Baltimore’s most famous race is the Preakness. But with the inaugural Grand Prix this weekend, the city will witness a very different kind of horsepower. The three-day event is the first of its kind in the region, and a chance for car-racing fans to get an up-close look at some of the fastest folks in the sport. To turn downtown streets into a two-mile track suitable for cars zooming at speeds of 150 mph took a lot of time and effort.
The same was required on the part of the drivers in those cars, according to Jim Leo, owner of Pit Fit Training, an Indianapolis gym that specializes in keeping drivers and pit crews in good shape. “If a driver shows up and halfway into the race isn’t able to drive, he’s letting down his team and the fans,” says Leo, who’s worked with about 20 of the competitors at this weekend’s events.
Writes for the MisFits column.
The only way to keep up your stamina when you’re behind the wheel is to stay in shape. For drivers, that means working some muscles most of us don’t think of, including the neck. “It’s not like you go to the beach to show off how muscular your neck is,” Leo says. But it takes a beating when you’re whipping around turns and braking quickly, so drivers often use a device called a neck training hat, which resembles a beanie and can be attached to pulleys and weights. If you’re looking to buff up your neck at home, Leo suggests hanging over the edge of a bench while laying on your side or back. You’ll feel the burn just keeping your neck steady, or you can do “yes, no” drills.
When it comes to core training, the key is stabilization. “We don’t have any use for crunches,” says Leo, who explains that drivers who aren’t able to absorb G-forces face a greater risk of injury. He has them stand on wobbly surfaces while catching medicine balls and swinging kettlebells. Another option is to stand on one foot, hold a dumbbell on the same side of the body and perform overhead shoulder presses, biceps curls and lateral raises.
For both drivers and their pit crews, the most critical skill is speed. To quicken reaction times, Leo likes to have his clients hold a tennis ball in front of them in one hand, while keeping the other behind their backs. Then they have to let go of the ball and catch it with that back hand. To more closely mimic the conditions of racing, he’ll have them perform this drill in the middle of a cardio interval when their heart rates are up. “As you get fatigued, your reaction time increases,” Leo says. But with proper training, he adds, you can improve your reflexes, which should help whether you’re driving in the Grand Prix or just on the Capital Beltway.
Q&A with Tony Kanaan
Before Tony Kanaan zips around the track at the Baltimore Grand Prix this weekend, the 36-year-old Brazilian race-car driver plans to log plenty of mileage in Charm City — on foot. The 2004 IndyCar Series champion isn’t just gearing up for the final events of the racing season. He’s also prepping to head to Kailua-Kona, Hawaii, next month for his first Ironman triathlon. “And last,” vows Kanaan, who’s been firing on all cylinders to get ready for the 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike ride and 26.2-mile run. Here’s an edited excerpt of what he had to say about training, racing and crashing.