Trained for the Track: Positioning Racing’s Athletes for Success

Jim Leo of PitFit Training / Photo by Walter Kuhn

You’ve probably heard this one before, and maybe you’ve even wondered it yourself: Are race car drivers really athletes? After all, isn’t the car doing all of the work? And how much different can it be than driving down the interstate, if only a lot faster?

Anyone in the business of motorsports will answer unequivocally “yes” to the first question and a resounding “no” to the second. So, too, will just about anyone who has spent time driving a race car or go-kart at speed on a racetrack.

Jim Leo, the founder and owner of PitFit Training in Indianapolis, is one of those who wholeheartedly endorses the fact that race car drivers are indeed athletes; however, his arrival at that answer came in a very methodical and hands-on way.

Leo has a degree in exercise physiology and biomechanics and early in his postgraduate career set up a health and wellness program for the employees of Detroit Diesel (now Detroit) in the early 1990s. At the time, the majority shareholder and CEO of Detroit Diesel was one Roger Penske of Penske Racing fame and an 18-time winner of the Indianapolis 500 as a team owner. At the time, Leo was not involved with motorsports and had only a passing interest in them when he approached Penske about creating a fitness regimen for his race teams—specifically, the pit crew members.

Soon after, PitFit Training was born, and Leo found himself training not only the Penske Racing crew members but crew members from other teams as well. This coincided with an increased emphasis on athletes across nearly every sport training more scientifically and specifically for the demands of their particular sport. It wasn’t long after that that drivers were coming to Leo for advanced fitness training.

Driver James Hinchcliffe (left) training. At PitFit, it’s common practice for physical exercise to be immediately followed by mental acuity challenges. / Photo by Walter Kuhn

Pilot Parallels


Now, after more than 20 years in the sector, Leo has honed and refined the techniques he uses to keep drivers physically and mentally performing at their peak. “There’s no question that race car drivers are athletes,” said Leo. “But I’ll take it one step further and say that they are more akin to fighter pilots.”

“If you look at a driver’s physical requirements, such as the elevated heart and breath rates, enduring g-forces (the force of gravity or acceleration on a body) and near-instantaneous reflexes in addition to the high demand on cognitive ability, they align closely to the traits of combat pilots. Every athlete has to make split-second decisions on the field of play that have ramifications that may end in a game-losing situation, which is true of race car drivers as well. But drivers have the added weight that their decisions can not only affect the outcome of their race result but could also cause themselves or a fellow competitor potentially grave harm or their team hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of car damage.”

At PitFit, driver James Hinchcliffe (right) completes strength training for his shoulders and arms, key areas of concentration for Indy car drivers since they endure high cornering g-forces without the benefit of power steering. / Photo by Walter Kuhn

Added Leo for further clarification: “Physiologically, we know that a driver’s blood lactate levels rise while in the car as well as cardiovascular demands that are similar to running a 10K at an elite pace.”

Drivers’ Training


Jim Leo likens the cognitive prowess, aka mind conditioning, of a race car driver to that of a combat pilot. It makes sense. Like a fighter pilot, a race car driver must be able to withstand the effects of sustained g-forces on the human body for long periods of time. Consider: An Indy 500 race can sometimes last up to five hours, with drivers often experiencing g’s spiking to three or more. And these drivers, like those pilots, consistently need to have unbelievably quick reaction times and sensorimotor functions, not only to succeed in their mission but to survive.

For a race car driver, reaction times and mental focus are paramount. Driver Charlie Kimball (sitting) tries to keep up with randomized light patterns during a training session at the PitFit facility. / Photo by Walter Kuhn

Imagine yourself having to react to a car that crosses your path at more than 200 miles per hour or to be constantly battered by continuous braking and accelerating forces in a cockpit where temperatures are likely above 100 degrees. Due to the high speeds and g’s alone, the average human on a racing oval would black out.

Where PitFit takes its motorsports training to the next level, and further parallels combat pilot training, is with its approach to incorporating neurocognitive (having to do with the ability to think and reason) elements with physical fitness. PitFit’s brain training is three-pronged, targeting vision, reaction time, and sensorimotor functions to give racing’s athletes the greatest developmental improvements that will lead to success on the tracks.

