Fitness Focus—Nobody Likes a Pain in the Neck!



      Are race car drivers athletes? You bet! Anyone who’s spent some time behind the wheel on the racetrack can certainly tell you that you’ll be worn out at the end of a long day. Elevated heart rate, sweat rate, arm pump and more all contribute to fatigue. In this installment, we’ll focus on the neck muscles and the beating they take on the race track.

    In physical terms, the average head and helmet weigh about 15 pounds. If your car can generate 1 G of cornering force that means that you’re experiencing that same amount of weight pushing on the side of your head. There are plenty of street cars sold today that can generate that kind of force. As you move into race cars with racing-slick tires, cornering forces shoot up. Add wing and downforce and now the forces jump even higher. But wait there’s more. Add in some banking to those corners and you have an incredible strain that no driver can withstand over a long time. To make it more challenging, when you do have a car with significant downforce, those cars are also very stiffly sprung. Driving over bumps in the middle of corners jolt the neck and generate peak loads of neck strain. Current Indy cars can exceed 5 Gs sustained at oval tracks. That’s the equivalent of laying on your side and having a 75 pound person standing on your head!

     How do the drivers train for this? Fortunately there are machines in the gym to do this. Forward and backward movements prepare the neck for braking and acceleration forces while side-to-sid training is for the turns. Some machines use weighted plates while others use a shock absorber set up. Additionally, a personal trainer can hold one end of a neck harness and pull in different directions while the driver is working to withstand those forces. Furthermore, the trainer can add in vibrational shock to simulate the bumps in the corners. There are also secondary surroundig muscles that come into play however a well-planned workout routine will address those to help the driver withstand the abuse.

     There’s no substitute for actually driving, however that would cost thousands of dollars per day. Some drivers own go-karts and can pound laps all day for a much lower cost and that can certainly help. If you’re planning on taking up racing, prepare a bit first with some isometric exercises at home.

     After all, nobody likes a pain in the neck!


Copyright © 2021 Larry Mason

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Heart Rate Training for Motorsports Part II



In the last blog, we discussed the basics of how the monitors work and how you can use them in your race car to track where your heart rate goes during a race. Today, we’ll take a closer look at training zones and actual heart rate data.

Once you’ve found your maximum heart rate, you can then start looking at training zones with zone 1 being the easiest and zone 5 the hardest. The chart below shows the different zones graphically as a percentage of your maximum heart rate.

fullsizeoutput 7                    Heart rate training zones courtesy of Polar


Taking a look at my HR data from a previous race (below), you can see that the heart rate spikes and falls with different points in time. From sitting on the grid, it’s relatively calm, but then jumps up for the warm-up laps. When the green flag drops, the HR spikes up again and stays elevated until a full course caution comes out where it drops again. At the re-start, my HR jumps up again and averages about 150 bpm during the green flag laps. Right before the checkered flag my HR peaks at 168 bpm where I’m battling for a podium position. After the checkered flag you can see the HR plummet as the race is over.


fullsizeoutput 8


  For the majority of the time, I’m racing in the “Hard” zone or zone 4. This means that my cardiovascular exercise routine outside the car should also be focused at this intensity. There is a popular type of training these days known as HIIT, or High Intensity Interval Training. This is where you train in zone 5 and then drop down to zones 1 or 2 to recover and keep repeating for the duration of your workout. Keep in mind that this type of training isn’t for everyone, but in some cases this could be a valuable way to simulate the spikes of green flag versus caution flag racing and conditions your body to be able to accept the higher heart rates without too much fatigue.

  The bottom line of measuring and training with heart rate is to have the physical stamina to withstand the rigors of racing. This way your brain is still focused on racing and not on how tired and out of breath you are!


Note: Before beginning any fitness program, obtain your medical doctor’s clearance.

Larry Mason is an ACE-certified personal trainer and a brand ambassador for Polar. He has been training and racing with Polar heart rate monitors since 1994. He’s won multiple auto racing championships in many different classes of competition. He competes in sprint triathlons to stay in shape for auto racing. He can be found teaching multiple programs at Fast Lane Racing School.

Copyright © 2021 Larry Mason

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Vision Up!



      Vision up. Eyes up. High horizon. These are words you’ll typically hear your instructor say to you from the beginning ‘till the end of your time at Fast Lane Racing School. The reason being is that by looking far ahead, you can buy yourself something priceless – time! Whether you’re enrolled in the Defensive Driving Academy, High Performance or SCCA, Executive Protection or EVOC law enforcement class, the “vision up” mantra applies.

