One of the worst things you can face in life is not being ready when a big opportunity shows up. In the sport of racing, one of the biggest day-to-day challenges for an up-and-coming driver is to be totally prepared, when the next opportunity knocks. You never know when you’ll get the call to go race for a team that needs you on short notice. The call could come today, tomorrow, or a year from now, so drivers need to constantly push and prepare themselves, physically and mentally—every day.
Physical strength is only half the battle
Physical strength can be extremely hard to build and keep, because it’s not like you are training to run a marathon or compete in other sports. The demands of racing are like nothing else. I was lucky to grow up playing competitive sports like basketball and soccer, and that background has definitely helped me to push myself to a higher level for the driving I do today. Racing is an extremely hard sport to prepare your body for because of the sustained amount of stress you’re subjected to for long periods of time in extreme conditions.
Inside the cockpit, temperatures can reach as high as 130+ degrees Fahrenheit, so it’s vital for drivers to prepare their bodies to deliver peak performance no matter how tough the environment. We also have to endure the high g-forces through every corner. I remember my very first lap at Daytona during the ARCA test, when the g-forces hit my body, it pretty much felt like a huge drop on a rollercoaster where you feel like you are almost sitting on your heart. The g-forces are constantly pulling on your body through every corner, so you have to train yourself to be able to withstand the heavy forces for long periods of time without tiring out.
Mental strength is actually the harder battle
Anyone who competes in high level sport has had to learn to build mental strength, but for drivers, the challenge is on an entirely different level. It’s one thing to train your body to perform under physically stressful conditions, but when your mental toughness has to match it for a sustained test of endurance like a two-plus hour race, all the pieces you have to fit together perfectly.
As drivers, we focus a lot on reaction time training, using tools like reaction game devices and light walls, where you basically play “Wack-A-Mole” with lights. If I could have it my way, I would just use a “Bop It”, but I know the more precise the training, the better the results.
Mental “strength” ranges from the basics of building and sustaining confidence, to being able to make split-second decisions or relay key information under complex stresses. As a driver the unknown or unproven can be the most stressful because although you may have talent and ability, sometimes your equipment is not up for the task.
I struggled a lot in my early years because my small family, late model team operated on a lean budget and it was up to me to find extra speed in the shop. I would spend long pre-race hours in the shop doing everything I could, but our best finishes would only just crack the top 10. Even though I would often ask myself; is it the car or is it me?, I can look back now and see how stout the competition was every week, and look at those top 10s as a big accomplishment considering all the elements. It was never easy but those race experiences did help me build confidence as a complete driver.
Confidence is a major component of mental strength for a driver. When people ask me if I ever get nervous, I tell them yes, I’m human, but when the engines fire, it’s game-on, and I am ready to go to work.
As a driver, I am constantly preparing for the next opportunity, because it’s extremely important that I am always at my peak mentally and physically to take on any job. It’s hard to do this in any walk of life, but I have found that when you work hard and prepare for as much as possible, you won’t be surprised when you achieve the impossible.