Drivers As Athletes
Race car drivers are professional athletes, each with an individual training program designed to prepare their bodies and minds for the rigors of competing on the racetrack at speeds in excess of 200 mph.
Because their safety and livelihood are directly impacted by their physical and mental fitness, drivers take their training seriously.
The Physical Toll Of Racing
Driving some of the fastest race cars on the planet takes its toll on the body.
- During a Verizon IndyCar Series race, drivers experience up to 5 Gs (five times their body weight) on their bodies while cornering and up to 1.5 Gs accelerating, depending on the track. This is on top of the effort required to steer the car at high speeds, especially on the multiple turns of a road or street course.
- The G-load experienced by drivers is comparable to driving a passenger vehicle with a 40- to 50-pound weight on your head.
- Heat and dehydration also play a role as most of the Verizon IndyCar Series races are held in hot weather and drivers must wear multiple layers of protective clothing for safety.
- A driver’s heart rate reaches 85 percent to 95 percent of its capacity during a race and is comparable to the heart rates of marathon runners and long-distance cyclists.
Risk Of Injury
The chance of crashing at high speed presents an obvious risk of injury to drivers, but other injuries sustained during the normal course of driving the car are also a part of racing. Drivers’ hands, elbows, ribs, knees and feet are all susceptible to injury from the stresses of racing. Keeping in top physical shape helps drivers avoid injury and remain competitive on the track.
Gaining A Competitive Advantage
Drivers and teams are constantly looking for ways to gain an edge on the competition. Engineers and mechanics spend hours working on the cars in an effort to shave the extra fraction of a second per lap that could make a difference. Similarly, drivers look at their conditioning as one more way that they can gain an edge during a race.
- Scott Dixon, Tony Kanaan and Carlos Munoz are among the Verizon IndyCar Series drivers who enjoy competing in triathlons as a way to stay in shape. Kanaan successfully completed the full distance in the 2011 Ironman World Championships in Hawaii.
- Helio Castroneves enjoys boxing as a way to stay fit.
- Ed Carpenter enjoys cycling and running as part of his endurance training.
- JR Hildebrand mountain bikes as a supplement to a rigorous strength training regimen.
Verizon IndyCar Series drivers Sage Karam and Josef Newgarden provided solid evidence of drivers’ athletic abilities at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis in February 2015. Both drivers went through many of the same agility drills that college football players did and posted results comparable to some who were projected as top-10 draft picks.
Jim Leo, president of PitFit Training, an organization that focuses on training drivers for competition, said drivers should focus on a combination of flexibility, stamina, strength, reaction and nutrition training.
“When we train a driver, we want to duplicate or exceed, as much as possible, the stresses they will go through in the car,” said Leo. “That prepares their bodies to handle the stresses when they encounter them on the track.”
Leo recommends using techniques that combine strength and stamina training, including boxing, rock climbing and kayaking. He currently trains several Verizon IndyCar Series drivers.