     As a wise old sage once said, “human beings are designed to see things from the top down, not from the bottom up.” With that in mind, by looking way ahead, you’re buying yourself time for what’s coming up next. For example, most drivers on the street fall into the bad habit of driving off of the rear bumper of the car in front of them instead of looking many vehicles ahead. When it comes to accordion-like slowing and stopping, if that driver isn’t looking far enough ahead, that will inevitably lead to a rear end collision. I’ve seen “accidents” (which should correctly be called crashes) like this many times. The reason it’s a crash, is that this incident was avoidable if only the person would’ve been looking far ahead and anticipated what was developing.

     This brings us to another point. You should always be aware of your surroundings. Check your mirrors at least every 8-10 seconds so that you give yourself an “out” just in case something suddenly comes up. By anticipating what could go wrong and having plans in place to react and avoid these incidents, you’re proactively being a defensive driver. This also works on the race track. If the driver in front of you is consistently early apexing and running out of room on the exit, sooner or later they’re likely to spin in front of you. Where are you going to place your car to get out of that situation?

     Speaking of the track, the good habit of having your vision up will lead to a lot less drama when trying to get up to speed. The further you look ahead, the less likely the corner is going to catch you in the wrong position on track. Speaking of position, let’s take a look at where your eyes should be focused. When approaching a corner, you’ll first want to look for your braking point. From there a re-focus to turn-in point, next the apex, and finally the track out point. Of course you’ll also want to look through the entire corner to know what’s coming up next. Warm-up and cool down laps are also critical to gather extra visual information such as where all the corner worker stations are, safe places to pull over in case of a mechanical situation, and also what are the hazards of dropping a wheel off. If you’re racing on a street course, there is no dropping of wheels, only tearing them off against a concrete barrier.

     Some corners are blind and/or cresting over a hill. Take your time the first few times through and you’ll develop a feel for where you need to place your car for success. Knowing where to place the car with the proper angle of attack will have you gaining time on less experienced drivers. Finally, coach yourself to constantly keep your vision up. You’ll find that it’s much easier to get into a rhythm on the track and it will also help keep you relaxed behind the wheel.

   Vision up!

Copyright © 2021 Larry Mason



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Heart Rate Training for Motorsports


  Auto racing has always been a sport known for pushing the limits to the extreme to gain a winning advantage. In today’s arena, it’s all about data. Engineers track vehicle speed, rpm, g-force and a multitude of other data to help improve the set-up of the car to ultimately lead the driver to a quicker lap time. But what about the driver? For less than you might think we can track the driver’s heart rate during competition. The goal is to help the driver physically train at the proper intensity outside the car to prepare for greater success on the track. In Dr. Harlen Hunter’s book Motorsports Medicine, he asks the questions, “Ever notice that the last set of tires put on a race car during a long race tends to be the worst set of the day? Ever wonder how many of the disappointing finishes blamed on used-up tires really result from used-up drivers?” Sometimes we get so caught up on the race car prep side of things that we forget about “tuning up” the driver.

    Numerous studies have proven that race car drivers are athletes based on heart rate, g-force, heat and other factors encountered inside the car. Not only are the consequences severe if the driver makes a mistake, but the associated costs are as well. Therefore, let’s take a closer look at how and why we should get data and what to do with it once we have it.

  There are numerous heart rate monitors available in the marketplace. Polar has led the way in technological innovations and heart rate monitors since 1977. The traditional monitor itself is comprised of a chest strap transmitter and wristwatch receiver/monitor. The chest strap transmits ECG accurate data to the receiver whereby it can be displayed as heart rate in beats per minute (bpm), percentage of maximum heart rate, or specific training zone. Today’s monitors are optically activated either on the watch itself or via an arm strap. 

  The old standby rule of thumb to calculate max heart rate is 220 minus your age for males and 226 minus your age for females. However this number can vary widely based on a number of individual factors including current state of fitness, prescription drugs being taken, etc. The best (and safest) way
to find your maximum heart rate is to have a VO2 Max test done at a facility with advanced cardiac life support personnel and equipment on hand.

  To measure your heart rate while racing, simply record your session on your monitor and look at/download the data after the race. As cool and calm as you think you might be behind the wheel, you may find that your heart rate is much higher than you ever would have thought. Once you’ve seen the
results, then this gives you a starting point to develop a training plan away from the race track to be better prepared for your next event.

  In the next installment, we’ll take a look at some actual in-car heart rate data and see how that varies
during a race.


 Larry Mason is an ACE-certified personal trainer and a brand ambassador for Polar. He has been training and racing with Polar heart rate monitors since 1994. He’s won multiple auto racing championships in many different classes of competition. He competes in sprint triathlons to stay in shape for auto racing. He can be found teaching multiple programs at Fast Lane Racing School.

Copyright © 2021 By Larry Mason - Instuctor, FastLane Racing School

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