Professional racing is a highly skilled and highly dangerous profession. Drivers who step into cars at any level of their chosen automotive sport are putting their lives on the line in the name of sport and entertainment, and that takes a special kind of personality and resolve than the vast majority of us.

Whether it’s NASCAR, Formula One, rally or drag racing, drivers need a particular skillset for each, and a willingness to put their body through hell to be the best. Even NASCAR, which has the public perception of being less taxing because it revolves around driving laps around a track 400 times, takes an enormous toll on the body and mind of the driver.

According to ESPN, NASCAR driver Denny Hamlin was driving in 130 degree heat inside his car, and he sweated out 3.5 pints of perspiration, amounting in a 13 pound weight loss during the event. There was also the fact that his heartrate was 130 during the race, which is the same as a marathon runner, only this event lasts twice as long as the average marathon. That’s endurance and conditioning on a frightening scale.

Different Skillsets for Different Types of Racing

Skill can be interpreted in different ways. In theory, rally would be the winner of the “most skilled” tag because of the unbelievable conditions that their drivers race in, not to mention the fact that their drivers are unaware of the track they are racing on. This raises the threat level on the course, and as anybody who has watched rally on TV or YouTube can attest, it is terrifying (albeit thrilling) viewing at times. The skill level of their drivers is incredible, and their reflexes need to be as good as it gets for them to succeed.

At the top end of the scale is Formula One, which is the racing equivalent of playing Premier League football. It’s the glamour division of racing, and drivers who make it in the sport are some of the wealthiest people in the world of sport. But to get to the highest level, you need an incredible amount of skills in your arsenal. When you consider that F1 cars can hit up to 240mph, you can imagine the amount of judgement and skill it takes to hit corners at the right time and speed. One tiny mistake and you could be putting your life on the line, and that’s when the conditions of the track are in your favour. If it’s been raining it makes driving even more perilous.

The Psychological Edge

Aside from the driving ability, you also need to be able to judge what your opponents are doing and try to impose your will on them, both before and during the race. In a sport where a psychological edge can win you a race, a racing driver’s mind is a powerful weapon. You only have to look at the Lewis Hamilton-Nico Rosberg rivalry from this year’s F1 championship race to see how mentally strong you have to be to succeed. It is mind games on a monumental scale, and the winner takes it all. It’s the same in all racing, so a driver’s mind has to be an impenetrable fortress in order for it all to come together on the track.

The Conclusion

It is easy to pick one type of racing driver and say: “It’s you!” The truth is, every driver across every type of racing has to master car control, situational awareness, race craft, engineering competence, patience, balance and discipline. It is the reason why so many of us love these sports, and the reason why drivers are held in such high regard by sports fans all over the world.

If you have to choose one, it is hard not to go with rally as the most skilled type of racing driver. The conditions of the track – mixed with all the other skills required for the sport – are what give them the edge over other types of driving. Head to YouTube and see if you want to disagree with the choice. It’s highly doubtful you’ll feel anything but awe and disbelief at what these drivers achieve in their vehicles.