PitFit incorporates Senaptec’s strobe glasses as part of its neurocognitive exercises. Using liquid crystal technology, the lenses flicker between clear and opaque, removing visual information and forcing an individual to process more efficiently. / Photo courtesy Senaptec

That means workouts are often a combination of neck-centric strengthening exercises matched with ladder-type movements to improve hand-eye-foot coordination that are then paired with high-end virtual- and augmented-reality games and tasks based upon advanced biometrics, artificial intelligence, and data analytics.

PitFit has a custom-built sensory station, for example, created by Oregon-based Senaptec, a startup that’s bringing new visual training technologies to market that are specific to improving eye-to-brain connectivity. (Senaptec has the New York YankeesRed Bull, and the Air Force on its client list.) PitFit’s station requires drivers to interact with moving images on a screen through activities that an article on thedrive.com compared to the arcade game Whac-A-Mole. Skill levels are then measured to help indicate the driver’s ability to make quick decisions under pressure.

Through high-end virtual and augmented reality games and tasks at the sensory station, you can assess your hand’s reactions to visual signals and find out how well you can see through distractions, judge depth, and track multiple objects in space. / Photo courtesy Senaptec

Race Trainer, another PitFit exclusive, is a homemade steering-resistance machine centered around a weighted steering wheel paired to pedals. A lighted control board behind the wheel prompts the driver to simulate a turn on the track, which then prompts the trainer to pull on resistance bands strapped to weighted headgear worn by the athlete. The exercise, according to PitFit, mimics the effects of those lateral g’s.

The light on PitFit’s Race Trainer serves as a reaction trainer—green means turn now—and it’s all about how the driver responds when the steering wheel and headgear are weighted. / Photo by Walter Kuhn

There are also low-tech training exercises. For instance, a trainer drops playing cards from chest height, and the driver has to try and grab one before the card hits the ground. The cards may fall in different directions, and this builds reaction-time skills that result in better, safer results on the track.

Mind + Matter


To get a sense of what a race car driver deals with, imagine this: You are out in the parking lot of your local shopping center in full sun at high noon in July wearing a pair of thick flannel sweatpants and sweatshirt, with gloves, shoes, and socks, atop an exercise bicycle that you must pedal hard enough to maintain a heart rate above 130 beats per minute. On your head is a helmet that has bungee cords attached, pulling your head randomly in four directions. With your left hand, you’re doing 15-pound bicep curls, while with your right hand you are throwing darts at a board every two seconds and each must hit the bull’s-eye. Meanwhile, a tennis ball machine is firing balls at you from 10 feet away, so you must duck out of the way to avoid being hit. To top it all off, through a set of earphones, you are being fed complex math problems that you must solve instantly or face the possibility of an electric shock if you answer incorrectly or if you miss the bullseye.

Taken as a whole, this hypothetical may border on the absurd, but each element gives us a sense, through ordinary tasks that we can all identify with, of the physical, reflexive, and mental rigors of driving a race car, along with the physical jeopardy that can result from bad decision-making.

“Drivers are always analyzing what they see on track or what information they are being fed from a spotter about track position or an engineer about strategy,” said Leo. “We spend a lot of time training a driver’s neuropathways to better cope with the physical and cognitive demands of racing by having them train at specific intensities, immediately followed by a cognitive skills test like repeating a pattern on a light board or visual recognition test, even sometimes adding some kind of auditory distraction to really create a chaotic environment while their heart and breath rates are still high.

Driver Zach Veach spends time at PitFit doing exercises designed to perfect hand-eye-foot coordination, which is part of the program’s brain training to improve success on the track. / Photo by Walter Kuhn

“The idea is to have them practice focusing on the task at hand to push beyond the physical stress,” elaborated Leo. “This trains a driver to cope with both the physical and mental demands they are required to exercise on track in competition.”

Consistency Is Key


That kind of focus may not be apparent to the spectator trackside or on television, but one need only look at the consistency of a top driver’s lap times to get the real picture. Over the course of a race, discounting laps where there is a yellow flag or a pit stop, it’s common to see a string of 25 or more lap times that never vary by more than half a second—the equivalent of throwing 25 darts in quick succession all within the bullseye.

While the romantic lore around a race car driver may be of a brazen daredevil driving by the seat of his or her pants, the reality is far from it. Drivers are highly fit athletes with astounding cognitive ability—meaning there is far more to winning a race than standing on the gas.

