I prefer writing short posts, so I split this one up to make the reading easier.
Most people have a good idea on how to become a better driver: seat time, attacking corners, braking techniques, dealing with traffic, car modifications, knowing every rule (and how to beat them), but I think the most overlooked area is fitness. This is, of course, at the amateur, club, wanna be race car driver (that’s me) level. Why is that?
Well, unless you’re a pro or on your way to being a pro then most likely you don’t have a fitness coach. They’re great, but they’re also expensive. Why is it so important though? Here are the main reasons, in no particular order.
I’ve always had issues with this one. I tend to hold my breath when I’m doing any kind of exercise, it is something my body got used to at some point and it’s a habit I need to break. When I hold my breath my diaphragm is providing support for my core, if it doesn’t find that support then the body responds slowly, weakly or not at all. It is something I’m trying to fix, but in the mean time I have to focus on breathing properly. This helps me maintain a good pace when on a treadmill but it reduces my concentration when I’m dealing with traffic, staying on the race line or trying to find the limits of the car. Other reasons why holding my breath is bad are:
- my muscles are not getting the oxygen they need to perform as I need them to
- I get tired faster
- it raises my heart rate
- it doesn’t allow me to relax
While racing your body is basically in a state of fight or flight; adrenaline levels increase, your heart rate is up, your senses alert, muscles waiting for your command. When you’re relaxed, you have a better chance of controlling this state and use it to your advantage.
Smooth is fast, but you can’t be smooth if you’re not relaxed! You need to have a firm but light grip in order to be slow and smooth, but at the same time you need to react quickly when the car loses grip, you have to avoid debris or another car that lost control. All this is easier when your muscles are relaxed, when they’re tense you won’t be able to react as fast as you need to. If you’re tense, tired and frustrated then you’re not having fun. What’s the point of doing all this crap if you’re not having fun!
You need to find your zen, be in the zone. In order to get in the zone your mind needs to be sharp, there are a lot of things you need to be aware of: corner stations, traffic, your line, your tires, changes in grip level, gauges… you can’t have a sharp mind if you deprive your brain of oxygen. We all want to go fast, but the faster we go the faster we need to process information and react accordingly.
There are several articles out there that discuss or illustrate how race drivers are high performance athletes considering what they have to deal with, so I won’t repeat any of that here. And while you most likely don’t drive a car that demands such a high level of fitness, there are other things to consider.
If you autox, most likely you’ll be chasing after cones. Nobody likes it, but it still needs to be done. If you’re going to be out there running, you’ll want to be in shape. It helps the event run smoother and keeps you safely out of the way of the next car coming. You don’t want to be the guy who delays the event due to misplaced cones, and you definitely don’t want to be the guy that generates re-runs or gets run over.
If you’re going to the track, you’ll have to pack\unpack the car, change tires, load\unload from a trailer, clean up, do some quick maintenance, do a lot of walking, drive… by the time the weekend is over and you’re ready to head back home there’s a good chance you’ll be exhausted. I know I was, driving back home from Mid Ohio under those conditions was not fun, or safe. Most of the time I had a pounding head ache that made things worse.
With proper training you’ll have the required strength and endurance to be able to enjoy your race weekend, perform the way you need to and drive back home without falling asleep at the wheel. This doesn’t mean you need to pack a lot of muscle or be fit enough to run a marathon, but being in better shape definitely helps.
Stay tuned for the second part of this topic.