Yoga and NASCAR: An Unexpected Yet Perfect Union
Allison Osman, FlowYogaMagazine.com
The two pit crews of NASCAR’s Earnhardt Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates teams practice yoga Mondays to recharge after a Sunday race.
A typical week for the pit crews involves a race Sunday, recuperation and exercise that sometimes includes yoga Monday, pit stop practices Tuesday through Thursday, and a Friday to Saturday weekend break.
Yoga instructor Lisa Brownstead, 43, of Charlotte, N.C., leads the pit crews and corporate staff of Earnhardt Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates in their one-hour yoga instruction at the teams’ headquarters in Concord, N.C. She has been a yoga instructor for four years and is co-owner of Corp Wellness Yoga.
“I choose pretty challenging yoga routines because these are strong guys who like to be physically challenged. Being focused is also an important part of their jobs, so learning to breathe deeply also helps them to release stress and stay focused and in the moment,” said Brownstead. “I want them to feel like they’ve gotten a good physical workout, but that they have also had the opportunity to release stress and end class feeling relaxed.”
These pit crews started practicing yoga approximately three years ago, said Adam Mosher, head strength coach for the teams.
One pit crew team supports the number one car, driven by Jamie McMurray, and the other team supports the number 42 car, driven by Juan Pablo Montoya.
Meet three team members and find out how yoga benefits them, helping them maintain and improve their job performance:
Ed Watkins, 36
Position: Gas man for the number 42 car.
Watkins refuels the race car during pit stops. During a 12.5 second pit stop, he flows 18 gallons of fuel into the car. He also makes any necessary chassis adjustments during the pit stop to make the car react and drive better.
Benefits of yoga:
“The body mechanics of what I do involves a lot of explosiveness, going from a dead stop to a full all-out movement. The injury prevention through flexibility that I gain through yoga is tremendous. It keeps my core muscles, hamstrings, quads, glutes, everything involved in a pit stop’s explosive maneuver, all stretched out,” said Watkins.
There are a lot of distractions that happen during the course of a four or five-hundred mile race, he said. Yoga has helped him with mind-body discipline, training him to stay on target, stay on goal, and stay focused throughout the course of a six-hour race.
After a yoga session, Watkins feels revitalized.
“In my position, my lower body and my lower back go through a large amount of stress. Yoga alleviates a lot of the pressure in my lower back from holding a hundred pound fuel can,” said Watkins.
Adam Mosher, 31
Positions: Head strength coach for both teams and Rear tire carrier for the number one car.
As head strength coach, Mosher is responsible for the health and well-being of the 12 pit crew members, six on each car’s team. They are called over-the-wall guys, since they jump over the safety wall to go work on the car during pit stops. Their physical health includes strength training, conditioning and nutrition. He also works with the rest of the corporation’s employees, providing physical fitness guidance.
As tire carrier, Mosher places new rear tires on the race car during pit stops, passenger side first and then driver side, all in 12.5 seconds.
Benefits of yoga:
According to Mosher, who has a background in college football, he brought yoga into the pit crew’s fitness routine to improve core strength, balance and propioception, which is the body’s sense of spacial orientation and positioning. Improved propioception leads to better coordination and athleticism, both of which are crucial to successful pit stops.
Yoga also helps Mosher with mental toughness.
“When you have to hold a position in yoga even if you really don’t want to do it, it hurts and it burns, you can apply that to pit stops. When you run out there, you have to put everything else aside; all the cars going by you, all the pressure you feel, all the stress you feel. You have to mentally get through it and do what you’re supposed to do,” said Mosher.
Additionally, the two nights following a yoga practice yield his best two nights of sleep all week, said Mosher.
Chip Goode, 34
Position: Head Pit Crew Coach for the number 42 team.
During the off-season, Goode selects, recruits and hires the right six men for the pit crew’s over-the-wall team. In-season, from February through November, he conducts all the pit practices for the number 42 team, preparing them for the various pit stop scenarios and car adjustments they may face during a Sunday race. He bases the scenarios on different strategies for different race tracks, determined through coordination with the crew chief, engineers and team managers. There are anywhere from five to twelve pit stops per race, depending on tire wear, caution flags, and car performance.
At the race track, Goode calls the plays during the pit stops, communicating tasks to his five fellow team members. He is also the rear tire carrier for the number 42 car, studding the new tires onto the rear axle. He also makes adjustments to the race car, as needed.
Benefits of yoga:
“I want flexibility, strength and injury prevention, and I think yoga provides that,” said Goode. “Anything I can do to help stretch and elongate my muscles is a benefit to me. I carry a 70 pound tire and I have to get in a really low squatting position. I use a lot of core strength to rotate the tire. To have flexibility and have my body feeling good is crucial to my job performance. ”
Tires weigh 70 pounds with an inner liner, a safety feature for larger tracks, and 55 pounds, without the liner, for short tracks, said Goode.
“The season is so long and we do a lot of travel. There are a lot of Sundays where I’m getting up at four a.m., catching a plane at five a.m., and I don’t get home until 10 or 11 o’clock at night. I may not eat right or hydrate properly that day,” said Goode. “There are a lot of things going on that could get my body off sequence for the rest of the week. Yoga gives me energy and I feel like a whole new person.”
After his first three yoga sessions, Goode began to feel progress and improvement in his range of motion.
“I became a believer,” said Goode.
What does the teams’ yoga practice include? Here is a synopsis of one of their recent sessions with Brownstead:
Cat and Cow: to warm up the spine.
Side body stretches: to balance the spine and strengthen the back, which leads to a stronger core.
Sun Salutation B series: to increase the heart rate and warm up the body.
Warrior 1, Warrior 2 and Peaceful Warrior series: to strengthen and tone the thighs, shoulders and core.
Crescent Lunges and Deep Runner’s Lunge: to open up the hips.
Cheetahs: to work the shoulders and core.
Balancing postures: to teach focus and engage core strengthening.
Boat to Canoe: in addition to crunches, intentional crunches and bicycle, to exercise the abdominal muscles.
Bridge or Full Wheel: to increase energy through a back-bending series.
Pigeon: to open the hips and calm the mind.
Shoulder Stand or Happy Baby: to promote clarity and creativity through inversion.
Savasana: to relax totally at the conclusion of the yoga practice.
“It has been incredibly rewarding to see these strong guys increase their flexibility and range of motion in their yoga poses,” said Brownstead. “I have seen them become more confident on their yoga mats and open to learning new poses.”