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Q. What's the biggest misconception about racecar drivers?
A. That we're not athletes -- that driving a 1550-pound car at 230 mph isn't athletic. The constant G-forces you feel while driving around turns are four times your body weight -- and a race can last for as long as two and half hours! Plus, your heart rate remains elevated at about 85 percent of its maximum rate, which qualifies as high-intensity cardio. You need a strong heart, core, and upper body in order to maintain control of the vehicle.
Q. How do you prepare your body for a race?
A. I work with a trainer five days a week for about an hour daily. We do a circuit that combines cardio, such as an interval run at 7.5 mph for one minute, core work, such as holding a series of front and side planks and Pilates boat positions for 30 seconds each, followed by a strength-training exercise that targets the muscles in my neck and shoulders that help stabilize my head during a race. My favorite move: While I'm sitting in a chair, my trainer loops a resistance band around my forehead and pulls the other end of the band, holding it for 30 seconds. We do 8 reps in all directions. You can also try it without a band by simply pressing on all sides of your head and holding each position for 30 seconds.
Q. How has racecar driving made you a better athlete?
A. It's made me more aware of my physicality and how to fine-tune my performance. Racing is very technical and requires an attention to detail. There are a thousand ways to tinker with a car to make it faster or lighter. The same goes for your body. When I'm racing, if I feel weakness in my left shoulder or tightening in my right triceps, I know to go back into the gym to work those specific muscles.
Q. Even if you race your best, many factors beyond your control can affect the outcome. How do you handle that inconsistency?
A. A big part of racing is being able to anticipate what might happen and then acting accordingly -- within seconds. In order to do that, you have to be very aware of what's going on around you, and you must also be able to respond using sound judgment, rather than letting your emotions rule. It's easier to apply problem-solving skills on the track if you practice them in your personal life as well. Try to look at every situation through multiple points of view, assess the information at hand without bias, and always stay calm.
Q. What has being a pro athlete taught you about life?
A. You must set goals. In November, I train for a race that's in March. Having that objective in mind helps me overcome obstacles, even if the obstacle is my own attitude about racing that day. When you know what you're fighting for, and methodically move toward it, no matter what stands in your way, you'll eventually get there.
Originally published on FitnessMagazine.com, June 2010.