A Fitting Connection


Early in 2019, Matt Anderson, Curator of Transportation for The Henry Ford, along with other staffers, was on the phone with racing legend Lyn St. James. They were talking about themes and stories for Driven to Win: Racing in America, The Henry Ford’s permanent racing exhibition, then in progress. St. James, a longtime supporter and partner of The Henry Ford, was an integral source of ideas and insights related to Driven to Win since its conception—and she is one of the drivers showcased within the exhibit.

Lyn St. James (left), photographed by Michelle Andonian, instructs a student at her Complete Driver Academy in 2008. / THF58776

It was during this call that St. James recommended The Henry Ford investigate Jim Leo’s story of entrepreneurship and innovation. A who’s-who of auto racing had been having great success on the tracks using Leo’s PitFit Training approach, including drivers such as Scott Dixon, Tony Kanaan, Dario Franchitti, Will Power, Kasey Kahne, Sam Hornish, Jr., Larry Dixon, Morgan Lucas, Pippa Mann, Levi Jones, and James Hinchcliffe.

Soon after that call, Anderson and team were in Indianapolis, meeting Leo and touring his industry-leading motorsports training facility. “Jim couldn’t have been friendlier. He opened his doors and gave us an up-close look at his methods and machines,” noted Anderson, who admitted to being a bit starstruck when driver Pippa Mann walked into Leo’s gym to work out while The Henry Ford team was on-site.

“Jim had us try some of the physical and mental workouts,” Anderson continued. “We did our best, but, needless to say, none of us will be starting in the Indy 500 anytime soon.” The team decided then and there to incorporate elements of the PitFit program into the exhibition. Leo enthusiastically agreed to help adapt some of the training machines he uses into interactives for visitors to experience in Driven to Win. We also received assistance from Senaptec, who customized their app specifically for museum visitors.

“Our visitors will be able to use some of the same training machines, and some of the same sensory performance devices, that top drivers use,” Anderson said. “Once you realize the physical strength and mental acuity required of these racers, you’ll never doubt their athletic abilities again.”


George Tamayo is Creative Director at RACER Studio and has more than 20 years of experience in motorsports communications and marketing. This post was adapted from an article first published in the January–May 2020 issue of The Henry Ford Magazine.

PitFit Training Expands with New Facility in North Carolina

PitFit Training Expands with New Facility in North Carolina

CORNELIUS, NC – PitFit Training, known for their pioneering motorsports human performance programs, will expand to the state of North Carolina with the acquisition of Podium Performance Fitness in Cornelius, NC. The program’s concept has a unique history, when in 1993 President Jim Leo created a strategy for Roger Penske’s IndyCar team at the team’s headquarters in Reading, PA. The success of this program led to more teams and drivers seeking out Leo’s program, and PitFit Training was officially formed in 1997.

With this being the first expansion of PitFit Training, Founder and President Jim Leo is ready to spread the program that he and his team have developed for more than a decade with the new location in Cornelius, NC.

“Expansion into the Charlotte-area market has been on our radar for quite some time,” said Leo. “Several obstacles were eliminated after a discussion with Trey Shannon, who started Podium Performance a few years back. I have been impressed with Trey’s program, but realized he was facing a common expansion problem for many small businesses that are a one-person operation, the burden of not enough resources This acquisition will not only provide the necessary resources of our organization, but also give Trey an ownership stake in the company.”

Although PitFit will acquire all the assets at Podium performance, including the facility, there will be more than just a name change to the space. New equipment will be brought in with top-of-the-line reaction technology, cognitive skills training tools, and recovery equipment including infrared sauna, ice baths, and a custom-built simulator. With all these additions however, there is one factor to say the same at the location and that’s owner Trey Shannon, who’s owned Podium Performance for the past eight years.

“I really can’t put into words how excited I am to take our partnership with PitFit to the next level and officially become one company,” said Trey Shannon. “PitFit is a true pioneer in driver fitness and has represented the gold standard for over 20 years now. Combining our efforts creates a huge opportunity to continue innovating and push motorsport fitness, safety, and performance forward. Jim has created something truly special over the last 20 years, and I’m grateful for this opportunity to be a part of the PitFit team.”

PitFit’s newest location opened on January 3rd with a plan to expand to larger space and add additional staff in 2022. For more information, visit www.pitfit.com or call 317 388 1000.

