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How NASCAR Drivers Cross Train in the Offseason: Go-Karts

Dwight Drum@@racetakeCorrespondent IIIJune 28, 2010

LOUDON, NH - JUNE 27:  Kasey Kahne blows his engine of the #9 Budweiser Ford during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series LENOX Industrial Tools 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on June 27, 2010 in Loudon, New Hampshire.  (Photo by Drew Hallowell/Getty Images for NASCAR)
Drew Hallowell/Getty Images

Many NASCAR and NHRA drivers devote training time to the gym and other forms of exercise to stay fit for their jobs as race car drivers. When they are not racing their normal high-powered machines many find other ways to hone their skills. 

NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson is known to pile on sweat suits and ride a mountain bike many miles during summer days to stay fit for those hot hours during every race.

Jamie McMurray grew up racing go-karts and still gets in the tiny fast machines when not racing in the Sprint Cup Series. 

“I do go-kart racing, first off, because I get to do it with my dad,” McMurray said. “But I love racing go-karts. My favorite part of the go-karting is to go and see a five-year-old kid that weighs 60 pounds or 40 pounds with a 10-pound helmet on his head. I remember those days. I watch them with their dads, kind of see everything, what's going on. It's fun. I mean, that's why I do that.”

NASCAR's McMurray and A.J. Allmendinger are regular competitors in the December PRI Trade Show CKI All-Star Karting Classic in Orlando, Fla., during the off-season.

Allmendinger gets into a go-cart whenever he can to augment his physical regimen and claims that go-kart racing on road course tracks is better exercise training than gym work. Still when he arrives at the PRI Trade Show the CKI event includes many IndyCar drivers and the proposed fun race gets serious. 

“You think it’s fun, but you show up and it’s no fun,” Allmendinger said. “You can race against each other hard. We all race each other in go-karts. We grew up doing this. There’s no money on the line, there’s no points. You got the biggest thing on the line and that’s pride. Because of that it makes it no fun unless you win.”

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On the surface one might think that drag racers don’t need a lot of endurance to run five and six seconds at 200 to 300 plus mph. Yet sudden accelerating and decelerating G-forces plus adrenaline rushes often take their breath away. Some take fast naps between runs to calm their bodies.

John Force has had to increase his gym work to hours a day after rehabilitating from serious leg injuries. He has to stay fit to keep up with younger competitors.

Pro Mod driver Troy Coughlin grew up drag racing family and knows to be competitive you’ve got to keep an edge. 

Drag racing champion Troy Coughlin Sr. prepared for the Get Screened America Pro Mod Drag Racing Series race in Norwalk, Ohio, by spending a day tuning up his driving skills at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course and School in Lexington, Ohio.

Although it may seem odd that a straight-line professional would practice on a road course, Coughlin, the reigning NMCA Pro Street champion says the knowledge he gained will serve him well.

"One thing you learn very quickly going around a road course is patience," Coughlin said. "You can't bully your car and push it to the extreme every turn or you're going to end up in the gravel. You want to be aggressive, but you must stay in control.

"On so many levels, driving a Pro Mod car requires the same discipline. When you launch the car and the front wheels are in the air and you feel that you may not be going perfectly straight, the natural reaction is to do something to correct the situation. The reality is you can't drive the car when the front wheels are up so what you need to do is relax, let the car settle down, and then drive it from there."

Aside from zipping around the course in a race-ready Acura RSX, Coughlin spent time on the skid pad where instructors can mechanically throw the balance of a car off to test the driver's ability to maintain control.

"Pro Mod cars are always on the edge so being able to keep your composure under pressure can be critical," Coughlin said. "The skid pad was perfect for practicing that control. It was definitely time well spent."

Coughlin hopes to use the information he gained at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car School in the Get Screened America Pro Mod Drag Racing Series.

It seems that whether going left, right or straight in a race car, physical fitness can be enhanced by seat time outside the prime cockpit.

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