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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

NASCAR: Drive to Extremes

Aired October 16, 2005 - 22:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


CAROL LIN, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening, I'm Carol Lin. And here's what's happening right now.
Five people are dead in a charter bus accident in Wisconsin. The bus was carrying high school students home from a band competition when it crashed into an overturned tractor trailer. Four adults died, including the bus driver.

It's not yet a hurricane. This tropical storm depression actually now in the Caribbean is expected to strengthen and become tropical storm Wilma. Forecasters predict it'll reach the Gulf of Mexico with hurricane strength. And it may actually hit the U.S. by next weekend.

Now straight ahead, gentlemen, start your engines. CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta examines one of America's fastest growing sports in "NASCAR: Driven to Extremes."

And later on "LARRY KING LIVE," NASCAR's Jeff Gordon, Rusty Wallace, Kyle Petty, and Casey Cane make a rare pit stop together. That's tonight at 11:00 Eastern.

I'm Carol Lin at the CNN Center in Atlanta. Now "NASCAR: Driven to Extremes."

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Gentlemen, start your engines!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're inside.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Where's the crash?

SANJAY GUPTA, CNN ANCHOR: With race day here at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Hi, I'm Dr. Sanjay Gupta. Almost everyone drives, but what does it take to be a NASCAR driver? Over the next hour, we're going to look at the physical and mental demands of this sport. And yes, we're going to see what it takes for a driver to survive one of those terrible crashes.

We begin with one of the top names in NASCAR. So fasten your seat belts. Here we go.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

GUPTA (voice-over): Veteran driver Rusty Wallace in his final season, minutes before the Pennsylvania 500. In the next three hours and 45 minutes, Wallace will drive 500 miles and endure temperatures in the car over 100 degrees. Closer to 170 degrees by the floor boards.

That's why he wears this special heel protector and has cool air pumped in the hose in the top of his helmet.

The green flat starts the race with Wallace near the front. On the straightaway, Wallace and the other drivers travel almost the length of a football field every second. On the turns, they experience G-forces similar to the space shuttle on lift-off.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And lift-off of Space Shuttle Discovery.

GUPTA: That means drivers are pulled sideways on the corners with the same force as astronauts are pushed down on a shuttle launch.

Are race car drivers athletes? A definitive yes says Dr. Steve Olvey, who has studied them.

STEPHEN OLVEY, DR., FIA INSTITUTE FOR MOTORSPORTS MEDICINE: Absolutely. Race track drivers require all the same attributes that more traditional athletes require in their sport.

The heart rates that we saw in the more fit drivers would be very similar to what you would see in a very fit Olympic long distance swimmer, marathon runner, somebody actually playing basketball, professional basketball.

GUPTA: One study is something called anticipatory timing shows race car drivers had the same ability to anticipate what's going to happen as a hockey goalie or a quarterback.

NASCAR drivers also need to concentrate with few breaks, as they maneuver in traffic at 180 miles per hour or more. Imagine hitting the fast forward button the next time you're on the highway.

JACK STARK, SPORTS PSYCHOLOGIST: No other sport that I know of, no other sport, demands that kind of attention to detail and focus for four hours.

GUPTA: Jack Stark is team psychologist for Hendrick Motorsports, one of the top teams in NASCAR.

STARK: Football, you go hard for 15 seconds, rest, 30, 40. Basketball, you have time outs. You can't - operation to get out of your car go - you know, you're going hard for four hours. And you have to have a tremendous amount of mental toughness and a tremendous drive and desire to win.

GUPTA: Even at 49 with more than 50 career victories and one NASCAR Cup Championship, Wallace is gunning for victory lane. But there is more to being a NASCAR driver than driving, as we learned when we followed Wallace this summer during the week of the Pennsylvania 500.

RUSTY WALLACE, NASCAR DRIVER: My schedule is crazier than I think any NASCAR driver in the history of the sport. So literally, every single day something's been going on. GUPTA: Wednesday near St. Louis, Wallace tests his car on the Gateway International Raceway for a race later in the month.

WALLACE: Ninety-nine degrees. Hot as blazes.

GUPTA: Afterwards, he pilots his Lear jet back to North Carolina. Thursday, Wallace flies into Harrisburg, Pennsylvania for an autograph session in nearby Hershey and a concert by the band Cheap Trick, all part of a NASCAR farewell tour billed as Rusty's last call.

Friday, Pocono Raceway in northeastern Pennsylvania, Wallace works to make adjustments to his car.

WALLACE: And we're going to come up the sequence on the left side, right? We had a pretty good day. We learned a lot. We did a lot of stuff. And we're ready for qualifying tomorrow.

