Iron Man Brad

I hope Golden Tate was paying attention to Sunday’s rain-interrupted Good Sam RV Insurance 500 at Pocono Raceway.

Less than a month ago, the Seattle Seahawks wide receiver took to Twitter to voice his disapproval of five-time Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson being nominated for the ESPY award for Best Male Athlete.

He tweeted “Jimmy Johnson up for best athlete???? Um nooo.. Driving a car does not show athleticism,” which he promptly followed up with several equally ignorant tweets, including how he had “driven a car on unknown roads at night at 90mph no big deal. No sign of athleticism.”

I guess the Associated Press named Johnson their Athlete of the Year in 2009 because they all shop at Lowe’s.

While Tate later backtracked on his remarks (after having his Twitter account blown up by offended NASCAR fans), it still brought back to light the lingering notion from the sport’s detractors that NASCAR drivers are not athletes.

Now, I’ve been a NASCAR fan for essentially all of my 21 years, having watched the sport even as an infant with my dad. Growing up, I spent a lot of time convincing a lot of ignorant people that the argument against NASCAR being a real sport, and drivers being athletes, is laughable at best and ludicrous at worst. And trust me, I’ve seen plenty of both.

Forget the fact that they sit for hours in cockpits that reach 140 degrees, or that they sweat off 10-15 pounds each race, or have to manhandle 3400-pound machines at 200 mph while feeling the weight of four Gs. It’s also apparently irrelevant that the majority of drivers train year-round to stay in shape to endure such conditions. But that’s another story entirely.

All this brings me to this past weekend, and Sunday’s race winner, Brad Keselowski.

Last Wednesday, Keselowski was testing his Sprint Cup car at a road course in Atlanta, Ga., when his brakes failed. His No. 2 car hit head on at over 100 mph into a concrete wall that was protected only by two rows of tire stacks.

Keselowski was airlifted to a local hospital, where he was diagnosed with a broken left ankle, as well as a bruised right foot and injured back. But with a potential berth in the season-ending Chase for the Sprint Cup still within reach, he decided to suck it up and race on Sunday.

Most of us wouldn’t even dream of driving with a broken ankle. Not only did Keselowski race, he had to use his left foot to hit both the brakes and the clutch to shift around the triangle-shaped Pocono Raceway. In Sunday’s 200-lap event, that means he had to fight through the pain to hit the brakes 600 times with that broken left ankle, in addition to shifting six times each lap.

Oh, and that doesn’t include the last time he hit the brakes, to stop the car in Victory Lane after he won the race.

What makes the story all the more impressive, and what wasn’t revealed until later Sunday afternoon, was that during an hour-and-40-minute rain delay at lap 124, Keselowski had to have his back aligned by a chiropractor, and have blood drained from the swollen left ankle just to be able to continue.

Yeah, I know. Insane, right?

In no way is Keselowski the first driver to suit up injured. Dale Earnhardt won the pole position and finished sixth at Watkins Glen in 1996 while recovering from a broken sternum and collarbone. Denny Hamlin won at Texas last year just two weeks removed from having a torn ACL surgically repaired.

But what Brad Keselowski did on Sunday was almost super-human, and it should serve as a reminder to everyone, including Golden Tate, that not all athletes wear pads and a jersey.

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