Pitfit Training Expands To New Facility, Welcomes Fanimation As First New Partner

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind., (May 13, 2019) – The month of May always brings a flurry of activity to the city of Indianapolis, and this year is no different for the men and women at PitFit Training. This spring, the facility that specializes in the training of IndyCar’s top drivers has left its home of the last ten years to a new facility on the northwest side of the city, nearly doubling in size. Fanimation, an industry leader in ceiling fans, has partnered with PitFit Training to provide high quality air circuiting to the 3,400 square foot fitness center.

Led by founder and owner Jim Leo, PitFit Training has become the go-to place in motorsports for driver fitness, reaction, and neurocognitive training. With over 20 years of experience, Leo and the trainers at PitFit create custom programs for professional athletes and race car drivers, responsible for over fifteen drivers in the NTT IndyCar Series and Road to Indy, and many more across Formula One, NASCAR, NHRA, IMSA, SRO America, USAC, and numerous junior level auto racing series. The expansion from the 2,600 square foot building to the new training facility gives the staff at PitFit Training 5,400 square feet of offices and gym space.

“This new facility really opens us up to a whole new world of possibilities,” said Jim Leo, owner of PitFit Training. “We now have separate rooms for physical therapy, mediation, and neurocognitive training, while also massively expanding our physical performance training area as well. We’ve been able to fill our gym with even more cutting edge equipment that will directly benefit the performance of all our drivers and athletes.”

Providing their own cutting edge equipment, Zionsville, Indiana business Fanimation has joined PitFit Training as the new gym’s first partner, equipping the vast facility with top-end ceiling fans. A local family business, Fanimation leverages technology and sustainability to implement energy efficient practices into its products, transforming the fan industry.

“PitFit Training is the industry leader of motorsports-specific human performance training,” said Nathan Frampton, President and CEO of Fanimation. Fanimation is the industry leader in ceiling fans and we couldn’t be more excited to partner with another best-in-class company based in Central Indiana.”

PitFit Training’s new partnership with Fanimation is just the beginning, as the team looks ahead to the installation of new flooring and next phases of construction on the office space.

“We have big plans for our new home,” concluded Leo. “We’re thrilled to have Fanimation on board, and look forward to welcoming more partners as the months continue. In the meantime, we’re fully focused on getting our drivers ready for the biggest race month of the year.”

Two of the most anticipated races of the year, the Freedom 100 and Indianapolis 500 will take place May 24 and 25 respectively. PitFit Training will not only train the drivers on the north side of town at the gym, but will also offer onsite support at the legendary Indianapolis Motor Speedway. For more information, visit pitfit.com.


About PitFit Training
PitFit Training is an industry leader in the development and implementation of motorsports-specific human performance training and lists clients from Formula One, IndyCar, NASCAR, NHRA, ALMS, USAC, the World Endurance Championship and numerous junior level auto racing series. The roster of champions that have become part of the PitFit family is a who’s who of auto racing. Drivers such as Scott Dixon and Tony Kanaan are just a few of the many drivers who have trained with PitFit Training.

These Boutique Gyms For Racing Drivers Are Nothing Like Your Local Planet Fitness

Source: Car and Driver

Professional auto racing is the Rodney Dangerfield of athletic pursuits—it gets no respect. Many casual observers assume that the car is doing all the work. But behind every rubber-scuffing hot lap is a human body also being pushed to the limit. Temperatures inside the cockpit can reach 130 degrees and most race cars do not have air conditioning. Drivers can lose 5 to 10 pounds in water weight during any given race. And racers must reckon with lateral and longitudinal forces that can go from 3.00 g’s in turns (what an astronaut experiences during a rocket launch) to in excess of 5.00 g’s under braking (blackout territory for the untrained). “And that force,” says veteran IndyCar driver James Hinchcliffe, “is applied to every inch of your body.”

In the dark ages of motorsports, before cars produced such cosmic forces, a reasonably fit driver could easily handle a car’s stresses. Hell, he might even have smoked a cigarette between sessions. It wasn’t until guys like Ayrton Senna and Mark Martin came along that their peers saw the impact that fitness could have on driving performance. Now working out is a year-round grind that has drivers fortifying their core, arms, and neck.