So far, it's all systems go. And we're done for today. So it's been a great day. I'm tired right now.

GUPTA: Saturday, qualifying to decide the driver's starting position. The faster the time, the closer a driver starts to the front of the pack.

Wallace's fastest lap? 166.5 miles per hour over the 2.5 mile triangular track. Wallace's time places him 13th among the 43 drivers.

WALLACE: We're done for today now. Just kind of throttle back and relax right now.

GUPTA: Wallace kicks back in his bus before heading out to dinner with his assistant and his pilot.

WALLACE: This is my free race. Look at that. Looks good.

Saturday evening, I go to bed early. I'll start drinking a lot of water. And when I wake up, I feel like I'm really ready to go.

GUPTA: Sunday, race day, Wallace emerges from his bus after 11 hours of sleep drinking coffee.

WALLACE: The hardest thing is being - getting dehydrated real quick. Physically just overheating. And your body starts shutting down. Concentration level starts going away. The most weight I've ever lost in one race was 11 pounds.

GUPTA: Research shows drivers sweat as much as a football player at practice. If they lose three percent of body weight in sweat, that's 5.5 pounds for Wallace. And don't replace those fluids. Their concentration and reflexes will start declining.

Wallace has had the no such trouble in the Pennsylvania 500. On lap 150, he avoids a car with a brake problem. Wallace hasn't always been so fortunate. He's had his share of wrecks in his 21 year NASCAR career. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The worst I ever had was in 1993 at (INAUDIBLE). My car went into a (INAUDIBLE) 23 times. The body flew off it. The motor flew out of it. I woke up in a helicopter and I got a pin in my wrist. But other than that, that was only broken bone I had. I was black and blue, beat up, cut up, and everything. But I survived it.

GUPTA: Not only did he survive, Wallace kept on racing.

STARK: I think the number one thing that really strikes you is their ability to deal with fear. They know that something's going to happen to them that could be very tragic, but they block that out of their mind.

GUPTA: At the Pennsylvania 500, Wallace stays near the front of the pack, waiting for his chance.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Later, Rusty Wallace takes the lead. But can he hold it? And Dr. Gupta gets behind the wheel on a NASCAR track to see what it takes. Also, the anatomy of a crash.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I mean, my body stopped and my brain didn't. And my brain slapped this side of my skull.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Next, fact and fit. Drivers tune up their bodies to super charge their performance.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TIME STAMP: 2210:20

ROBERT CANTU, DR.: Many of the races are run in heat and humidities. And the cars themselves are extremely hot. So you're essentially trying to function at a very high level of concentration in a sauna, being depleted of body fluids and electrolytes.

So first of all, the individual needs to be very fit.

GUPTA: What do hiking, biking and weight lifting have to do with driving fast? Everything if you're name is Carl Edwards. He's one of NASCAR's rising stars. He's winning races. And he's also leading the pack of NASCAR's fitness groom.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

GUPTA: Even if he's not driving, Carl Edwards likes to keep his heart racing with a mix of cardio and weights seven days a week.

CARL EDWARDS, WRITER: At a place like Bristol, I know we've gone for like 250 laps before without stopping. And that is intense. I mean, you're breathing heavy. Your heart's beating. It's the same as going on a long run or a bicycle ride or something like that. It's hardcore. GUPTA: How hardcore? Well, a study found race car drivers on an oval track like NASCAR's sustained heart rates of 120 to 150 beats per minute, about the same level as a serious marathon runner for about the same length of time.

Dr. Steve Olvey and a colleague did the research.

OLVEY: The heart rates became up to 80. 85 percent of their maximum very similar to what you see in someone in another type of endurance sport.

GUPTA: Research into car racing also shows that a rope again resistance training help drivers handle the G forces.

Edwards, more than most NASCAR drivers, needs to be fit because he drives in two of NASCAR's three racing circuits. The Nextel Cup and the Busch Series. Most weeks of the year, that means qualifying or racing Friday, Saturday, and Sunday sometimes in different cities.

Hours before embarking on a grueling four day two race, 9,000 mile travel marathon schedule this summer, Edwards is in a Roush racing garage in Concord, North Carolina.

:OLVEY This is - that's how I start all my days.

GUPTA: His car is being worked on in the garage. Edwards works on his body upstairs.

Later that day, I joined Edwards for a post lifting bike ride. And a burrito.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's got more fat on it than you do.

How much of an advantage do you think is physically fit gives you over somebody who's not as physical.

(voice-over) I think that this just helps, even if it's just for a short amount of time at the end of a race.

