"There is nothing you can do to your car to make it worth more money on
a racetrack” is a common expression in the pit lane at Mosport Raceway.
“There is nothing you can do to your body to make it healthier in a
racecar on a racetrack” should be said immediately afterwards.
"There is nothing you can do to your car to make it worth more money on a racetrack” is a common expression in the pit lane at Mosport Raceway. “There is nothing you can do to your body to make it healthier in a racecar on a racetrack” should be said immediately afterwards.
High Performance Driving Events (HPDEs), or advanced driving schools, are becoming more and more popular all over North America. Anyone with a car, and the desire, can test their limits and improve their driving skills at any number of schools. Having personally attended more than 30 HPDEs in the last five years, I often see thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours invested in a car, with little attention paid to the most important part – the nut behind the steering wheel.
Physical conditioning of the driver for advanced driving – especially racing – whether go-karting, taking your family car to a development track or open-wheel formula racing, is the most important and vital component to improving skill, endurance and, ultimately, speed.
Anyone who has not driven a car near its limit will completely underestimate the conditions a driver must tolerate on the track. Sustained high g-forces, thrashing of the driver from side to side, very high temperatures, vibrations of the engine, suspension being transmitted through the spine, legs, arms and ultimately the head, and maintaining peak concentration levels, are exhausting. I have seen many drivers exit their cars red-faced, dripping with sweat – some even fall asleep immediately after a 20-minute lesson in their family sedan!
As with any conditioning program, the first step is goal setting. As with any athlete, the driver may want to have more energy, endurance, strength or just look better. It is not my intent to lay out a specific training regime for your patients here, but to provide guidance that would benefit anyone from the casual HPDE student, to the teen who wants to start a racing career.
Robert Metcalf, racecar driver and coach, recommends that if the person is not conditioned, “a general conditioning program should be followed, stepping up to a strength-training workout when ready, and then a power/speed workout.” 1
In addition to lessened injuries in the case of an accident, Metcalf recommends cardiovascular conditioning and several muscle groups to be trained to improve co-ordination, reaction time, alertness, endurance, flexibility, respiration and heat tolerance.1
Naturally strengthening cervical and core musculature would be of benefit to any athlete, particularly the driver, given high lateral loads placed on the head during cornering. A driver’s head with his helmet can weigh up to nine kilograms (20 pounds), and with even just one g of cornering force, this adds up to nine kilograms of force applied to the neck in a manner that few are accustomed to. Some high-performance cars can produce two to four g of load bringing their head weight up to 36 kilograms (80 pounds). Few athletes are accustomed to loads like this.
The car is merely the tool a driver uses to win races, go fast, or just have fun. However, any experienced driver would tell you that tuning the driver will pay more dividends than increasing the horsepower of the car.
Mark Martin, NASCAR driver and fitness expert, and John Comereski M.A.T. – exercise physiologist – have co-authored Strength Training for Performance Driving.2 This book is an essential addition to the library of anyone wishing to start a career in racing, or just improve the fun they have with their hobby.
Although it may seem rudimentary, nutrition plays a vital role in the effectiveness of a driver at a driving school or during a race. From personal experience on the track, I can say that my diet before, and during, a day at the track has a profound impact on my ability to drive at the limit. I would like to offer the following excerpt from Strength Training:
“In terms of nutrition, most Formula One drivers control their diets in much the same way as track and field athletes, carefully regulating the amount of carbohydrate and protein that they absorb. During the race weekends most drivers will be seen eating pasta or other carbohydrate-rich foods to provide energy and to give the all-important stamina for the race itself. It is also vitally important that drivers take in large amounts of water before the race, even if they do not feel thirsty. Failure to do so could bring on dehydration through sweating – not surprising given that the physical endurance required to drive a Formula One race is not dissimilar to that required to run a marathon.”3
While only a select few make it to the pinnacle of driving found at Formula One, the driver’s nutrition will play a role in:
Fat Loss – easier and cheaper to remove weight from the driver versus the car,
Increasing Strength – protein is vital for muscle development,
Energy – low glycemic index foods will build glycogen stores, and higher GI ratings the day of the school or race improve concentration and endurance,
Mental Performance – as blood sugar drops when driving at speed, neurological impulses slow, causing impaired focus and concentration, carbohydrates are needed to maintain attention levels and prevent fatigue,
Recovery from Exercise and Injury – protein and glycogen must be replenished.
Simply put, if you, or a patient, plan to even casually attend a driving school, a proper diet of complex carbohydrates, with proteins and fats, consumed the days before and of the event is essential to your ability to concentrate, have fun and be safe.