It’s not a regimen that drivers can keep up at Planet Fitness. Instead, many frequent places like Indianapolis-based PitFit, a boutique fitness center with a client roster that includes pros like Hinchcliffe and Tony Kanaan. PitFit aims to train a driver’s body and mind at the same time through a mix of strength and endurance drills, some borrowed from more-mainstream sports and adapted to the needs of drivers.

Some teams prefer to keep driver-fitness programs in-house. Two years ago, Ganassi Racing hired former NASCAR pro Josh Wise to develop a training program for its drivers. “A lot of teams shipped their drivers out to run circuits and lift weights with their pit crews, but from an energy standpoint and even a psychological one, there’s little relevance to what they’re doing in the car,” says Wise. Here’s a look at what makes Wise’s regimen or a place like PitFit different from your local gym, with an assist from IndyCar champ Kanaan.

Strobe-Light Panel
PitFit has a custom $20,000 sensory station created by Senaptec. It takes the old numbered-tennis-ball drill—a staple in baseball training in which the trainer throws a ball at the trainee who calls the ball’s number before catching it—and digitizes it. Here, the drivers are asked to interact with moving images on a screen. Their results are measured, indicating their ability to make quick decisions under pressure.

Race Trainer
One of PitFit’s pieces of equipment is the Race Trainer, its homemade steering-resistance machine that is composed of a weighted steering wheel paired with pedals. A light-up board mounted behind the wheel prompts the driver to simulate a turn, which then instructs his trainer to pull on the resistance bands strapped to the athlete’s weighted headgear, called the Iron Neck. This mimics the effects of lateral g’s.

Strobe Glasses
PitFit uses strobe glasses from Senaptec, a company that provides tools to enhance an athlete’s mental and physical perform­ance. PitFit president Jim Leo says the glasses, which intermittently disrupt the wearer’s vision, are often used with a tennis-ball toss, so drivers can practice tracking a moving object while their field of view is compromised.

The Drive: Pietro Fittipaldi Gets Behind The Wheel Of An Indycar Two Months After Gruesome Crash

Source: The Drive

ietro Fittipaldi, the grandson of Formula 1 world champion and two-time Indy 500 winner Emerson Fittipaldi, completed a staggering 100-lap test at Mid-Ohio ahead of this weekend’s return to IndyCar with the Dale Coyne Racing team.

Tuesday’s road course test marked the first time the young driver climbed behind the wheel of a race car in more than two months, where he completed a full testing program that included cockpit acclimatization and tire and aero performance. Fittipaldi has spent most of his time since his April crash in Indianapolis, where he’s worked with IndyCar doctor Terry Trammell to develop a road to recovery that fits his medical chart and work commitments alike.

IndyCar

Fittipaldi tests at Mid-Ohio on Tuesday.

“It was amazing, man, I’m so happy to be back,” Fittipaldi told Motorsport.com. “The past two months after my accident, I’ve been working really hard with the great people around me working on getting back to driving.”

“It was a full test, we did around 100 laps, which was a lot, but that was our plan to get as many laps as I could and wear me out a little bit because we’re racing next weekend,” he added. “We used the morning to get comfortable and see what we had to do with the pedal [adjustments] and everything felt fine right off the bat. As soon as I was comfortable we worked on the test plan.

Another key figure in Fittipaldi’s recovery is Alex Wanee from PitFit Training, who helped the young Brazilian-American racer get his mobility back to 100 percent, and make sure his muscles are up to the task of manhandling an 800-horsepower IndyCar. PitFit training is a physical training facility that works with North America’s top racing drivers such as Scott Dixon, James Hinchcliffe and Tony Kanaan among other dragster and open-wheel racers.

“We had a limited range of things we could do given the condition of his [Fittipaldi’s] lower body, so there was a lot of communicating back and forth with the doctors and physical therapists to get his legs back up to speed while maintaining his upper body strength,” Wanee told The Drive. “We worked with very minute levels of resistance to keep his leg muscles active despite his condition. I’d place my hands on his legs and apply slight pressure against the areas where he wasn’t affected, and that’s how we progressed through his recovery program.”

“Personally, within a minute of having met him, I knew we would exceed on all fronts due to his optimism and enthusiasm. It’s normal to expect someone in his position to feel bummed for missing the [Indy] 500 and what not, but from day one he did as much as he could to get back in the car as quickly as possible,” Wanee added.

