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CART Media Conference

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

Open Wheel Racing Topics:  CART

CART Media Conference

Dr. Patrick Jacobs
Dr. Steve Olvey
Oriol Servia
December 16, 2002

ERIC MAUK: Welcome, everyone, to the CART weekly teleconference presented by World Com. We have a different slant on this week's teleconference as we are pleased to be able to present to you Dr. Steve Olvey, CART's director of medical affairs, and Dr. Patrick Jacobs, assistant director of neurological surgery in Miami. These two doctors recently published a paper that details a rather lengthy study that they did on the requirements of fitness and actually what goes on in the human body in a race car driver and compared that to some of the elite world class athletes, kind of compared and contrasted some of the requirements that the race car drivers have as opposed to some other athletes and came up with some fairly interesting results, a paper that was published, we put out a press release on that Friday. You may have seen the results at some other places on the web. I know those results are available on the web, as well. Dr. Olvey, Dr. Jacobs, thank you for joining us today.

DR. STEVE OLVEY: Thank you.

DR. PATRICK JACOBS: My pleasure.

ERIC MAUK: For Dr. Olvey, obviously you've been around racing and race car drivers for a very long time. Can you tell us what prompted you to undertake this study?

DR. STEVE OLVEY: Really, it's because in the years that I've been doing this, one of the most frequent questions asked of me by the media, almost every venue we went to, was, "Are race drivers really athletes? What does it take to drive the race cars?" I used to tell them that, yes, they are, and it's very physically demanding because my observations over the years were that they were quite fit, and you had to be quite fit in order to compete at the levels that our cars were. But it was very difficult to convince a lot of people. We did a study years ago looking at heart rates with drivers and found that the heart rates were quite high, and they would come down under caution periods, they'd go back up again immediately when the cars were driving. This paper was presented at a conference in Paris, France, probably 10 or 11 years ago. There was still a lot of skepticism. Most of the physicians there felt it was due to anxiety levels on the part of the drivers, kind of adrenaline release and rush of driving the cars, and couldn't really be physical exertion because everybody drove their car to work, and they sometimes drove fast, they couldn't conceive of this being very physically demanding. Then at Miami, Dr. Jacobs and I are both in the same department, he presented a conference I went to where he was talking about a very small metabolic monitor. I thought, gee, if we can put that in the race car with the drivers, maybe we could prove what their oxygen uptake was and how much energy was really required to do this. When I brought it to his attention, he looked at me like the rest of the doctors and thought I was crazy because he couldn't conceive, I don't think, of how race drivers could be in the same plane as other athletes with regard to cardiovascular fitness. I'll let Pat take over from there, as he designed the study.

ERIC MAUK: Dr. Jacobs, can you address that? Were you surprised at the results of the study?

DR. PATRICK JACOBS: Yes, I certainly was. As Dr. Olvey mentioned, my background in racing is not as deep in years of experience. I was very naive in terms of the drivers' fitness and whatnot. Of course, as anyone else, to the first eye's exposure to racing, it's very difficult to understand why there would be these types of stresses. Most sports settings are characterized by large muscle actions, that is dynamic movements of the legs perhaps, arms and legs, which obviously require oxygen to fuel these muscle actions. Initially, upon inspection of the drivers' movements, there may be some very short, rapid movements of the arms, but relatively stable positioning within the car. Of course, initially knowing everything, I assumed that there would not be a tremendous oxygen consumption measurement in the situation, and that most of the heart rate increases would then be related to increases of neural excitement. Often in a sports setting we may say a heart rate increase is representative of aerobic fitness, aerobic exercise stresses. We also use a percentage of the estimated peak heart rate to be able to determine if a person is in the aerobic training zone. Well, there's other requirements also. If that was not the case, if these other requirements were not in place for activity actually to be aerobic or anaerobic exercise, any activity that would excite you, shoplifting, say, would become an aerobic exercise. There's been this argument for some time whether it was really a sporting setting. We were very surprised and excited once the first few test results came in to see some numbers which were in the area of which you would see in many of the traditional sports settings, say soccer, basketball, baseball. It was very, very surprising.