GUPTA: After lunch, Edwards travels from North Carolina to California for a qualifying race, then on to a Saturday race in Wisconsin, and then back to Sonoma for the main event on Sunday.

One of the pioneers of this fitness boom, Edward's teammate and mentor, Mark Martin. He began working out seriously in 1988. Martin, who wrote the book, "NASCAR for Dummies," says there are three benefits.

Drivers suffer fewer injuries because their muscles protect their bones and internal organs. The drivers are better able to handle the intense heat in the car, 120 degrees of hotter, because they start with a lower pulse. A strong upper body helps the drivers steer better when the car is not handling well.

Fitness routines and special diets now abound among NASCAR drivers. JEFF GORDON, NASCAR DRIVER: As I get older, I find that I need to do more things to stay in shape.

JIMMIE JOHNSON, NASCAR DRIVER: Light weights and reps, a lot of reps, so that I can have some strength and some muscle mass for a crash or impact.

JEFF BURTON, NASCAR DRIVER: These cars are very hot. It's physically demanding on you. And the stronger you are, the better chance you have to not have a distraction.

KYLE PETTY, NASCAR DRIVER: I run a marathon in January. Planning to run another marathon this summer - or this winter some time.

BRIAN VICKERS, NASCAR DRIVER: If I'm any where near a gym, I always go work out.

GREG BIFFLE, NASCAR DRIVER: I got to stay away from the cheeseburgers. That's my downfall is fast food.

BOBBY LABONTE, NASCAR DRIVER: A lot of organic foods, and a lot of chicken, a lot of fish. And stay away from red meats. And not that I don't like them, but I just don't eat as much of them as I used to.

SCOTT RIGGS, NASCAR DRIVER: I stopped carb loading with a lot of complex carbs, usually a lot of pasta, potatoes, rice, things of that nature, mostly pasta.

GUPTA: Of course, not all drivers have joined in the fitness craze.

TONY STEWART, NASCAR DRIVER: Channel up, channel down, volume up, volume down. That's about the extent of my fitness routine.

KEN SCHRADER, NASCAR DRIVER: I like Red Baron Pizza. And I'm kind of partial to Budweiser.

GUPTA: Even on the road, NASCAR newcomer Carl Edwards is careful about what he eats.

In the middle of a grueling weekend, he still finds time for a break, singing with fellow drivers during the seventh inning stretch at a San Francisco Giants game.

Afterwards, Edwards heads to a grocery store to pick up a few healthy items. Because he is so lean and burns so many calories, about 4,000 a day, Edwards appears to be eating constantly. Edwards eats so frequently, his car chief has learned to make special arrangements for the driver. It isn't just the car needing fuel during the race.

PIERRE KUETTEL, EDWARDS CAR CHIEF: We didn't realize this, you know, young growing boy like Ed eats a lot of food. So it was about two or three stops into a race, he's asking for food. So we're scrambling for stuff to throw in the car to give to him. So we kind of got together as a joke and built a little granola tray for him.

And I still to this have not figured out how he opens them with his gloves, sticks them through his helmet, and consumes all this food during cautions.

GUPTA: Even his own mother says he's a health fanatic.

NANCY STERLING, EDWARDS' MOTHER: Oh, it's terrible.

GUPTA: But she says that's because Edwards is driven.

STERLING: Carl's one of these people I'm sure you can tell by just everything he's done to - this week with U2. That when he puts his mind to something, he's going to do it to the nth degree.

GUPTA: Even taken to the nth degree, fitness and healthy eating do not guarantee success. On this weekend, Tony Stewart, a driver who jokes about his physique, beat Carl Edwards and the rest of the Nextel Cup field on the difficult road course at Sonoma.

In the long run, Edwards is convinced being fit will have him in victory lane more often, jumping for joy.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

GUPTA: The race to victory lane goes through pit row. And like drivers, pit crews are becoming fitter to get faster. This is the (INAUDIBLE) race right behind me. They actually look for athletes who have what it takes.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

(MUSIC)

SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's been called ballet without tutus. Every step choreographed. Two tire changers, two tire carriers, a jack man, a gas man, and a catch can man all moving in unison.

Each position requiring a different blend of strength, agility, flexibility, reflexes and coordination. A good pit stop means four new tires in 22 gallons of gas in 14 seconds. Let your local full service station try that.

Phil Horton coaches the pit crews for Chip Ganassi with Felix Tsubatis (ph). He recruits former college and high school athletes with the skill he needs in the pits.

