I have been a car enthusiast for years. I was a bit of a gearhead as a child, taking every opportunity to help work on my dad’s truck. My need for speed came into play when I was 8 years old, and I got a Go-Kart for Christmas. It was on our farmland where I took the straightaways at maximum speed, learned to drift through the curves, and went airborne. Oh, what fun it was!
Not much has changed over the years except that the Go-Cart is much bigger in the form of a MINI Cooper and the racetrack is no longer our farmland but a real track. I am still a gearhead and turn wrenches. I resto-mod my MINIs by adding performance upgrades designed for spirited drives such as the Tail of The Dragon, Auto-X, as well as racetracks. I have driven on tracks along the East Coast, such as Charlotte Motor Speedway (CMS) and Virginia International Raceway (VIR). Each Auto-X and racetrack presents its own set of challenges and obstacles. Through this journey, I have gotten to know and follow the John Cooper Works (JCW) MINI Racing team as well as other racing teams such as Formula 1.
I have been impressed at the level of preparation, training, modifications, teamwork, and leadership that go into forming and maintaining a race team. Not to mention the physical and mental demands on the driver and the crew. All of which are remarkably like leadership. To be successful requires grit, vision, persistence, endurance, leadership, and the right team behind you.
If you asked a racecar driver – are there any limits to what they would do to go faster? Without hesitation they will say there are little to no limits to their need for speed. It is in their DNA. They are always seeking ways to improve their performance and their car’s performance. They spend countless hours reviewing their Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) so that they can tune the car, make aerodynamic modifications, and other adjustments as needed. It is a very methodical and collaborative process year after year.
Once again paralleling leadership. We strive for excellence. We constantly evaluate KPI’s, make modifications, keep our eye on the end goal, adjust course as needed, implement new systems and technology, and collaborate with our teams in our never-ending quest to maintain a competitive edge.
One would think nothing was overlooked. Oftentimes, one critical element both in racing and in leadership has been neglected – the stamina of the driver and the leader.
To an outsider, racing looks easy. I must admit that I felt that way until I drove on a racetrack. No doubt about it, racing is tough on so many levels no matter the skill set. It is so much more than starting the engine, pushing the gas pedal, and turning the wheel.
With the advancements in technology, materials, and aerodynamic design, race cars are much faster, lighter, and more complex. They are not easy to drive. The suspensions are stiff making it challenging to turn the steering wheel and navigate the drive. There are multiple gauges to monitor. Often, the driver deciphers a constant stream of information from their communication center. There are immense forces running through the steering, brakes, and the astonishing acceleration that all batter the body.
The simplicity of the old racing days is long gone, but the driver’s stamina is more critical than ever.
The same is true in leadership. We are the change makers dealing with complex facets even more so post pandemic. Change and results occur because of relentless focus to providing inspiration, motivation, and vision, as well as leading, managing, mentoring and oftentimes in the trenches working alongside of our teams. We do this and more all the while deciphering a constant stream of information and conquering a series of daily challenges so that we can make the best decisions.
Race Car drivers must be as finely tuned as their racing engine. A physically fit driver is less likely to become fatigued and therefore less likely to make an error or have poor judgment. (1) The same is true for Leaders.
I never knew how much of the mind and body is used for racing. I saw the driver jump into the cockpit and assumed that it was a comfortable drive. Boy was I wrong! After talking with the drivers and driving myself I learned just how intense it is.
The track at CMS 1.500-mile-long quad oval track has turns banked at 24 degrees, the straightaway at 5 degrees, and top speeds reaching over 200 mph. (2) Driving at the top of the embankment requires a rate of speed. If you fail to do so, gravity takes over. The engine oil and fluids shift to the lowest point which can cause significant damage to the engine. The VIR track is 3.27 miles offering 4 course designs consisting of straightaways, twists and turns and hairpin curves with top speeds of 160 mph. (3)
Both tracks were physically and mentally challenging in separate ways. Granted I was not driving at those rates of speed, but I could barely get out of my MINI, because my upper body muscles were tensed, my legs were like JELLO, and my hands/fingers cramped in a fixed position from gripping the steering wheel so tightly. Not to mention, I was hot and dehydrated. After that, I had a better understanding of the stamina and focus of a professional racecar driver.
During every race and practice run, the driver uses his neck and trapezius muscles, biceps and forearms, abdominals, shoulder and upper back, lower back, glutes, hamstrings, and quadriceps. Not to mention the incredible amount of brain power. This is why they adhere to a performance regimen to withstand the demands placed on their mind and body. (4)
And, if you talk to anyone in leadership you will discover the intensity of this role. Repeatedly, we are challenged to transcend our limitations. We carry the weight of our organization’s challenges. Under extreme conditions our muscles are tensed. We are constantly depleting and refueling our MEP (mental, emotional, and physical) strengths daily to move past roadblocks and accomplish our objectives.
There is no formula for a Leadership Stamina Regimen (LSR) but what worked for me was adapting and customizing the physical and mental exercises that race car drivers routinely follow. The regimen will differ depending on the type of racing, just as the LSR will differ depending on the leader.
Racecar Drivers’ Performance Regimen
Warm up session
The driver has a 10–15-minute warm up session before the start of the race. This mini workout wakes up the muscles, respiratory system, and stimulates cognitive functions all geared to the mind and body into the zone and ready to perform at race time. (5)
The first thing I do in the morning is hydrate followed by a brisk walk. This wakes up my brain and body, so I am prepared to slay the day.
Drivers experience increased heart rates during a race which is why cardio is so important. Drivers may incorporate exercises such as running, swimming, jumping jacks, treadmill, and jumping rope to help condition the heart. (6)
From this one, I incorporated the treadmill. I discovered that I love jump rope just as much as I did as a child.