ERIC MAUK: This study was also published in the December issue of Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise and also pointed out the difference in demands on the road courses as opposed to the oval courses, as the study was carried out on the oval at Homestead-Miami Speedway as well as the road course at Sebring International Raceway. Take us through what you found comparing the road course demands on a driver and the oval course demands on the drivers.

DR. STEVE OLVEY: One of the recurring themes that the drivers would always say, the tight road courses were always more physically demanding, they felt. Some of the bigger oval tracks, the drivers would say, weren't really as physically demanding as they were perhaps mentally demanding. They often had long straightaways where they could actually take a breather as it were and really weren't under the stresses and strains of driving the car, except in some long, fast corners. But they always talked about Mid-Ohio, in particular, as being a really tough track. It has a lot of turns per period of time at that racetrack. One of the things that Pat and I wanted to do was to look and see if we could actually differentiate road courses from ovals with regard to the amount of metabolic energy it took to competitively race on those tracks. We felt we knew the answer. The test did verify the fact that road courses are considerably more physically demanding than the ovals.

ERIC MAUK: We are pleased to now be joined by Oriol Servia, who will drive for Patrick Racing in 2003, he hails from Catalonia in Spain. Thank you for joining us this afternoon, Oriol.

ORIOL SERVIA: Hello, everybody. Must be the time difference for the delay.

ERIC MAUK: No problem at all. We're just discussing the findings of the study that the doctors did that pretty much found out or determined that race car drivers go through some of the same or most of the same physical demands that many world class athletes do. Do you find it surprising at all or does that hold true with what you thought all along?

ORIOL SERVIA: Just for the amount of training I have to go through, I really consider myself an athlete, or if not it means I'm in very bad shape. I need what I do to be able to race the way I'm doing. Unless I am very below the expectations, it means that the races are very tough.

ERIC MAUK: Has physical fitness always been a part of your racing career or is it something that you stepped up as you have climbed up your racing ladder?

ORIOL SERVIA: I mean, I've always done some kind of a sport or another. It wasn't until '98 when I started Indy Lights that I felt that I needed to really concentrate and do it as something very, very professional. That's when I started with having my own personal trainer and start working very hard, especially my aerobics. Since then, it's been four years that I've been working at least two, three hours a day. Now in the off-season I do morning and afternoon. It's mainly aerobic. Most of the people from outside racing think that we do a lot of weights. I don't know if the doctors will agree, but the main thing we need is a lot of aerobics, a lot of running, a lot of bicycle. That's the main thing I work now in the wintertime actually.

ERIC MAUK: Doctors, either of you care to address the benefit of weight training as opposed to weight training?

DR. PATRICK JACOBS: The stresses in a race car seem to be related to the lateral gravitational forces. Say on an oval speedway, there's a lot of left turns. You have to resist the forces throwing you to the right side. On the road course, obviously we have right and left turns, more abrupt acceleration coming out of a turn into a straightaway and some very intense braking which actually increases force pulling you forward as you brake very intensely. But the exertions are within the muscular system. Now, depending on the sports coach, there's many different approaches to take. If you were to line up Olympians at a track and field event or a swimming event, the numbers one, two, three on the podium more likely would not always train the same manner. Though some racers may concentrate solely on the aerobic-type activities, other conditioning coaches would adhere to a philosophy that I would agree with, that there really needs to be quite a bit of resistance training also. This has to be balanced with the need to keep the body weight as light as possible also, because the heavier or larger a person, that's mass that has to be controlled when these extra gravitational forces are encountered. But resistance training does have some cardiorespiratory benefits, particularly if one was using some form of circuit resistance training or controlling the rest periods. You could get a cardiorespiratory benefit, plus a stronger core, especially, that is the midsection, would allow one to maintain the stable sitting position much more effectively.

ERIC MAUK: Let's open it up to questions from the media.

Q. Dr. Olvey, the fact that you deal day to day with drivers from the CART Champ Car Series, will this study help you prepare things for the drivers to maybe not only help them as they go by their day-by-day racing, but also to prevent certain injuries that you have to deal with after accidents?

