that also includes Kahne, Chase Elliot and Dale Earnhardt Jr.
McMurray regards that six-hour ride as his toughest off-track accomplishment yet but believes it could soon be overtaken.
“I have a feeling the marathon is going to be just as hard, if not worse. I feel like I am a little better cyclist than I am a runner.”
While NASCAR drivers are already put through tremendous physical tests, battling extreme temperatures of 120 to 160 degrees inside the racecar and fighting extreme G-forces while flying around high-banked ovals at 200 mph speeds, some have other motivations for staying in shape.
Kahne doesn’t participate in bike rides to prepare for Sundays; instead, he views them as a place of escape and reflection from his consuming schedule.
With team meetings and a 2-year-old son at home, he doesn’t find much time during the week to hop on a bike. It’s those weekends at the track, in between practice sessions or before qualifying, when he has the opportunity to get out onto the open road.
“It’s been really nice just to get away,” Kahne said. “Whether I’m with a group or by myself, it’s just nice to get out in the open air and just ride. It just really kind of clears your mind in away.”
“Essentially, the harder you work leading up to (a bike) race, the better you perform,” McMurray said.
“In NASCAR, it’s not that way. You can prepare as much as you want, but there are so many variables in our race, whether it’s pit stops or tires or wrecks on the racetrack, there are so many things that can eliminate your day no matter how much you have prepared. With cycling and running, it’s all about putting the work in and getting yourself stronger.”
Kahne agrees, and hopes to continue his new cycling hobby for years to come.
“Personally, I feel better about myself when I am working out and am physically fit and pushing it every week. That’s when I feel the best. That’s why I do it, because it makes me feel better from the start of the day to the end of the day. I’ll keep doing it for a long time.”
Race weekend at Kansas Speedway
Here’s the schedule for NASCAR race week at Kansas Speedway.
Friday, Oct. 20
8 a.m.: Parking lots open
9 a.m.: Grandstand gates open
9:30-11:30 a.m.: ARCA practice
Noon-1:25 p.m. Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series practice
1:30-2:25 p.m.: NASCAR XFINITY Series practice
2:30 p.m.: ARCA qualifying
4-4:55 p.m.: XFINITY Series practice
5:15 p.m.: Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series qualifying
7 p.m.: ARCA driver introductions
7:30 p.m.: ARCA race
Saturday, Oct. 21
6 a.m.: Parking lots open
8 a.m.: Grandstand gates open
10-10:50 a.m.: Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series practice
11:05 a.m.: XFINITY Series qualifying
12:15 p.m.: XFINITY Series drivers meeting
12:30-1:20 p.m.: Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series practice
1:30 p.m.: XFINITY Series driver introductions
2 p.m.: XFINITY Series race (Kansas Lottery 300)
Sunday, Oct. 22
6 a.m.: Parking lots open
8 a.m.: Grandstand gates open
10:30 a.m.: Crossover gates open for entry to infield
Noon: Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series drivers meeting
12:15 p.m. (approx.): Smash Mouth pre-race concert
1:20 p.m.: Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series driver introductions
2 p.m.: Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race (Hollywood Casino 400)
NOTE: Schedule and times subject to change without notice