Fittipaldi was piloting a DragonSpeed LMP1 race car at Spa Francorchamps in April of this year when he lost control of his vehicle at Eau Rouge and crashed into the tire barriers at more than 160 miles per hour. He had to be airlifted to the nearest hospital where doctors diagnosed him with non-life-threatening injuries, however, both of his legs had been fractured due to the force of the impact. As a result, Fittipaldi had to cancel his plans to race in the FIA World Endurance Championship and, eventually, the Indy 500.

The Drive: Pitfit Training: Indycar Drivers’ Secret Weapon To Winning The Indy 500

Source: The Drive

Running a physical training facility isn’t complicated—assuming you find a niche audience, cater to its specific needs, and are able to endure the ups and downs of a ruthless business. On the other hand, doing so successfully for more than 20 years and developing a portfolio of A-list clients is complicated, especially in an industry that moves as quickly as the clients themselves. That’s what Jim Leo, founder and president of PitFit Training has managed to do.

Conditioning racing drivers is a serious business. Every single race of the Verizon IndyCar series represents a grueling war between man and machine, whether it’s challenging road courses where drivers are battered by constant braking and accelerating forces, or high-speed ovals where normal humans would black out due to the sheer speed. Being a racing driver, believe it or not, isn’t an easy task.
IndyCAR

Jim Leo is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist who was originally tapped by “The Captain” Roger Penske to improve the fitness of his racing team over two decades ago. Since then, Leo and his staff have been revolutionizing the physical and mental conditioning of racing drivers and pit crews from IndyCar, IMSA, Indy Lights, NHRA, Formula BMW, Global Rallycross, and many more.

The Drive recently had the opportunity to visit Leo and his Performance Director Alex Wanee at their facility in Indianapolis, where some of IndyCar’s most famous names can be found sweating and oftentimes cursing at the arduous workout routines they have to perform. During our visit, we caught a glimpse of Schmidt Peterson’s James Hinchcliffe as well as Andretti Autosport’s Alexander Rossi’s workout. The likes of Indy 500 and IndyCar champions like Scott Dixon and Tony Kanaan are also full-time clients, but they had different commitments that particular morning.

Like most folks in the IndyCar circus, Leo and Wanee are extremely busy during the racing season, but we persuaded them to close their office door and sit down with us for a chat.

PitFit Training.

The Drive: If I count correctly, there will be eight PitFit Training drivers on this year’s Indy 500 grid. After so many years in this business, what does it feel like to be represented by so many great athletes?

Jim Leo: It’s very cool, for sure. Our drivers have evolved over the years much like our program has. We have some strong guys on the grid and they will be more than ready to win—they will be better prepared to win.

TD: What exactly do you mean by “they will be better prepared to win?”

JL: They will have a special “PitFit Push to Pass” at the end of the race that the others won’t, per se. All of these guys will have more left in their energy and concentration tanks than the rest of the field thanks to all the conditioning they’ve done, and they will use it when it counts.

TD: Let’s go back to the very beginning. How did you realize that racing drivers needed to be better prepared to win?

JL: I didn’t; I didn’t have a whole lot of interest in racing when I was younger. It all started when I was working a corporate wellness program at the Detroit Diesel Corporation, and I noticed that Roger Penske’s racing team would come to our facility in Detroit to get his cars ready for the [Detroit] Grand Prix. The guys would come up and use the gym, so I developed a relationship with them and that’s when I got the idea, but it was only the crew, not so much the drivers. I eventually pitched the idea [of developing the team physically] to Roger Penske and he said, ‘Go for it.’

That’s when I basically started working two jobs for the same pay, my corporate wellness job and training the racing crew. I did that for about three years before I accepted an offer by Pac West Racing and that’s when I moved down to Indianapolis to do this full time.

TD: A lot of people nowadays still think that racing drivers aren’t athletes, and I’m willing to bet that two decades ago some people within the racing community also felt that way. What do you think changed that?

Absolutely. One of the biggest things was the influx of Formula 1 drivers who came over in the ‘90s to race in CART. You had Gil de Ferran, Alex Zanardi, Mark Blundell, and Mauricio Gugelmin, for example, and they all had the Senna mentality that was shared across European and Formula 1 drivers of that time. Everyone trained over there—all the time. So when these guys came over, thankfully, they started kicking ass.