DR. STEVE OLVEY: Absolutely. What we have found through the years, both Dr. Trammell and myself, is that the drivers that are the most fit and do train the most vigorously appear to be, and I think this has been born out in other studies, much better able to tolerate crashes, and not only have less severe injuries because of the flexibility that they have, the muscular strength that they have especially in the neck and shoulder area, but they get over the injury quicker because of a general fitness level. The other part of your question, it is important, especially this year we're going to have a number of new drivers, and I think most of them know what they're getting into. It may be we have some come from some disciplines that don't quite require the amount of effort it takes to be competitive as it does in a Champ Car. So with this study, we'll be able to guide them a little better as to what they need to be prepared for.

Q. Dr. Jacobs, I know you deal with a number of different sports in your study. Can you compare race car drivers more closely to one sport than the other? Is there one sport that you looked at and said, "This is just like X"?

DR. PATRICK JACOBS: Motorsports are a very unique variation of athletic endeavor. In some ways, the isometric contractions would be similar, that is the isometric static contractions in the muscles necessary to keep that seated position, might be similar to what you might see in some gymnastic endeavors, holding an iron cross for an extended time period. On the other hand, the cardiorespiratory stresses are more similar to what you might see in many traditional team sports, basketball, soccer, baseball. So it's very difficult to draw a comparison to different sports. It is a very unique sports setting.

Q. In basketball, players that hit a wall of fatigue, a lot of times their outside shots, their legs start to go, they're not able to make that shot. Is there a correlation to drivers experiencing that same type of fatigue, and because of that their bodies don't react, and can cause accidents?

DR. STEVE OLVEY: Yeah, we've observed through the years, and because of this in that case we watched drivers very closely from the safety trucks, sat around the racetrack to look for any erratic lap times, erratic behavior on the part of the driver. What you see when fatigue sets in is the driver starts to lose his ability to concentrate and to anticipate things as well as to react to things in front of him. There is a definite increase in the accident rate of fatigued drivers, which is another reason why they need to be in good physical condition, not unlike what happens on the ski slopes. When you talk to physicians in Colorado, they'll talk about the rush of injuries toward the end of the day on the one-last-ride type of thing. We're very aware of what the drivers are doing toward the latter stages of races in particular.

Q. Dr. Jacobs?

DR. PATRICK JACOBS: I'd have to agree with what Dr. Olvey has said. With ensuing fatigue, there are decrements in both attention and concentration, and also in fine motor skill. Obviously, driving a Champ Car, both are required. Anyone familiar with motor racing can often recount incidents where you may see some of the lesser-experienced drivers being able to keep up to the forefront early on in a race. As the conditions, be it the heat conditions or just the stresses associated, say, with a very intense road course, do start to manifest themselves towards the latter phases of the race, you'll generally see the older, more conditioned, experienced drivers tend to be at the forefront more than the lesser-conditioned drivers.

Q. Oriol, in a sense you were the guinea pig on this thing. Did you learn something about yourself, what you should be doing as you looked at these findings?

ORIOL SERVIA: There's always things you can do better. I mean, I've been working very hard for four years with a coach that's been coaching drivers such as Pedro Della Rosa for nine years before me. He's been around motor racing. I've already been working a lot. But there's always things that you can learn from other experiences, from other people. So, for sure, there's still a lot to improve. Like we're talking about, sometimes putting a heart rate monitor when you're testing, things like this, you get surprised about things. One day I was just doing some testing, doing some laps, and my heart rate went up to 170. That i think is one of the things that shows you've got to be in good shape because in a race, at least you're going to be between 160, 175, I would say. You're going to be two hours at that rate. You better be in shape. Another example, if anyone listening to us can play 15 minutes to PlayStation in the racing game, at the end you end up sweating. You're playing PlayStation on a comfortable sofa at home. To all that excitement, you add the G forces we go through, you can imagine how tiring it is.

Q. Often we see, especially in oval races, cars going wheel to wheel for a number of laps. How much extra energy is used by the driver in those situations?

ORIOL SERVIA: I think it's a lot of mental energy, that's for sure. You have to be very focused. If you don't control that, that mental energy, you start wasting a lot of physical energy because you start stressing your muscles more, you start pressing your steering wheel a lot more than what you should, then suddenly you're tired. Maybe in that oval that before we said you're not supposed to get tired, but because of this excitement you start wasting too much energy. That's when experience counts and you have to control yourself. Even if you are very focused mentally, you need to learn how to relax your body a little bit to try to be sharp at the end.

