Jeffrey Richter likes to use a banking analogy in his approach to working with pit crews for NTT INDYCAR SERIES teams Ed Carpenter Racing, Andretti Autosport and Arrow McLaren SP.
The offseason, which generally runs from the end of September through the Christmas break, is used to make aggressive deposits into an account. But instead of money, it’s the workout program for the pit crews for each of these teams. The preseason, which runs from January until the season-opening race at St. Petersburg in early March, is a time to manage that account by changing the areas of focus in the workout program to manage the strength rather than aggressively increase it.
The season is when withdrawals take place because crew members are working as both mechanics and over-the-wall personnel that service the car on pit stops. Without as much time to focus on working out because of the demanding pace of the schedule, body recovery is critical.
The hope is through aggressive workouts, or deposits, in the offseason and managing those workouts in the preseason, the accounts can handle the withdrawals without risk of injury.
“During the season, their body has to make a lot of withdrawals,” said Richter, the strength and conditioning coach for motorsport at St. Vincent’s Sports Performance in Indianapolis. “We want to develop enough of a bank account buffer so when they make those withdrawals, there isn’t an injury. We can reduce the risk by managing the training stress, nutrition and injuries. If we lay the groundwork from October to February, when it’s time to withdraw, they are withdrawing from cash and not credit.”
To use Ed Carpenter Racing as an example, Richter designs the pit crew workout schedule. The pit crew members travel to Ascension St. Vincent’s Sports Medicine Center on the north side of Indianapolis four times a week, for workouts that last one hour each.
“In the offseason and preseason, we are trying to put more on the plate from physical preparation,” Richter said. “Given the nature of a team like Ed Carpenter Racing, the guys that are over the wall are also full-time mechanics that specialize in certain areas of the car. This year, it’s been more grinding with back-to-backs and doubleheaders. You are looking at an athlete who is also a mechanic, wrenching on cars, and that takes a toll on the body.
“Unfortunately, these guys in INDYCAR have to be prepared and be ready to go over the wall and be efficient, quick and explosive and not make any mistakes. A lot of times that occurs after having been thrashing on the car all day. That makes an interesting athlete.”
The offseason workout program helps to identify and replenish what each crew member may have lost during the season. If a crew member lost mobility, then Richter takes them through functional movement screening to help identify which areas need attention.
“With ECR, we might be trying to recover a lot of maximum strength qualities that can be lost,” Richter said. “We are trying to get progressive overload and have the guys work back up and get stronger. The way you get stronger is to slowly, progressively start to lift heavier weights.”
Additional attention is given to anaerobic exercise to create energy assistance through a series of tests. Richter oversees a “joint-friendly” regimen that includes rowing machines, skiers, fan bikes and other conditioning tools that provide the anaerobic workout that does not beat up their joints.
“Their knees and backs feel better; we are trying to build them back up,” Richter said.
When the preseason portion of the conditioning schedule starts in early January, Richter switches to power training, climb-metric training and speed training. The intent is to take the base that was created during the offseason workout and get these crew members ready to compete. Many teams pick up the frequency of pit stop practice at the race shops in January, and Richter’s workout program is designed to mirror what it takes to be explosive and fast. That means an increase in power and speed training.
“We are very intentional about the type of physical adaptation we are trying to get the guys to get,” Richter said. “In the offseason, that is different than the preseason.
“In season, depending on what part of in season it is, is how much time we can allocate to the training process. In May, the guys are at the racetrack pretty much every day from the GP on into the ‘500.’ At that point, we are really trying to manage the guys, the different nicks, knacks and injuries, that is where our team of trainers and the medical side is absolutely critical. Those guys working on the cars from sun-up to sundown, there are bound to be some backs that feel achy, knees, elbows, necks, so that is where our medical side really steps up and allows those guys to keep going at it strong.”
Nutrition also plays a major role in Richter’s approach. During the offseason, crew members are given body composition testing, including what is known as a “bod pod.” It helps each crew member see what their body composition is to start the season and creates a general path to become healthier and leaner.
Registered dieticians are on staff, and the pit crew gets help on how to eat the right food for protein intake and to lose fat. Sweat testing is conducted to show the percentage of sweat that is salt and the percentage that is water. It is important that sodium, potassium and water are at sufficient levels since crew members perform under tremendous stress.
“We like to think that our organization is a one-stop entity for all of these athletes to get things taken care of,” Richter said. “Whether it’s nutrition, strength or condition, workouts or an injury, that is all under one building. We allow these athletes to flourish because of that holistic approach.”