PHIL HORTON, GANASSI PIT CREW COACH: An example of that would be tire changers. They have to be accurate in what they do, you know, five off, five on, with the love nuts. And they have to be precise. So (INAUDIBLE) quarterback, wide receiver, somebody who's going to be accurate in what they do and precise. And then that transmits into being a good thing.

GUPTA: Wander into one of Coach Horton's practices, and you may think it's a football team working on agility and fitness. A pit stop may look smooth, but the moves are not easy, as I learned for myself.

HORTON: If you take off on the correct foot, if you come off on the correct foot, you can cut this corner here, and cut this corner here without shuffling your feet.

And if you concentrate on working on the love nuts. I'm hitting the love nuts. So that's kind of basic ergonomics 101. That's proper footwork. That's the way it's down. You ready?

GUPTA: Three point two seconds.

Coach Horton said he could even have me ready for pit row in a year and a half. There we go.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He's only got his learner's permit. So why are NASCAR teams interested in this 15-year old?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There are very few that there aren't child prodigies that come along.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And we'll tell you why this is better than running into a wall.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TIME STAMP: 2222:20

GUPTA: In NASCAR and on the highway, the biggest risk is not going fast. It's stopping fast. That's when the unforgiving laws of physics take over. And it's when a driver is most vulnerable for a head injury.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SANJAY GUPTA, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): NASCAR driver Jerry Nadew's (ph) career came to an abrupt and chilling halt during a practice lap at Richmond International Speedway.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, you see this '01 car spinning around and hard impact with the driver's side right here by the middle of one and two, as he was coming down in the corner.

JERRY NADEW, NASCAR DRIVER: I don't know if I slipped an oil or water or anything. The car just took off and hit the wall. It hit driver's side flush. It hit so flush, you know, my body took all the absorption.

GUPTA: Nadew's car hit the wall with the force of 128 G's. That's 128 times the force of gravity. It was the hardest impact recorded since NASCAR began putting black boxes in cars in 2001.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There was about a 20 minute period here where the had to remove him. He could not get out on his own.

GUPTA: They do suffer a partially collapsed lung, fractured left shoulder blade, injured ribs, and a serious head injury.

NADEW: My body stopped and my brain didn't. And my brain slapped a side of my skull.

GUPTA: The force of the impact was so great, it sheared three lesions in the right side of Nadew's brain. That means the force of the crash actually caused tearing inside his brain.

When rescue workers pulled him from his car, Nadew was in a coma. Paramedic even ambu bag to help him breathe. And then a helicopter rushed Nadew to Virginia Commonwealth University Medical Center. The driver did not regain full consciousness for 20 days.

Head injuries are the biggest risk for NASCAR drivers in a wreck, just as they are for every day motorists. In fact, there are more than 1.5 million brain injuries a year in the United States. Most of them, the result of car accidents.

Because stock cars can reach speeds of 200 miles per hour, three times the speed of a car on the highway, NASCAR takes special precautions to protect drivers' heads.

Of course, drivers wear helmets. Their seats are fitted with padded supports on either side of the head. A strong web netting covers the window to protect the driver in a rollover.

And perhaps most important, NASCAR requires all drivers to wear head and neck restraints.

NASCAR began requiring the head and neck restraints after racing legend Dale Earnhardt died on the last lap of the Daytona 500 in 2001. Earnhardt was the fourth NASCAR driver to die of head injuries in less than a year. All died of basal or skull fractures.

Dr. Robert Cantu is a brain surgeon and a leading expert on the medicine behind motor sports. He says Earnhardt died because he was not wearing a head and neck restraint.

ROBERT CANTU, DR., NATIONAL CENTER FOR CATASTROPHIC SPORT INJURY: The head was snapped forward with such strength and speed, that it actually pulled the head off the top of the cervical spine.

There was a cure for it. It was to restrain the head along with the rest of the body.

GUPTA: The rest of the body is held in place by a five, six or seven point harness. No driver has died since Dale Earnhardt, although several have suffered head injuries. None as severe as Jerry Nadew's.

When Nadew crashed in Richmond, the driver was wearing a head and neck restraint, but his car hit a concrete wall flush.

NADEW: I mean, if they hit one degree more towards the back or one degree more towards the front, you know, I would have been fine.

GUPTA: If the front or back of the race car had hit first, much of the energy of the crash would have been absorbed by the car. Even a spectacular crash like this one or this one, where a car is flipping in the air, energy is being released away from the driver and the car is losing velocity.