High-intensity interval training (HIIT)
This is one of the go-to exercises for racing drivers. These exercises involve a maximum level of output for around 60-90 seconds (about 1 and a half minutes) with a cool-down period of 30-45 seconds before pushing yourself again. Examples of HIIT training are sprints, bike riding (pedaling fast, then slow, then fast again), and burpees. (6)
I incorporated bike riding. I also added in the elliptical trainer. And much to my surprise, I love burpees.
Upper Body Strength training
These exercises are crucial in ensuring they can steer and control the car through fast and slow corners. Examples of upper body exercises can include pushups, pullups, body rows, bench presses, and shoulder presses. Another driver-specific exercise could include the V-Sit and steer movement. Ideally one must aim to complete three to five sets of any of the exercises with 10-20 in each set. (6)
I modified the traditional push-up by also adding versions specific for the female body.
Lower Body Strength training
The lower body may not seem like the most important pressing area of concern. It most certainly is given that these workouts often constitute compound movements that strengthen the core as well as provide stability to counteract the g-forces when driving. The two best examples of these movements are deadlifts and squats. The goal is to complete three to five sets with 10-20 reps. (6)
I do the squats and customize this one by adding in lunges.
A racecar driver needs a strong core to maximize their performance. Exercises include leg raises, planks, and crunches. To add an extra dimension, one could try using a medicine ball to help boost their stability as well. Ideally incorporate three sets of these exercises with 20 reps each. (6)
I do all these exercises because I find them beneficial. I customized this one by adding boxing. I think it could also be considered a total body and mind work out!
Mobility and Flexibility training
This involves stretching to improve both mobility and flexibility and all assisting in recovery.
These exercises include inchworms, mountain climbers, the world’s greatest stretch, and glute bridges. While this is not a comprehensive guide, with variations of movements and exercises daily it keeps the body in an ideal range of motion and flexibility. (6)
In total honesty, I have not incorporated any of these exercises into my routine. I customized it by adding yoga. I know it isn’t considered as mobility and flexibility training, but I think it accomplishes the same results.
It requires a significant amount of strength in the hands to be able to grip and hold on to that steering wheel. These exercises include deadlifts, farmer’s carry, reverse wrist curls, and pull-ups. These training exercises keep the driver’s brain and body agile, which plays a key role in both maintaining vehicle control and developing hand-eye coordination. (2)
Does driving enthusiastically and gripping the steering wheel everyday count? It should, LOL. On this one, I do the farmer’s carry with kettlebells or anything I have around the house. I just keep it simple.
Diet & Nutrition
It is important that the driver’s diet be extremely well-balanced and tailored and customized to the individual. Diet should provide sufficient energy, protein, carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals, and essential fatty acids. In addition to a healthy diet, supplements may be added as needed. (7)
It’s true what they say, “garbage in, garbage out”. This has probably been the most beneficial change. My stamina and focus increased considerably. During the working hours, my lunches used to be fast food and snacks were junk food afterwards feeling miserable, sluggish, and unable to focus. Now lunch usually consists of salads with protein and snacks are healthy choices like nuts/fruit. I occasionally cheat with McDonald’s and candy and without fail feel miserable.
Cognitive Focus Training
The key to success for a racing car driver is to remain calm and maintain absolute focus under extreme racing conditions, heat, and G-forces to make rapid decisions and maneuvers quickly and safely. The driver must be in the zone 100 percent for the entire race. The frequency of physical conditioning boosts their brain’s serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine levels which improves focus and attention. Visual training technology and physical training are specifically selected to improve eye-to-brain connectivity. Timed cognitive puzzles are great for improving cognitive focus. (8)
I love playing Mahjong online. And, I have found some great puzzles on Lumosity and Brainable. I also add in some of my favorite Xbox and PlayStation games that require strategic thinking.
Resisting fatigue requires endurance training as mentioned and making sure they are hydrated. Hydration is essential for drivers to keep their performance levels high throughout a race. Not only does it help them stay energized and alert, but it also helps them avoid fatigue, muscle cramps, and dizziness which could prove dangerous in an intense environment like racing. (9)
To ward off dehydration I am drinking water consistently throughout the day. I must admit it is hard to adhere to each day. I find when I don’t have the proper intake my brain is foggy, and I am tired overall and irritable. Sometimes I take advantage of Hydration and NAD IV therapy focusing on boosting energy and cellular health.
Enabling Faster Recovery
The wonderful thing about having a performance regimen is that apart from making drivers stronger, it also trains them to effectively manage downtime to let their bodies regain their strength, thus enhancing their physical capabilities. Recovery is not possible unless the body gets adequate rest. It can also be done by incorporating recovery sessions such as cryotherapy, infrared sauna, red light therapy, mild hyperbaric chambers, float tanks, and swimming. (10)
I recently joined Restore Hyper Wellness using the cryochamber, infrared sauna, and red-light therapy. I also use the float tanks at another facility in my area. I feel these have significantly helped me overall.
Just like the racecar driver, the leader is strapped in the seat for an intensely fast-moving ride, shifting through the twists and turns and hairpin curves that leadership throws our way. It is extremely taxing on our physical and mental well-being. We are “ON” even when we try to be “OFF” because we are hard-wired for results and problem-solving. We love the adrenaline rush of its ever changing and unpredictable environment.
By incorporating a Leadership Stamina Regimen into our daily routine, it can help us maintain the highest level of performance, focus and endurance that our role in leadership demands. It has been one of the best decisions that I made for my overall health and well-being personally and professionally as well as in motorsports. And I continue to love the drive of leadership just as much as modified MINI.