If you’re not first, you’re last. It’s a harsh reality of the racing world but one that drivers live by. And in a world where thousandths of a second can mean the difference between winning and losing, everybody is looking for an edge.
This means the daily life of an IndyCar racer is all about doing enough to increase that advantage. Whether that is improving their skills, their physical form or their mental condition, everybody who is anybody is focusing on the small stuff.
Even harder still, the sport’s true elite need to balance all this with their many public appearances and media commitments. After a long day sweating inside a helmet on a hot track while sitting in a tiny car for hours, the last thing most want to do is talk politely to a local radio station. But promotion is a part of the business and all must take it seriously to attract the sponsors and fans that make IndyCar racing such a lucrative, popular and unique sport.
But after the cameras are shut off and the bright lights go out, it’s time to focus on the core tenets of the craft. This is how the prize money is truly made. Here’s how drivers make it on a day-to-day basis.
Stay on Course
Champions don’t only show up on race day. Practice makes perfect. World-class drivers get in as many laps as they can in the days between competitions.
Sometimes this can be easy, but other times the rigors of the chase mean that events come fast and furious. Long stretches with no days off are common. This means that scheduling track time and making sure the car is in tip-top condition are paramount. Losing even a few hours on a day when you’re supposed to be training is a setback that can cost untold winnings on the day of the race.
People who think IndyCar racers are just steering a vehicle are missing the point. While this isn’t football or boxing, a race is a test of endurance and reflexes as much as it is about talent. These contests require hours of concentration, focus and optimal use of your whole body to help push a high-octane machine from Point A to Point B. And the best driver in the world wouldn’t even last half a race if he is not in peak physical condition.
So just like Olympic athletes or players in the National Basketball Association, drivers hit the gym — and hard. Since they are often on the road away from their hometown gym, they need to go somewhere nearby with world-class amenities and facilities to get in a lifting session or some cardio on the go.
Stay Well Rested
In addition to honing their skills and maintaining their body, the best IndyCar racers prioritize their mental state. There is no substitute for rest and relaxation, and the studies showing how much sleep deprivation can affect motor skills and reaction time are heeded by top drivers.
If getting just six hours of sleep can be scientifically proven to increase the accident rate for even a mom on her way to work, just imagine how detrimental it can be to someone who pins their livelihood — and often their whole identity — to beating others on the track. Especially in the days leading up to a major race, there may be nothing more important to a driver than getting a good night of Zs.
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