CANTU: And I'm not minimizing this. Those aren't horribly violent crashes. But compared with abruptly going directly into a concrete wall, you're much better off flipping, being scrubbing off speed in the air, and then coming down in kind of a glancing blow than one would be directly driving head on into a non-giving barrier.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

GUPTA: Did he say slamming into a wall is worse than this? Yes. And here's why. The longer the crash takes, the less amount of force hits the driver at any one time. Of course, the only reason driver Scott Wimmer is not crushed in this crash is because these cars are equipped with special robars.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Up next, Jerry Nadew's road to recovery. And a safer wall that may have allowed him to walk away from his crash.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NADEW: I probably would be out there racing and not having to worry about all this.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Later, Dr. Gupta puts the pedal to the metal. And we'll take his vital signs.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LIN: Good evening. I'm Carol Lin, and here's what's happening right now. Po0lice in California say this is where the wife of a high-profile defense attorney was murdered. Police say Daniel Horowitz found his wife in the entryway of their home. At this point, investigators don't know how she died, and they don't have a motive or a suspect.

Detroit firefighters surrounded this massive warehouse fire, which burned for much of the afternoon. You could see the smoke for 50 miles. No one was hurt, and the cause of the fire is now under investigation.

Now, coming up at the top of the hour, the checkered flag has not come down yet. NASCAR's legends -- Jeff Gordon, Rusty Wallace, Kyle Petty and Kasey Kane sit down with Larry King. That's tonight at 11:00 Eastern.

I'm Carol Lin at the CNN Center in Atlanta. Now, back to "NASCAR: Driven to Extremes." (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

GUPTA (on camera): Welcome back to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, into our in-depth look at safety and speed in one of America's most popular sports.

The death of Dale Earnhardt was a turning point in NASCAR's history, and it gave new purpose to safety efforts at NASCAR as well. Unfortunately, one of the major improvements came too late for driver Jerry Nadeau.

(voice-over): NASCAR driver Jerry Nadeau remembers nothing of his crash, or his medevac from Richmond International Speedway. He does remember the months of rehabilitation in Charlotte, North Carolina.

JERRY NADEAU, NASCAR DRIVER: I had to relearn how to walk, I had to relearn how to talk. I didn't say anything for a while. I was always thinking, when is this light switch going to turn on and everything will be perfect?

GUPTA: Everything is still not perfect.

NADEAU: My left side is basically tingling, like it's asleep, 24 hours a day.

GUPTA: This summer, two years after his accident, Nadeau undergoes an MRI, looking for a clearer picture whether he can return to a sport that requires both split-second timing and hours of focus. The MRI images show Nadeau's brain has continued to heal, but his doctor, David Wiercisiewski, says dramatic progress more than two years after a head injury is not likely.

DR. DAVID WIERCISIEWSKI, CHARLOTTE INSTITUTE OF REHABILITATION: The vast majority of improvement occurs in the first 12 or 24 months. Subtle changes in balance, coordination, memory, reasoning skills, go on really -- they improve for a lifetime.

GUPTA: Playing a videogame in his garage outside Charlotte is the only way the 35-year-old Nadeau gets behind the wheel in a NASCAR race. He races in the #1 U.S. Army Pontiac, his old team, and usually picks the Atlanta Motor Speedway, the site on his lone NASCAR victory in 2000.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Jerry Nadeau!

NADEAU: It was great. I mean, it was just -- it was like, you know, you accomplish something that you've been hoping for your whole life. All I've ever known is how to race. I mean, I was never really that good in school, never went to a prom, never really started a business. I just went from high school to racing, full time. So that's pretty much all I know how to do.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hey, dad.

NADEAU: You want to see a rabbit? UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yeah.

NADEAU: OK, sit right here.

GUPTA: Nadeau says he's thankful for the time his forced absence from NASCAR has given him with his daughter, Natalie. But when Nadeau visits his old teammates, he's an outsider, looking in.

NADEAU: The last six months, it's gotten so much better. Now, it's just -- I'm edgy. I can't sit home.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, Lord.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE). That would get you real edgy.

GUPTA: Nadeau says he would still be racing if his crash had happened at Richmond just four months later, after the track had installed so-called soft walls. NASCAR began putting in safer barriers at all of its tracks in 2002.

(on camera): Want to give you a look at what one of these safer barriers actually looks like. We're at turn one of the Lowe's Motor Speedway. This is the old concrete wall. This here is the new wall. In between, this is all foam. The goal: To try to absorb as much force as possible should a driver actually hit one of these walls.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That safer barrier might have worked for Elliott Simon's (ph) car.

