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Aug 16, 2013 - 06:35 AM
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Mazda MX-5 Cup Drivers Get Physical Away From The Track
Posted by: newsla on Aug 16, 2013 - 06:33 AM
Sports Cars
Mazda MX-5 Cup Drivers Get Physical Away From The Track


Physical fitness is one major component for any racecar driver looking to find their way to victory lane. The drivers of the SCCA Pro Racing Playboy Mazda MX-5 Cup are no different. While these athletes are driving a car that closely mirrors the street version of a Mazda MX-5, pushing this quick, nimble car to the limit of its performance is hard work.

 

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To early racecar drivers, physical fitness wasn’t a necessity for scoring wins. The ability, and courage, to push the early technology to the edge was the most important skill a driver could possess. As technology and performance progressed, the physical demands on the driver increased dramatically. By the 1970s, drivers in Formula 1, and other top levels of motorsports, began to develop exercise programs designed to increase strength and stamina behind the wheel.

Today, racecar drivers are some of the most physically fit athletes on the planet. Many compete in triathlons and marathons away from the race track. Current drivers, in many ways, are forced to get involved in extreme forms of training in order to withstand the physical stresses they are put under behind the wheel. Modern aerodynamics and wide, grippy tires mean racecars are able to change direction while maintaining a higher speed. The increased corning speeds results in increased g-forces (lateral and horizontal forces felt on the body that can equal more than the pull of gravity). These g-forces can lead to increased muscle strain and fatigue.

There are multiple ways drivers prepare their bodies for the rigors of racing. Some have a set regimen they follow, while others take a more relaxed approach. George Jackson, of Dallas, takes physical fitness very seriously. On workout days, Jackson starts his first two-hour workout around 6 a.m. Cardiovascular training is the primary focus of his fitness program. If a driver’s heart and lungs aren’t working at maximum efficiency, the proper amount of oxygen is not getting into the bloodstream, which can slow reactions, decision-making and lead to fatigue.

“As far as I'm concerned, a driver's heart is of equal importance as the engine of the race car,” Jackson said. “You can't start a race without one, you can't win a race with a weak one and a strong one is key to success.”

Jackson, the driver of the No. 20 Pauecon MX-5, also makes time for another one- or two-hour trip to the gym later in the day. While cardio fitness is important, strength and flexibility are two essential areas on which a race car driver must also focus. Jackson does this through rowing machines, spinning classes and a class called Barre. An exercise class inspired by ballet, Barre requires participants to use all the muscles in their body and encourages agility and smooth, fluid motions, all things that help at the helm of a race car.

Physical fitness isn’t just about spending hours at the gym or hitting the pavement for long runs that would make other athletes blush. Having an active lifestyle and taking part in a variety of physical activities is a quality alternative to being a gym rat. Kenton Koch, of Glendora, Calif., would fall into this category. As a college student, Koch gets busy with homework and other commitments that can make trips to the gym difficult. However, he does plenty to keep himself in shape to drive his Skip Barber MAZDASPEED Pro Challenge No. 63 Skip Barber Racing School SBMX-5.

“I do try and stay fit, but my training regimen may not be as consistent since I'm a full-time student and can get busy,” Koch said. “I do swim, hike, snowboard, and go to the gym at least a few times a week.

“The most important part, at least in Mazda MX-5 Cup, is to have good cardio and the ability to withstand heat. The less you worry about how hot and sweaty you are, the more consistent you will be. That also translates to making good decisions.”

For many drivers, racing was not the only sport in which they compete. Some started competing in other sports, such as football, baseball or soccer. For a variety of reasons, many athletes come to a point where they must choose a sport at which they spend a majority of their time. For Pro Challenge driver Robby Foley, of Randolph, N.J., a serious leg injury sustained while playing football forced him to make a choice regarding his athletic future. While training through an injury is tough, Foley had made the decision to not let his injury limit his on-track success behind the wheel of his No. 93 SBMX-5.

“I work to the limits of my leg injury and try to push beyond them,” Foley said. “Specifically knowing that it would most likely be hot for [Canadian Tire Motorsport Park], in the middle of the summer, I spent long periods of time outside in the 95-degree heat exercising by playing basketball or riding my bike.

“Previously being a football and baseball player, I was big into weight lifting. Now, I don't lift for power with heavy weights, but I like to keep a regular regimen of lighter weight lifting exercises. These things, in combination, help to keep my endurance up and keep me fresh throughout the race.”

For other drivers, life is enough of a workout. Between work and family responsibilities, there is oftentimes enough work done to equal an hour-long workout in the gym. John Dean, of Sebring, Fla., explains how he stays in shape to race the No. 16 Projections Research/Sick Sideways MX-5.

“I have a strict fitness regimen,” Dean said. “After I get home from working on race cars each day, I chase a super-human two-year-old around the house for a few hours. I feel like if I can keep up with him, I am way ahead of the game.”

From spending hours in the gym to chasing children at home, the drivers of the Playboy Mazda MX-5 Cup are athletes of the highest order. With cars that are very closely matched, having the slightest edge over the competition can mean the difference between winning and losing.

The drivers of the SCCA Pro Racing Playboy Mazda MX-5 Cup are slated to take to the track for Round Nine of the 2013 championship, Sept. 20-22, at the Fleet Week San Diego Coronado Speed Festival.

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