Most people see a racing driver navigating a bend and think, “I could do that.” But what really goes into performing that turn?
- What makes a great race car driver?
- Why does it seem like you see more portly athletes in sports like baseball, football, and golf than you do racing?
- If soccer players injury their ACLs and basketball players injure their ankles, where on the body is a driver most prone to get a sports injury?
Well the reason why drivers need athletic bodies is pretty obvious to anyone who takes a ride in a race car. Trying to navigate a turn under high g-forces requires muscle. Maintaining a fast reaction time at high speed in a constantly vibrating car requires a mental focus that leans heavily on your physical conditioning. Let’s break it down.
Being in a race is like being a pressure cooker. The heat alone is nauseating. Drivers need to maintain at least 60ml of oxygen in their lungs to make sure they are in control of the steering. While you do go faster in a private jet there isn’t nearly as many things to hit.
The forces of gravity affect the neck most. A driver’s body is demanding he protect his neck while his life actually depends on keeping the car on the road. Blood is forced up into the brain or down into the feet at different points during a turn. Although a system of cords, nicknamed “bungee cords” inside the helmet try to limit the actual strain on a driver’s neck when a car goes round a corner various lateral and latitudinal forces play havoc on the man trying to master the machine.
It’s more than skill at the wheel that keeps a driver alive and in first place. It’s the ability to notice and react to the smallest item on the track, all while tracking what the pit is feeding in his ear piece. This takes a rare combination of neurological system and reflexes.
You’d think that the least worked part of a drivers sitting body are the legs. Until you realize that the left leg has to control the brake and the right leg has to control the throttle. Imagine balancing on your posterior and stabilizing with your stomach and moving your legs to work brake and gas in rapid alternation. But since more power is needed to deal with brake than the throttle this creates an imbalance. It wouldn’t be easy to do if all you had to do was tap a button with your big toe, but a driver must actually judge the right amount of pressure to apply to either foot at the right moment. It’s all about judging it right, every few seconds, under extreme pressure.
The shoulders need to be raised in order to sit upright in the car. Although this sounds obvious, the force from the rest of the car increases the tension in this area.
Even in go-kart racing, where most drivers start fitness training is a factor in winning. All car racing involves g-forces and vibrations which a body must train for.
Every sport requires athletic training and favors one body type over others. For racing it’s about being as skinny as possible. Because of the G-force issue, their BMI or Body Mass Index is constantly checked to see if they aren’t carrying excess weight. The diet is described as strict and hard. Formula One even created rules for a minimum weight this year.
Where many athletes spend a lot of time in the gym there is usually some flexibility in style. A swimmer for example, may need to deal with drag as a result of bulking up, but may feel the power from the extra muscles justifies it. There are specific gym activities racers cannot do, muscle weighs more than fat and too much muscle will take you out of the race. Some people’s natural weight, even when healthy makes it impossible for them to be a top racer. It takes a skinny frame and high power-per-pound capability. It can be easier to start with a naturally skinny person and add muscle.