GUPTA (voice-over): The safer barrier was developed at the Midwest Roadside Safety Facility in Lincoln, Nebraska, under director Dean Sicking. Sicking and his team used Richmond International Speedway, where Nadeau crashed, as their model when they developed the safer barrier.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So Richmond has the combination of tight radius and high track speeds that make it a high risk for serious crashes, and so that was the track wall we decided to replicate.

GUPTA: Here is a crash test into the concrete wall modeled on Richmond. Here is a crash test with a safer barrier. Notice how the safer barrier gives when the car hits it, reducing the force and the danger for the driver. Sicking says two real-world wrecks similar to Nadeau's show the energy-absorbing soft walls work to protect drivers.

Kurt Busch at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 2002. And Jason Keller at Richmond a year later. Both cars hit the wall flush on the driver's side, like Nadeau. Yet both drivers experienced g forces in the 30s, Sicking says, far less than the 128 g's recorded in Nadeau's crash.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And both Keller and Kurt Busch were racing the next week.

GUPTA: Gary Nelson is NASCAR's vice president of research and development. He says the safer barrier has exceeded expectations. GARY NELSON, NASCAR RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT VP: We were thinking 20, 30 percent gains on occupant risk, and we're now seeing gains above 70 percent, maybe even 80 percent reduction in forces to the driver when he runs into the safer barrier versus running into a concrete barrier.

GUPTA: Nadeau has not raced since his wreck, and now concedes he'll probably never race again.

NADEAU: I'm trying to figure out what's next. You know, obviously, I, you know, racing doesn't look very good on my horizon, so I'm looking at doing some consulting, just working with young guys.

GUPTA: Hendrick Motor Sports has called on Nadeau to mentor 22- year-old driver Boston Reid, giving Nadeau what may be a second life in racing.

ANNOUNCER: Later, can Rusty Wallace win at Pocono? We'll show you if we can hold off a late charge by Kurt Busch.

And driving Dr. Gupta. Dr. Gupta rides shotgun, at 170 miles an hour.

Next, are great drivers made, or are they born? We'll introduce you to a car racing prodigy.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

DR. ROBERT CANTU: In something like automobile racing, where it's not as important how strong you are, how fast you are, it's not important how high you can jump, you need sight, you need concentration, you need good hand-eye coordination, things that can be spotted at a very early age.

GUPTA (on camera): One of the things I found so interesting as we were working on this special is that more and more NASCAR teams are recruiting remarkably young drivers. Made us ask ourselves, are great drivers made or are they born? Well, teenage phenom Joey Logano suggests it's a little bit of both.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You driving? Oh, boy, God bless me.

GUPTA: Like any number of 15-year-olds with a new learner's permit, Joey Logano is all smiles behind the wheel. The permit only allows Logano to drive on public roads if there's a licensed driver 21 or older in the front seat with him, like his father Tom.

There is another side to Joey Logano and driving. Logano is a successful race car driver. How successful? The 15-year-old has already attracted the attention of several of NASCAR's top teams, and Logano signed a seven-year contract this summer with Joe Gibbs Racing, which includes past NASCAR champions Tony Stewart and Bobby Labonte.

(on camera): How did you start doing that?

JOEY LOGANO, RACE CAR DRIVER: I've always had fun driving, I guess. You know, I've always had fun driving anything, you know, race cars, on the road, anything. I just wanted to drive.

GUPTA (voice-over): Based on his experience, USAR Hooters Pro Cup, a stepping stone to NASCAR, waved its 16-year-old age requirement and allowed Logano to begin racing in the circuit when he turned 15. His first race this summer was in Jennerstown, Pennsylvania. He scraped the wall and collided with another car, before finishing 27th.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're off.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You did a great job.

GUPTA: Two weeks later, in Mansfield, Ohio, in only his second race, Logano finished first. He is the youngest driver ever to win a USAR series race.

UNDENTIFIED MALE: And it was Joey Logano headed to victory lane...

GUPTA: Just how did Logano get this good this young?

(on camera): From the very beginning, what was the first time you sort of said, all right, Joey, let's try racing? How did that decision come about?

TOM LOGANO, JOEY LOGANO'S FATHER: I was the t-ball coach, I was the basketball coach, he hated it, and he wasn't too good at it either. But in the meantime, I had him a go-kart, and I bought him a go-kart, and I had a garbage business, and I used to drive him between the dumpsters and the trailers, and man, he was doing pretty good with that.

GUPTA (voice-over): Joey Logano started racing go-karts at 6. He won his first national championship for his age group a year later, and has kept on winning ever since, moving into bigger and faster cars.

Former driver Scott Sutherland works with Logano. He says the teenager drives with a skill that cannot be taught.

