What wouldn't a race team do to go faster? The answer, of course, is practically nothing. The quest for every tenth of a second is never-ending. Racers are constantly seeking ways to improve vehicle performance. With countless man-hours devoted to engine technology, aerodynamics, chassis setup, tire management, and everything else to do with the nuts and bolts of a race car, one would think nothing was overlooked. Oftentimes, however, one of the most important elements in racing is not given much thought-driver fitness.

With the advanced technology of racing narrowing the competitiveness of the vehicles themselves, the human performance element is more important now than ever. The mental and physical preparation of a driver may be the difference between teams with near identical cars. Mark Martin, driver of the #6 Valvoline Ford, is a prime example.

Martin is perhaps the most physically fit driver in Winston Cup racing today. His lifestyle and training regimen help make him as finely tuned as his Roush Racing engine and perhaps gives him a competitive edge on the track. A physically fit driver is less likely to become fatigued and therefore less likely to make an error or have poor judgement. Martin credits at least one of his 25-plus wins purely to the extra stamina he had near the end of a race.

Racers as Athletes
No matter what the sport, the best athletes usually win. Preparation, equipment, and desire play huge factors in winning, but ultimately, the advantage goes to the most highly skilled and trained competitor. On race day, everyone is an athlete, from the driver to every member of the pit crew. Racing, whether it be on the track or in the pits, is mentally and physically demanding. Being physically fit allows race teams a better chance of success. If a driver doesn't have enough stamina or a member of the crew is weak from the 100-degree heat, the overall performance of the team is diminished.

Driver fitness programs can be beneficial in all forms of racing, from the Saturday-night level on up. In close competition, the team that is the most physically and mentally prepared to win probably will win.

Following are some fitness tips and benefits of fitness training. Most of these ideas can be found in Mark Martin's book, Strength Training for Performance Driving. Use these tips or incorporate your own training techniques to develop a fitness program for your race team. It's time to realize that a high-performance team is as important as a high-performance race car. It may be the difference between winning and losing.

Driver Workout
Specially designed workouts are nothing new. Based on your goals, a workout routine can be developed that will isolate different parts of your body for optimum performance in the areas you need it most. The following sample workout, which can be found in Strength Training For Performance Driving by Martin and his trainer, John S. Comereski, is the first workout we've seen specifically designed for race car drivers. Talk to a professional trainer at a local gym to get advice in planning a workout routine for you and your crew. (Keep in mind that this is just one example and that workouts can vary greatly depending on your current physical condition and the results you want to achieve.)

Total Body Workout: 2-3 Days a Week
Emphasis: Driver
  General
Conditioning
Strength
Training
Sets x Sets x
Exercise Repetitions Repetitions
Squat or leg press 3 x 8-12 3 x 6-8
Leg extension 2 x 8-12 2 x 6-8
Stiff-leg deadlift
(back arched) 4 x 8-12 4 x 6-8
Dumbbell bench press 2 x 8-12 2 x 6-8
Pec deck 3 x 8-12 3 x 6-8
Front deltoid raise 2 x 8-12 2 x 6-8
Upright row 3 x 8-12 3 x 6-8
Shoulder shrugs 3 x 8-12 3 x 6-8
Pull-ups 3 x 8-12 3 x 6-8
Seated row 2 x 8-12 2 x 6-8
Stiff-leg deadlift
(back rounded) 3 x 8-12 3 x 6-8
Pushdown 3 x 8-12 3 x 6-8
Lying French curl 2 x 8-12 2 x 6-8
Preacher curl 2 x 8-12 2 x 6-8
Hammer curl 3 x 8-12 3 x 6-8
Standing calf raise 2 x 15-20 2 x 15-20
Seated calf raise 2 x 15-20 2 x 15-20
Wrist curl 2 x 8-12 2 x 6-8
Abdominals
Lower abdominals 2-4 x 15-20  
Oblique muscles 1-2 x 15-20  
Upper muscles 2-4 x 15-20  

Beat The Heat
The consequence of extreme temperature on a driver can be severe. Imagine a driver, practically delirious from the heat and its effects, sitting in an environment where the temperature can exceed 160 degrees F. A proper strength training program can help temper the effects of heat and give you an edge. This in itself is a great reason to start your training regimen. However, in every racer's quest to beat the heat, there may be more help on the way.

Can you say, air conditioning? I'm sure a lot of people would say race drivers never use A/C in their race cars. They said the same thing about power steering. The fact is, the benefits of keeping a driver calm, cool, and collected may outweigh any horsepower loss an A/C unit will have.

Randy Sweet, president of Sweet Manufacturing, is working on a unit that's not that different from the A/C running in your mother's car.

The unit will sit inside the car on the floor alongside the driver. There will be two hoses, one going to the driver's foot box and the other to the seat and helmet.

"We've been working with the same people who developed the A/C units on the Hummer for the government. They did a lot of research in Death Valley, California," Sweet said. "At first everyone will laugh about it. But as more drivers get cooked at these hot race tracks, I think it will catch on."

The unit will weigh about 40 pounds and Sweet estimates a loss of about 5 hp. He's quick to point out that the horsepower difference will be negligible on most tracks where the driver's foot is not constantly on the gas.

On the other hand, picture an A/C unit running in places like Texas, Las Vegas, and Homestead. We're sure many drivers already have.

Ken Schrader's Craftsman truck and Tim Steele's ARCA car may be two of the first to use the unit in competition. We'll keep you posted on this cool topic in an upcoming issue of Circle Track.

Mark Martin's Nutritional Pit Stops
Strength training and nutrition go hand in hand. Mark Martin, who loves to eat, knows the importance of good nutrition. A healthy diet doesn't mean you have to starve to death. A little education and moderation go a long way. Following is a sample diet from a typical day in the life of Martin.

7:30 a.m. Breakfast - MetMax protein supplement, or frozen banana with ice cube shake, or cereal without sugar, or egg whites with mustard.
10 a.m. Snack - Protein drink, bagel, or yogurt
Noon Lunch - Canned tuna packed in water, with spicy mustard
3 p.m. Snack - Fruit, bagel, or yogurt
6 p.m. Dinner - Usually chicken, turkey, or fish. On occasion two lean T-bone steaks or pork chops. Never any sauces.
7:30 p.m. Dessert - Fruit or frozen yogurt(twice a month)

Top 9 Rules For the Prerace Meal
Your last meal before a race can mean the difference between feeling good and feeling awful. Eat the right foods and you will have the energy and mental focus to handle the job at hand.

1.Consume your last meal two or three hours before preparing for a race. This allows complete digestion and assimilation.

2.Don't eat foods high in fat since they take longer to digest.

3.Stay away from spicy foods.

4.Do not consume foods high in protein for at least eight hours prior to a race.

5.Eat foods containing lots of complex carbohydrates such as grains, some vegetables, fruits, pasta, pancakes, and waffles.

When selecting carbohydrates for this meal, choose those that don't contain large amounts of fiber. Fiber speeds the elimination process and the last thing you need when racing is an unscheduled pit stop to run to the bathroom.

6.Restrict your consumption of simple carbohydrates (sugars) such as table sugar, candy, honey, cake, and cookies. A large intake of simple sugars produces hypoglycemia or low blood sugar.

7.Be consistent with the foods you eat. Now is not the time to eat something new and unusual. You don't know how your body might react to foods you're not used to.

8.Don't skip meals. Your body needs energy just like your race car needs fuel. One meal will not get the job done.

9.Limit your salt intake.

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