With big money, sponsorships and pride on the line, NASCAR race teams will do anything to gain an edge on the track. Ricky Bobby harnessed his fear by driving with a live cougar in Talladega Nights. David Ragan of Front Row Motorsports prefers a more conventional approach. “The competition has gotten so close,” he says. “We spend millions of dollars trying to find an edge. The drivers started looking at themselves and asking what we can do to help win races.”
The answer went beyond adding horsepower. Racers realized that by enhancing their physicality, they became even more dangerous tactically. As a result, NASCAR, as with sports in general, has evolved to include an emphasis on regimented strength-and-conditioning programs, detailed nutrition plans and proper hydration. And in a sport in which half seconds cost tens of thousands of dollars, fitter equals faster.
Front Row Motorsports is taking things a step further. For the next two years (2012 and 2013), Maximum Human Performance will be sponsoring Ragan’s No. 34 car for its Sprint Cup Series events.
How did you end up in motor sports?
My dad grew up the son of a racer, so I’m kind of a third-generation member in motor sports. My father drove some at the pro level through the mid ’80s and early 1990s. I grew up around the racetrack as a young kid. It was a family deal — you went racing on the weekends, and as you grow older, it grows more competitive and you start taking it more seriously and start thinking, I would love to do this for a career.
What is it like trying to control that car at 250 mph, and what demands does it place on your body?
In a race car, there are high temperatures — 120 to 130 degrees in the cockpit. It’s typically 30 to 40 degrees hotter than the outdoor temperature. You’re battling the G-forces of the corners and turning the wheel, which gets very heavy throughout the day. We don’t have good power steering like you do in a regular automobile. You’re working your core, your neck and your arms. There are no timeouts, no halftime, no ability to rehydrate and recuperate. You can lose 5 to 7 pounds in a race easy.
How do you train and eat to keep up?
Endurance is a big part of my training. I try to train four days a week, mostly using lighter weights and higher reps for 45 to 60 minutes at a time. I try to stay at a heart rate of 140 to 150 the whole time so it’s like a cardio workout, too. I use familiar lifts like the bench press, chin-ups and pulldowns. It’s important to have a good, strong core, but you have to be able to use it over a long period. We have a race-team chef who keeps us consistent on the road, but I really like MHP’s Power Pak Pudding — I keep ’em cold and eat ’em as snacks, which really keeps me going.
How does the pit-crew training differ from yours?
They have to withstand the heat and working hard for 13 to 14 seconds to fuel the car and jack a 3,400-pound car up in short spurts. The guys who are doing tires have to be precise and controlled with each one, which is between 40 and 50 pounds, so that takes strength and stamina.
What does it say about MHP that they would sponsor your team?
I think it comes from the heart because we’re examples of what it can do. My crew is better and stronger today, and they have less chance of getting injured. They’re training better and recovering better. It’s a great way to activate the sponsorship when the driver and crew are using the product, making them better at what they do for a living.
Birth Date: December 24, 1985
Birthplace: Unadilla, Ga.
Residence: Huntersville, N.C.
Weight: 165 pounds
Career: 30-plus top-10 finishes in Sprint Cup competition