SCOTT SUTHERLAND, RACING CONSULTANT: His driving talent is far and beyond anything I've ever seen at that age. He was definitely born with a gift.

GUPTA: Logano caught the eye of Nextel Cup driver Mark Martin two years ago, when Logano was 13. Martin says Logano is good enough to take his place now.

MARK MARTIN, NASCAR DRIVER: No doubt in my mind, if NASCAR would let him in, I would put him in a six-car (ph), 2006. There are very few, but there are child prodigies that come along.

GUPTA: Other sports have prodigies. Michelle Wie, a 16-year-old golfer who can hold her own with the best golfers in the world. And Freddy Adu, who's started playing major league soccer when he was 14.

But split-second decisions in soccer or golf generally do not have the same potential consequences as auto racing. Is a teenager's brain ready for the fast lane? Research shows that the brain's frontal lobes don't finish maturing until the age of 20. And that makes teenagers more prone to accidents, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association.

BARBARA HARSHA, GOVERNORS HIGHWAY SAFETY ASSOCIATION: It's dangerous for young drivers to drive at an earlier age, because their brains are not fully developed. The part of the brain that isn't developed is the part that deals with maturity, judgment, and most particularly, impulse control.

GUPTA: Tom Logano says his son is not a typical teenager.

T. LOGANO: He's real mature for his age. You know, he's a lot more mature than I am, most of the time. You got to be patient, you know, because you -- there is a lot of risk.

GUPTA: Risks that have prompted NASCAR to require drivers to be at least 18. For Logano, the age requirement means a detour on his fast track to NASCAR, but the 15-year-old says he's willing to wait.

J. LOGANO: Hopefully, I can keep racing, you know. I want to keep racing forever, you know. It's fun.

GUPTA (on camera): You can't watch one of these NASCAR races and not want to know what it feels like to go 170 miles an hour. So when NASCAR driver turned TV commentator Wally Dallenbach asked me to ride along with him, I jumped at the chance.

GUPTA (on camera): How fast are you going? What are you thinking about?

WALLY DALLENBACH, TNT COMMENTATOR: This racetrack is a flat racetrack, so you really got to drive the car very hard. Short straight-aways, top speed 165, 170, hard on the brakes, get on the brakes as soon as you can, let the car roll, pick up the throttle right here in the center, start feeding the gas, feed the gas, full throttle, all the way out to the wall. Hard on the turn brakes, on the brakes, get off the brakes, again let the car roll. It's going to slide up to the middle. Cut in the center, pick up the throttle as hard as you can and fast as you can. Back on the straight-away.

GUPTA: How do the g forces affect you?

DALLENBACH: Well, the g forces here aren't so bad. You can feel it get thrown into the right side of the car.

GUPTA: Yeah, you can.

DALLENBACH: But it's not as (INAUDIBLE) if you were on a banked racetrack. A banked racetrack, you feel the g forces a lot more than you do when you're in New Hampshire. But this place is very physical because you're really driving the car hard. You're on the brakes, you're on the gas. Don't forget, we got 42 other guys here too. So that makes it a lot more stressful and a lot more difficult, especially when you got to pass somebody. You're trying to outbrake them, and you're trying to get the car to handle. A lot of times when you outbrake a guy, the car doesn't want to handle, and you got to drive harder. The longer you go, the tires start to wear, the more the car slides, the more the driver's got to work. Some drivers will drive with broken bones or not feeling well, but when you get into one of these race cars, you got to concentrate so much, you forget about the pain, you forget about whatever is bothering you.

GUPTA: It's all adrenaline.

DALLENBACH: Yeah.

GUPTA: We were going 160, 180 miles an hour now. It was hot, and when we'd run against the wall, and I thought we were going to die. At least I did. Wally, on the other hand, was a picture of composure over there.

Thanks for driving me around and thanks for not killing me.

DALLENBACH: Anytime. I enjoyed it.

GUPTA: I appreciate it. Thanks.

Well, that gives me a taste of what it's like to be a NASCAR driver, but now I want to find out what's actually happening to my body at high speeds. And for that, I go to Homestead Miami Speedway.

(voice-over): I signed up for the Richard Petty driving experience, where for a fee, you can get a NASCAR-like experience in a controlled setting. Unlike the other drivers, though, I had a little something extra under my fire suit.

(on camera): Look at this. I got one of these life shirts on. It's going to be measuring all these different things in my body, including what's happening to my heart, what's happening to my lungs, whether or not I'm feeling frightened. I put this little thing in my ear, it actually even measures what's happening inside my blood. The real question we're going to answer here is what happens to your body when you drive at NASCAR that fast for that long.

