The old question of whether racing drivers are athletes ought to have been settled by now. Gone are the days when some of NASCAR’s best used to light up a cigarette during caution periods and drivers were out of shape. These days, training is everything in order to get every last bit of performance out of the driver. Now, in the off-season, many drivers are thinking hard about fitness to get ready for 2014.
While fitness is especially important for endurance drivers, it’s key for every racer. The drivers in the SCCA Pro Racing Playboy Mazda MX-5 Cup are no different. Most of them engage in rigorous physical training away from the track, and some are active in endurance sports such as marathon running or triathlon.
George Jackson, driver of the No. 20 Pauecon MX-5 this past season, starts most days with a two-hour workout concentrating on cardiovascular training. He uses rowing machines, spinning classes and a fitness class called Barre, inspired by ballet, to get the job done.
“As far as I’m concerned, a driver’s heart is of equal importance as the engine of the race car,” says Jackson. “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.”
Some drivers have to find time to exercise when they can. A full-time college student, Kenton Koch is one of those. But that doesn’t mean he uses his schedule as an excuse to shirk off fitness.
“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,” says the 2013 Skip Barber MAZDASPEED Pro Challenge champion. “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 into making good decisions.”
Rob Foley, who drove the No. 93 SBMX-5 in 2013, started his athletic career as a football player, but a leg injury forced him to pursue other sporting outlets. Choosing racing also changed the way he trained. While he also spends a lot of time playing basketball or cycling in the heat to prepare for racing, he also finds some time for the gym.
“Previously being a football and baseball player, I was big into weight lifting,” he explains. “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.”
In a spec series like the Mazda MX-5 Cup, it’s all up to the driver. Any edge the driver can find is an advantage over his or her competitors. Being physically fit is one more way to find that edge.