Talking Race Car Driver Fitness with Jim Leo of PitFit Training

Fitness is something we have talked about before on the Motorsport Prospects blog because it is of such importance that it cannot be overemphasized and when it comes to motorsport and fitness the name Jim Leo and his company PitFit Training are always part of the conversation.

Jim was gracious enough to spend some time with me during an extremely busy time as PitFit are in the process of completing a move to a new and larger facility. It was a fascinating conversation and one that I think all young drivers and their parents read as it contains some real nuggets of wisdom regardless of whether you train with Jim and his team or not.

Motorsport Prospects: Pitfit has worked with a lot of drivers in a lot of different series and has developed a reputation as the place to go for motorsport performance training. Is this your primary focus?

Jim Leo: Yes our primary focus is on motorsports and that is what we want to be known for. While we do a fair amount of work outside of motorsport it is very specific and is related mostly to cognitive and vision training. Athletes in other sports apply that to their particular disciplines but motorsport is where are primary focus lies.

Our strength is definitely in our programming. Everybody is on a program and we pride ourselves on tailoring this programming to every driver and crew member that uses our facility.

MP: What makes PitFit unique? How would you compare yourselves to another high performance gym out there?

JL: We are fairly comparable to any other elite gym for what we do but we are strong believers in giving maximum value for what you are paying for. Just because motorsport is expensive and parents and drivers may have the money does not mean we overcharge anybody. Far from it. Everybody pays a standard fee and when you look at the cost/benefit ratio of what you get out of our programs it is by far in my opinion the best value in racing.

MP: How important is physical fitness in motorsport?

Jim Leo
Jim Leo of PitFit Training

JL: When it comes to young drivers we explain the process of what we do and why a little differently depending on who we are talking to.

For the young driver we focus on the fact that we understand the fact that what they go through in the car is very physical, an activity that results in elevated heart rate, high G forces and muscle strain. The great thing about us is that we recognize this and the kids identify with this. We connect with them in that way because they realize we understand exactly what they are going through in the cockpit.

Another important point we like to emphasize with them is that because it is an expensive sport, by putting in the time and effort to stay in peak condition they are in essence repaying their parents for putting up the money so that they can live their dream. If they don’t put in the work they are showing their parents and everybody else that they don’t care, that they do not have the attitude of a champion and this usually motivates them to work hard in all that they do.

For parents because they are paying and because we acknowledge that the sport is dangerous we put the emphasis on the safety aspect of having their kids be in peak condition. What we do with their kids in these training programs is ultimately make racing safer. Core strength helps to offset G loads. The more that the core is weak the more their posture will be out of sorts and the harder time they will have in the cockpit hitting the lines they need to hit and driving at their optimum. In addition, the training we put drivers through with respect to reaction training, eye coordination and cognitive response will help them to react better on the track and avoid contact and accidents as it all improves reaction times. And if they do have an accident, their physical strength will help them recover faster.

While some people think this may be a counter-intuitive way to sell our services, ultimately parents want their kids to have fun racing but be as safe as possible doing it. Our programs will help on both counts. On top of all that, at the end of the day this will make them a better race car driver which is ultimately what everybody wants out of any racing-related investment they make.

MP: For a driver that considers themselves fit, are there specific areas that they should be working on that would not be covered by a “regular” fitness routine?

JL: Well we do not really do any fancy or “weird” workouts, what we do is put together training programs for our clients. A lot of what we do is similar to what goes on at any other gym, but our programs have very specific training targeted to motorsport athletes. And our clients have very specific training cycles depending on the season so a pre-season training cycle will be different from an in-season or pre-race cycle for example.

At the end of the day as a driver you need to be doing something. You do not need to buy one of our programs to be successful as long as you are training in some way for all the benefits I have already mentioned. We put on multiple training seminars that you can take advantage of to help with your conditioning as well as posting some great hints and tips on our social media. We definitely give away as much as we sell our services.

It is also important to play other sports and not just be consumed by racing. Playing other sports gives you a different perspective both athletically and mentally and it will in the end help you with your racing. You need variety to simulate the mind and the brain. Not only will this variety make you healthier, it will also help to prevent burn out. So many kids have become one dimensional when it comes to sports that often they get to a point where they burn out, where they just don’t want to participate any more. Playing multiple sports or participating in different activities whether that be music, art or something else completely different will keep a child balanced and engaged and that will ultimately help them develop as a person.

MP: What about staying fit on the road?

JL: Well there should not be a whole lot of training done during race weekends if the driver is following their program. But drivers do tend to travel a lot whether they are meeting with sponsors, attending test sessions, perhaps running their business or otherwise not being at home and when they are hotel gyms are a blessing. When traveling drivers are just trying to maintain their current fitness level, they are not trying to substantially increase their fitness level during these periods. Race weekends is where they should be focusing on mental training and breathing drills, not

MP: PitFit is a physical location in Indianapolis. What if a driver wanted to take advantage of your fitness programs but does not live in Indianapolis?

JL: There are a number of options under our PitFit Online initiative. We offer a variety of online fitness coaching options that fit any budget. Services offered include exercise programming, nutrition coaching, recovery and stress management coaching, and more.

We truly have different programs that have different paths and various levels that would fit almost any driver. We will be adding in neuro cognitive training exercises with an iPad app where clients can track all their data. We are also working with iRacing on a sim program that should be pretty cool.

MP: Where does nutrition fit into the fitness equation?

JL: Basic nutritional principles always apply. While it depends on what the drivers race weekend looks like, it is not a good time to try anything new on a new race weekend. Of course this is a bad idea for any athlete. This should only be done prior to race weekend. Common sense should prevail. Stay away from processed foods. Keep your hydration levels high. Race weekend should be about bland food not spicy. Consume a fair amount of water. On race morning drink a big glass of water right away. Your urine should be pale. Closer to the race you want to cut down on water intake for obvious reasons since you will be in a cockpit for a good amount of time so chew ice chips or cubes. And always be cautious of where the ice and water comes from. Stick to the same bottled water brand you are used to for best results.

MP: Finally, can you tell us about your new facility?

JL: Our new location is open for regular business. New address is 8446 Moller Road, Indianapolis, In 46268. It is only a mile from previous our location.

5400 square feet, with a 3500 square feet gym. There will also be a neurocognitive room. As we continue the build-out, there will three total restrooms, two private shower/changing rooms, new flooring (including turf), and a Drivers Lounge! It will be amazing!

MP: Thank you so much for your time. How do people get in touch with you?

JL: They can check out our website here. They can also check out our Motorsport Prospects listing here for all our social media and contact details.

Author: Mark Boudreau

Mark Boudreau is the publisher of Motorsport Prospects