Racing cars at a high level requires strength and endurance. The g-forces are constantly acting on your muscles and fatigues you very quickly. Race drivers spend just as much time physically preparing for races as any other so called athlete. Only people who have never experience driving at high speeds for hours claim it doesn't require athleticism.
All I need to say is - take a look at, say, Formula 1. The drivers in that series require the stamina and physical ability to perform in for period of up to 2 hours in intense heat and are subjected to very high G-Forces. The drivers train throughout the year - cycling, swimming, running or entering other kinds of races (occasionally in a Gorilla suit!)
I believe race car drivers require some sort of athleticism. I believe you have to keep mentally sharp and have fast reaction time in this type of sport. Studies have shown that exercise and proper nutrition increases your ability to perform better in many aspects including race car driving. An nonathletic person cannot be a good race car driver.
Race car driving requires a serious set of skills and is not to be slighted and/or referred to as an easy activity. However, to say it requires athleticism is not really accurate. Athleticism seems to require some type of physical standard. A standard based on endurance, strength and possibly agility. Although being a race car driver takes a great amount of skill, the car is the object in scenario that is being pushed to the physical limits, not the driver. To say race car drivers are athletes is like saying cosmetologists are allied health professionals because they put make up on peoples' faces and do peoples' hair. No, race car driving does not require athleticism.
Race car driving requires no athleticism at all. A person's reflexive ability is not the same as their athletic ability. Race car driving takes the same amount of skill as sitting for three to five hours playing video games. There is some skill involved, no doubt, but not all skills qualify as athletics.
Most athletes require time and physical perseverance when doing an athletic event. A NASCAR driver just has to know how to drive a car really fast and well. Just like an endeavor that a person may due, it does take practice to be good at anything, but athletes takes time and training to accomplish their goals.