Rumors are something that can get out of hand quickly. Somebody says something and then they tell someone, and then that someone else tells it a little bit different, and the next person tells it a little bit different. Pretty soon, it sounds like the world’s going to end.
What do drivers do when nature calls?
That’s one of the most common questions, if not the number one question, that race fans ask about. Well, you learn—sometimes the hard way. I know I did.
What you learn is that you have to stop drinking fluids and you learn what you can eat race morning. Sometimes you get an upset stomach or even worse. If, per chance, you have to end up going to the bathroom, just think about it…
You’re in a seat; it’s really tight, made to fit to your body. You’re pretty much squeezed together with the seat belts and shoulder belts pulled as about tight as you can get them. For me, and I only speak for myself, it’s impossible for me to go to the bathroom in that situation and environment.
Now I’ve had to go to the bathroom before; once was at Pocono Raceway when the race was under the red flag. We stopped on the back straightaway before the halfway mark. I undid the seat belts, wiggled around a little bit, and went to the bathroom. Of course, I told the crew what I had done, and told them I would clean anything up if it needed my attention.
It seems like every time there’s a red flag, or as soon as the race ends and you undo the seat belts, that’s when the urge comes.
But the last thing a driver does before he gets in the car is go to the restroom. We’ve learned so much about hydration and the products to use to hydrate prior to a race. It isn’t quite as big of a deal as it used to be back in the day.
We have really good electrolyte drinks, and if you use them prior to a race, you don’t have to drink quite as much fluids before climbing into the racecar.
Are drivers athletes?
Are cricket players athletes? How about ping pong players? Well, let’s be clear for starters. I’d have trouble playing those as well as having the endurance to play those games.
Athletes have different requirements within their respective sports in order to be successful at them. In auto racing, there’s quite a few things you need to be to be able to withstand the time, heat, concentration and dealing with the distraction.
You need physical endurance to withstand the constant heat, dehydration, noise, etc. Some tracks are more physical than others. Some knock you down on the seat, beat you sideways, knock your head against the headrest, and some tracks try to rip your arms off the steering wheel when you go through the corners.
There is endless concentration—the ability to make thousands of decisions every lap around the track like looking ahead, behind, to the sides, listening to the spotter. You’re thinking about how your car is handling and what you’ll need to do to make it run better; you’re thinking about the guy in front of you and what you’ll need to do to pass him.
You’re thinking about who you should draft with, how the engine is running, and how I can relay to the crew to make the car run better.
Those thoughts are all happening every lap, and are those requirements to be considered an athlete? I believe they are.
We don’t have to be fast runners, high jumpers, or be able to lift hundreds of pounds over our heads, but we have to be able to do a lot of things that a lot of the people I just mentioned can’t do. They’re athletes in their sport, but they can’t do what we do in our sport.
There’s absolutely no question in my mind that a race car driver is an athlete. Jockeys are athletes, same for sporting car drivers. You HAVE to have athletic abilities to be a part of any of those sports.
NASCAR drivers are special athletes because they’re driving one of the hardest cars to drive in the world.
I had a gym in my home in Greensboro and I worked in it every day. I had a sauna, and I sat in it for an hour, sometimes and hour-and-a-half, to stay acclimated to the heat. I did cross-training, weights, running, plus watched my diet. I was conscious of my physical and mental condition.
I took NASCAR racing serious, and I worked hard at it. It was the same when I moved down to the Charlotte area. I had a trainer, and thank goodness I had a trainer.
I was in the best shape of my life the year 2000, when I had the accident in Daytona. I thank him for getting me in shape that winter.
I’m not going to speak for all of them, but a lot of today’s drivers are more into training than ever before. All you have to do is look at them; just grab their arms and feel their stomachs. They have six packs, biceps and can run marathons.
Diet plays a big role, not just in racing, but in an athlete’s life. You have to be really careful because it’s very hard to have a proper diet here in the United States.
You have to eat a lot of organic vegetables, know what kind of fish to eat, nothing farm raised (sorry everybody), fruits, water, and nothing processed—nothing in a box. Basically, anything a man has touched, you don’t put in your body. So anything in boxes or frozen, you have to be careful
Do drivers dislike the media?
You can give an interview, but unfortunately, the reporter can take snips of what you said and put it together to make you sound really really bad. That happened to me a lot. It happens more if you don’t hang out with those folks that write things about people. They tend to change your words a lot more than others.
With the microphone, you have pretty much control over that. Sometimes, a reporter will ask questions that put you in a corner, but eventually, you learn how to get out of that corner and just say what you want to say.
You have to be very careful with the mic and the camera, and I’ve gotten in trouble several times. Those microphones and cameras pop up right as you get out of the car after a crash or after someone has run into you.
They show up at difficult times, and I would always tell my public relations folks to tell the media I would need five minutes. I’m a five minute man. Let me calm down, get the blood pressure down, count to ten several times and I’ll give a great interview. But it didn’t happen that way all the time.
I’ve said things in interviews that I shouldn’t have said and wished I hadn’t. I’ve had to apologize for things I’ve said on-camera.
Cameras are everywhere, and they’re right there, riding along with you in the racecar. Scanners also enable people to be able to listen to the communications between the driver, crew chief and spotter. It’s a tough situation.
I used to give a disclaimer over the radio before the race. I’d say “for all the folks listening on your scanners, there might be things said you might not want to hear, that might not be right, and I apologize right now. If you’re sensitive to anything, you need to change the channel.”
Drivers love the media. Of course, I didn’t like when they twisted things around, no one does. But, in general, drivers know the media is good, they know sponsors want all the publicity and press time the driver and crew chief can get.
I always enjoyed it. Even when they changed things around, I might have gotten mad for a little while, but I realized how important it was to deal with the media.
I can’t speak for all the drivers, but most of the time, we like all of the media.