For me, that was huge confirmation that I needed to get onboard with this [as an independent trainer]. I still remember Bobby Rahal losing weight to perform better. That influx had a huge impact.

TD: Of course, losing weight isn’t the only thing drivers must do in order to be successful on the track. What does a driver in the year 2018 need to be successful in racing?

JL: Drivers nowadays need to be focused on the lifestyle and activities that make them be better athletes in general. They need to look at things that will increase their endurance, their strength, and their overall ability to withstand the stress that the car inflicts on them. Drivers need to be specific and train in cycles that they follow throughout the year. For example, Scott Dixon, he’s been following the same cycles for years, which include an offseason program that’s wildly different from the on-season one. It’s the same thing Olympic athletes do to prepare for a big event. They must get their minds and bodies ready for it.

Alex Wanee: Take for example what Danica [Patrick] said the other day, about the cars being “hard to drive” and the steering wheel being “so heavy” due to the lack of power steering. That shows the difference between being fit and being conditioned to race.

We [PitFit Training] aren’t in the driver fitness business, we are in the driver conditioning business. Danica is quite fit, but she’s not conditioned, yet. That’s what other drivers don’t get when they train somewhere else. We condition our drivers to face every stressful situation they are going to face in the car.

TD: Let’s talk about someone like Tony Kanaan. TK has been one of the fittest drivers on the grid for many years, just looking at his physique is intimidating, yet he recently committed to PitFit Training full-time. What do you do to take someone who is already extremely fit to a higher level?

JL: Tony has always been in great triathlon shape. He’s been in CrossFit and can absolutely kill it on the [road] bike. If you put him on a bike or in a pool, he’s a beast. For the longest time he felt that more was better, and in his youth, he could get away with that, but not so much anymore. When he came to us we had to step him back and slow him down. We had to address the issues with his shoulders [injuries] and find out what’s causing it rather than ignoring it like he’s always done. It’s not often that we have to slow down a driver to take him to the next level, but that’s where he is now.

Alex [Wanee] is working with him one-on-one and showing him that it’s not always how hard can you work, but more of how controlled can you be during your workout routine. Alex is showing him scenarios that will be replicated in his car during a race: How he can keep his heart rate down, how he can maintain his reaction time strong despite fatigue kicking in?

TD: Would you say that what you’re doing is helping him focus on quality workouts rather than quantity?

Jim: Absolutely! Focused training, that is it. The difference between Scott [Dixon] and Tony [Kanaan], is that Scott has been following this system for a long time and it’s been ingrained in him. Tony is just being introduced to it on a regular basis. You’re seeing him be a more competitive driver this year, but I think he’s also a happier person because he feels better physically and mentally.

Following our chat, we had the opportunity to walk around the facility and witness the PitFit Training concepts in action with several drivers, some who were quite literally drenched in sweat, and others who were sharpening their reaction times on an interactive screen.

I could see Alexander Rossi, winner of the 100th running of the Indy 500, work on his arms, shoulders, and neck on a machine that resembled a racing seat and steering wheel. The steering wheel was connected to a weighted rod, and Rossi had to move the steering wheel and react to the lights being activated by Wanee. By the time we made it out onto the floor, James Hinchcliffe had finished his daily program, so he simply sat on a treadmill and tooled around on his smartphone.

Wanee walked me around the facility, showing me the specialized equipment that drivers train with on a regular basis. Many devices were neck-specific, but there were others like the Jacob’s Ladder, a sort of never-ending wooden ladder that exercises hand-eye-foot coordination. Others, like the Senaptec Sensory Station, resemble a high-end game of arcade whack-a-mole, which aims to improve reaction time, a skill that could literally save a driver’s life. Just imagine having to react when the car in front of you crosses your path at 230 miles per hour.

Lastly, I asked Leo one final question: What differentiates a PitFit Training driver from the others on the grid?

“Their body, their mind. The fact that they can look around the grid almost with disdain and say ‘You don’t deserve to be out here with me, I am at a higher level than anyone out here.’ They hope it’s a hard race, they hope it’s a hot race, and they can’t wait for the last few laps because they know they will be at a higher level than the guy who is running purely on talent. That’s the difference, and that’s why we go above and beyond during training—and we do it intelligently.”