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