Q. Dr. Steve, you mentioned at the top of the teleconference today, you were asked a question on why would you go back and reexamine stuff that you basically knew already that without a doubt these guys definitely are athletes on the same kind of performance level as the stick-and-ball athletes. Was there something in the findings, data that you gathered this time, that maybe even more firmly underlined the fact that these guys are athletes? Is there something new you found in the data that maybe you didn't know before?

DR. STEVE OLVEY: I think the study better defined exactly what the driver's going through. I'm speaking for myself now. Even though I thought it was quite physically demanding to do this, I wasn't really sure what the differences were between the oval tracks and the road courses, for example. I wasn't really sure to what extent the oxygen consumption would be. So I think it just better defines the whole process. As we learn more and more, looking at other aspects of safety in the sport, it just makes us better able to educate younger drivers that are coming into the sport through go-karts and our lower series so they can better prepare themselves when they get up to the bigger cars.

Q. I don't know whether you run into this frustration, but regardless of these findings, the scientific methods that you have gone through to prove that these guys are definitely athletes, you're still going to get the cynics, sports writers, regardless of the data that you have gathered. As long as there's an engine supplying the propulsion for these automobiles, these guys aren't athletes. What do you do? Is it a question of having this data ready when a driver's athleticism is put under question?

DR. STEVE OLVEY: I think the fact that we did the study and got it published in such a wide-ranging journal pretty much lays to rest scientifically the question. If there are doubters out there, I think they probably have some hidden agenda or something because they're just not wanting to face the facts. It's very clearly there. It's pretty indisputable at this point.

Q. Oriol, there's a lot of training that goes on certainly with aerobics and cardiovascular training. Can you talk about diet that has to go along with that? What do you do to go along with your training in terms of diet to make sure you stay in peak condition?

ORIOL SERVIA: I would say it's different when it's race weekend and winter. Right now when I'm training morning and afternoon, I need to I think eat a lot of carbohydrates because that's what I'm burning. That's about it, you know. Obviously, try not to eat too fat. I don't like any dressing on the salads. It's a lot easier at home in Barcelona. On salad, we put a little bit of oil. In the States, it's harder because you have all these good dressings to put on it. It's a lot more difficult to keep my weight down. During the season, I'm not very strict myself on my diet. I just try to eat healthy. I just try to eat with a good balance. I try to have my vitamins. On race weekend, I eat mainly carbohydrates. The rest of the week, I don't try to eat many carbohydrates, not to gain too much weight. I try to make it as balanced as possible, as I said.

DR. STEVE OLVEY: One of the things that we found several years ago, that was discovered several years ago, is body fat alters two things: one, your ability to tolerate warm and heated environments, which is often the case in the racing car, and also it affects your ability to concentrate, believe it or not. Excess body fat, people who have excess body fat, cannot maintain a level of concentration as someone who is lean.

Q. Dr. Jacobs, back to some of the training issues for drivers. It's been said over the years there's very little specific weight training that serves racing drivers well. Can you recommend any kind of training program with weights that would really help that?

DR. PATRICK JACOBS: Initially it would prove a sound approach to present a well-balanced program. That is we often hear the term "sports-specific conditioning." In truth, the only manner to be completely sports specific in conditioning is to participate in the sport. If one wanted to be completely similar to the 400-meter dash, you would run competitive 400-meter dashes every day. Training is a matter of isolating certain components that are related to success in the event and attempting to enhance the characteristics related to that component, that is whether it's strength, power, endurance, stamina. In the case of racing, it may be appropriate then to have a total body conditioning program, utilizing all the movements, that is regardless of the movement pattern within the automobile, utilizing movements antagonistic to those motions also. Within the race car, there is very little movement, per se. So to concentrate the latter stages of training when one becomes more specific, that is the earlier stages may be generalized, emphasizing a general athleticism. As one approaches the competitive time of the year, becoming more specific. One might emphasize isometric training, that is holding static, controlled contractions, attempting to emphasize the core stability, that is the ability to stabilize a position by appropriate concentration on the midsection, hip structure, to hold the position within the automobile. This has been proven rather successful in a number of the different drivers that I've had to work with individually after the study.