(voice-over): Finally, we're ready to go -- or not.

(on camera): Like anything else, there is a lot of sitting around and waiting here, you know. If you watch a NASCAR race, you'll see the drivers sitting in their car, waiting for the race to begin. And I can tell you, I've been sitting here for about five minutes. It's extremely hot in here, and I'm feeling very hot. I'm sure my heart rate is up, my breathing is up as well, and we haven't even began.

(voice-over): At this point, my body temperature is between 101 and 102 degrees Fahrenheit, which is considered a fever. Finally, I'm off for my first eight laps.

By the second minute of driving, my heart rate has jumped from 88 to 130 beats a minute. Then, after a short break, eight more laps. This time, I've added one more piece of equipment: A mask measuring metabolic activity, how much oxygen is consumed. That will tell us more about what kind of stresses my body is undergoing.

Since most people don't ride in stock cars, I decided to compare it to something people are more familiar with -- running. Turns out running was more strenuous on my heart, but my breathing was more rapid on the speedway.

Patrick Jacobs is a professor and exercise physiologist at the University of Miami, who has studied race car drivers.

PATRICK JACOBS, UNIVERSITY OF MIAMI: What we can see is as you got up into your most aggressive laps, you got up to a point of approximately four times your resting metabolic activity.

GUPTA: That means I'm using four times as much oxygen as when I'm not exercising, in part, Jacobs says, because of the heat and the g forces on my body.

Still, my heart rate in the race car is about the same as a brisk walk. But remember, I wasn't racing against 42 other drivers for three hours at 180 miles per hour.

(on camera): For the average person on the street, would you describe NASCAR as a physically challenging activity?

JACOBS: Oh, most undoubtedly. Very challenging in terms of physical fitness, what they have to face.

GUPTA (voice-over): Challenging, but also a whole lot of fun.

ANNOUNCER: When "NASCAR: Driven to Extremes" continues, Rusty Wallace takes the lead. Can he win the race?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

RUSTY WALLACE, NASCAR DRIVER: Well, I've seen some of the most incredibly healthy people get in our cars, and they run terrible. And physically, they're in great shape. But mentally, they don't know what the car needs, they don't know what the track is going to do, they don't know what kind of a setup they need. And if they don't get their performance right in the car, they can be the strongest guy in the world, the most healthy guy in the world, they're not going to get the job done.

GUPTA (on camera): Driving race cars takes physical skills, no question. Reflexes and endurance. But it's also a mental sport.

Let's go back to Pocono Raceway, where Rusty Wallace makes a move to the front of the pack.

(voice-over): Rusty Wallace is in fifth place with 36 laps to go, when driver Joe Nemechek's car suddenly blows a tire. Wallace decides to gamble.

WALLACE: OK, right side.

CREW CHIEF: You sure about the two tires? WALLACE: Oh, yeah.

CREW CHIEF: 10-4. I believe the 6 and the 97 are taking four.

WALLACE: Man, I don't know. I'm thinking we've got to keep this track position. It's hard as hell to pass.

CREW CHIEF: That's what we're going to do. Two tires, guys. Two right-side tires.

GUPTA: In a risky move, he chooses to get only two new tires. Other drivers take four.

WALLACE: Caution came out, I said, this is perfect, so let's get down, just do two right sides, and I came out leading the race.

GUPTA: Wallace is first out of the pits.

WALLACE: (INAUDIBLE) every single race like it's the last race.

GUPTA: Thirty-three laps to go, Wallace is in front. But driver Kurt Busch has four new tires, and a very fast car. He quickly moves into fourth place, then third, and with 26 laps to go, takes over second place from Carl Edwards.

Wallace leads with 18 laps to go. But he cannot hold off Busch any longer.

WALLACE: The hardest thing about racing is to understand how many ups and downs are in this sport. There are so many peaks and valleys that you've got to be ready for. That car is not going to be winning all the time. It's not going to be upfront all the time. There's 43 of the world's best drivers. There's not just two football teams or two baseball teams or two soccer teams. There are 43 of us out there every week.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And Kurt Busch takes the checkered flag at Pocono.

WALLACE: He had a real dominant car.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Good job, everybody.

WALLACE: Every now and then, somebody's got a fast car, and he just had a fast car today, and those four tires just got me.

Sometimes you ought to be a realistic guy, and the 97 car had four sticker (ph) tires, I only had two. It was a great run.

I hope you guys had a great week this week. That was a little bit of behind-the-scenes of what it takes to go racing, and there it's just all this -- it was intense. It was a lot of fun stuff, a lot of intense stuff, but it turned out good this week.

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