Chiropractors at the track
Tiger Woods, Lance Armstrong and many others have been quoted as expressing how vital chiropractic is to their training and wellness regimen. Chiropractors are becoming an essential component to the professional and elite athlete’s wellness program.
Athletes are no longer just seeking out preventive and rehabilitative benefits, but looking for ways to create health and enhance performance. This is no less true of high-performance drivers.
The stresses placed on the spine and nervous system are immense when driving at track pace. Even in the absence of a trip into the wall, or an accident with another car, the injuries, both symptomatic and sub-clinical, encountered trackside are too numerous to list. From a prevention and recovery standpoint, adjusting drivers before, during and after an event would be immensely beneficial to them.
Imagine you are driving 140 kilometres per hour around a downhill corner with a tension headache or chronic pain. Put another driver, who has been adjusted regularly, in the same car at the same race. (Races are won by 10ths of a second per lap.) Who would have the advantage? If, through the course of a normal session, the driver’s existing subluxations are aggravated, the function of the nervous system is reduced, and so is the driver’s performance.
Allow me to offer another excerpt, this time, from the American Journal of Pain Management:
“Posture affects and moderates every physiological function, from breathing to nervous system function, and despite the considerable evidence that posture affects physiology and function, the significant influence of posture on health is not addressed by most physicians.”4
Recently U.S. Amateur Wrestling (AW) and Maximized Living established a Wellness Advisory Council involving certified doctors who can provide chiropractic, nutrition and comprehensive wellness programs, and care, to U.S. AW athletes who are preparing for national and international competition. Their model is designed to build and create health, which is essential to any athlete of any sport or calibre.
In order to achieve peak performance, this is exactly what a driver requires. A driver must be able to concentrate intensely, with perfect focus for 20 minutes – at the amateur driving school level – to hours at a time, in an endurance race. The nervous system is at the core of their ability to do so. Reaction times, mental endurance, and physical stamina must be at their peak. While the body of research on the neurological benefits from adjustments is growing, the advantages of keeping the nervous system clear and functioning at its peak are clear to chiropractors and athletes alike.5,6,7,8,9
I sincerely feel that the drivers of the American Le Mans series who drive 12- 24-hour-long races need chiropractic in their pit lane. Come to think of it, after 20 minutes on the track at Mosport, so do I. •
Canadian Chiropractor would like to thank Stuart Sherman, Track Chair and Board Member for BMW Club, Canada, President of Canadian Motorsport Hall of Fame and instructor for Ferrari, BMW, Hanson International and Apex Driving Schools, for suggesting an article regarding chiropractic for the performance driver. (Sherman also provided photographs for this piece.) For more information regarding driving on the track, Stuart Sherman can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
- The Successful Race Car Driver: A Career Development Handbook by Robert Metcalf. Edition: illustrated. Published by SAE, 1999, p. 14.
- Strength Trainng for Performance Driving (paperback) by Mark Martin, Published by Motorbooks, January 1994.
- Lennon, J, PhD. January 1994, American Journal of Pain Management.
- Athletic Performance and Physiological Measures in Baseball Players Following Upper Cervical Chiropractic Care: A pilot study. Jon Schwartzbauer, DC; Jason Kolher, Mitzi Schwartzbauer, DC, John Hart, DC, John Zhang, MD, PhD Journal of Vertebral Subluxation Research, Vol. 1. No. 4. 1997.
- Effects of Pre-event Manipulation on Jump Height and Running Velocity. I. Shrier, D. Macdonald, and G. Uchaczz. Clin J Sport Med, Vol. 16, No. 2, March 2006.
- Chiropractic effects on athletic ability. Lauro A, and Mouch B. Chiropractic: The Journal of Chiropractic Research and Clinical Investigation. 1991; 6: 84-87.
- Chiropractic Effects of Athletic Ability. Lauro, A. and Mouch B. The Journal of Chiropractic Research and Clinical Investigation. 1991, pp. 84-87.
- Use of a mental rotation reaction time to measure the effects of upper-cervical adjustments on reaction time. Kelly DD, Murphy BA, Backhouse DP, J Manipulative Physio-logic Therapeutics. 2000 May; 23(4):246-51.
Dr. Sean Batte, owns Forest City Family Chiropractic, in London, Ontario. He is a graduate of Logan College of Chiropractic, and holds a master of science in medical
biophysics, bachelor of human biology, and bachelor of Science in biophysics. He is a certified Maximized Living Wellness mentor. www.drbatte.com
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