Q. Is it possible to say what portion of drivers currently do the kind of aerobic and resistance training that you think is optimal?

DR. STEVE OLVEY: In our second series, I can speak to that, I don't know a single driver in either Champ Cars or the Atlantic Series that do not have a trainer or a training program that they religiously adhere to. The days are long gone where you can be competitive and not be in peak physical condition. We had a group of drivers the last several years that are pretty close to their peak ability. I think that's true of Formula 1, as well. I really can't speak about the other series, but I would guess that it's very similar, at least in the upper echelon.

Q. Is it possible also to compare V O2 max sport to sport directly based on what you have here? Is it possible to say whether your elite driver would be at the same V O2 level as an elite basketball player?

DR. PATRICK JACOBS: Well, the data did show that the peak V O2 was approximately 48 milliliter per KG per minute. Data on the elite basketball or football players, the data we compared it to, were published in 1992. There may be a difference within the last decade, the conditioning of those team sports athletes. But the number, that is the 48 milliliters per KG per minute, that is similar to what had been published in the past for baseball, football, basketball.

Q. I want to be clear whether you're talking about the elite level. I assume the folks you actually have tested here are not randomly chosen. I am trying to figure out whether the people you have tested can be compared on the elite level of their sport or whether they can be compared on the general level of the sport so you can say whether the best race car drivers are as good as the best basketball or baseball player, or whether the average driver is comparable to the average.

DR. PATRICK JACOBS: Obviously all the individuals involved in this racing study were volunteers, so it is possible that someone that wasn't as comfortable would not have participated. On the other hand, there was a wide range of fitness levels exhibited by these drivers. In fact, one of the drivers did not do as well and actually had difficulty meeting the challenges in both the test and on the road course, while at the other end of the continuum, there was one driver who actually demonstrated a cardiorespiratory efficiency similar to that you would see in a long-distance runner.

Q. What I'm trying to get at is, elite to elite or general to general.

DR. STEVE OLVEY: I think to help you out, this would be more general to general. The one that Pat is referring to that didn't perform really well wasn't really competitive either. Even though it's volunteers and not truly randomly selected, it turned out that it was kind of a cross-section of the group.

Q. Since you got seven guys, that's a fairly small sample, how confident do you feel in the results? That's a difficult question to answer, but I want to see your best estimate of how reliable these data are.

DR. PATRICK JACOBS: The relatively small sample would limit the findings in terms of your previous question. That is, were these seven individuals representative of the total group? There is some speculation to this point. In fact, in the article recently published that was listed as a possible limitation of a conclusion based on the peak V O2 data. That is, were they truly representative of the top or were they average was it truly random, are they representative of the mean? On the other hand, these are seven individuals out of approximately I believe 28 drivers, so we have a sampling of approximately 25% of the total population in that time period. At that point it's somewhat more comfortable. Also, the seven drivers had 12 years experience mean in the professional ranks, that both participated on a road course and oval speedway. Within these seven individuals, they participated on two different settings. So I'm very comfortable with the numbers in terms of the comparison between the two different settings, that these are the stresses they do encounter in the competitive-type arena, that is in terms of the cardiorespiratory stresses due to the driving of the automobile. Again, this was separated from competition. These tests were performed in a testing session, so there were not a large number of other automobiles. There may be some additional stresses, in fact, in competition, be they psychological or perhaps physiological because some altered driving techniques while in competition.

DR. STEVE OLVEY: One of the interesting findings during the study was that it's kind of a geometric progression in energy expenditure. As you get more and more to the ultimate competitive speeds, you can drive around the racetrack fast and not exert a lot of energy, and be relatively comfortable. But when you get into what would qualify for an event, say, or what would put you up in the first two rows, there's like a geometric increase in energy expenditure to do that. What Pat says about if we could do this testing in an actual race, I think the numbers would even be higher. We feel fairly confident they would be higher.

ERIC MAUK: I'd like to thank you all for coming out today. Oriol, thank you. We look forward to seeing 92 the #20 Visteon/Patrick Racing Ford-Cosworth/Lola in the 2003 CART series. Dr. Jacobs, Dr. Olvey, thank you very much. Fascinating findings. Have a very happy holiday.

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