Driving a race car as a senior citizen is not so much about winning races but more about battling Father Time. How to turn back the clock? Vision, fitness, hydration, nutrition, driving style, and car set up.
Corrected, my vision was fine on an eye chart but motorsports demand much more than reading small letters. What I did not know was that cataracts had affected my depth perception and ability to track objects. Functionally, my racing vision was mediocre and getting worse. Year over year, I was struggling to match my lap times.
During a routine eye exam, I flunked the glare test. Cataracts! Lens replacement surgery noticeably improved my functional racing vision. Things like brake marker boards are no longer fuzzy and moving around.
I have always trained for racing through weight training and running. People who have known me for years will remember the squeeze balls that I squished during meetings. I am still squeezing one. 🙂
Still, I gradually wore out during a race weekend. On Friday, I would feel strong. On Saturday, not quite a strong but still OK. By Sunday, my tank was empty…and my lap times showed it. I had lost endurance.
I have changed how I train. To allow my older body to recover, I now train a bit harder a bit less frequently. Back in the day, I could lift one day and run the next. No longer. Now I rest two days between strenuous workouts. With this additional recovery, I am maintaining strength while re-building endurance.
Hydration / Nutrition
Hydration has never been an issue. I take in fluids almost continuously during a race weekend, ice water and half strength Gatorade…the red fruit punch is my favorite.
But I have been known to be too busy to eat. Nutrition is now an equal priority with hydration. Not bigger meals, I eat something every hour.
What is eaten, of course, matters a lot. Older athletes require more protein. So protein bars, chocolate milk, mixed nuts, cashews, turkey sandwiches, and the like are on a race weekend menu. Click HERE for an article on protein and fitness.
My eye-hand coordination and reflexes are not what they were 40 years ago. With that reality, I have made a subtle change to my driving style.
In general, a positive turn-in that squares off corner entry is the fast way around a race track. This method requires fast hands to correct corner entry oversteer and my hands are not that fast anymore.
My senior citizen driving style is a gentle, slightly early turn-in with throttle manipulation to hold a long apex. Maybe not quite as fast in, but still pretty fast out, and with much less chance of a spin.
The key to making this method work is steering with the throttle. Everyone (or at least everyone going fast) picks up the throttle before the apex to maintain speed. If the car is not holding a long apex, a tiny bit less maintenance throttle (not more steering angle!) will tighten up the line and position the car for corner exit without losing much, if any, speed.
Click HERE for in-car video that illustrates this senior citizen driving style.
Car Set Up
In this new driving style, the throttle is not an on-off switch. What is required is a long, linear throttle linkage and very stiff return springs. My Lola’s throttle pedal travels almost 2 inches between stops and, with four return springs, snaps back hard.
While my right foot is manipulating the throttle, my left foot is providing balance. A dead pedal in the left corner of the foot box provides a consistent balancing point.
My shock and bar settings have been evolving towards a stiffer, faster reacting car. This seems counterintuitive as my personal response time is getting slower with age. However, a gentle corner entry gives me confidence that the rear will not step out and a stiffer car is easier to steer with the throttle. The in-car video supports this theory…my hands are quiet and the car appears to be neutral.
I suspect that vision is the single most important factor in my improving on-track performance but fitness is close behind.
Training, hydration, and nutrition are not independent. So while I cannot attribute to each their contributions to my improving endurance, I can certainly say that I have more energy on Sundays.
Changes to driving style and car set up are also related. They were not part of a grand plan but were the result of trying new things. The OODA and PDCA problem solving and continuous improvement models apply perfectly in motorsports.
At 68 years old, I had somewhat of a comeback season in 2023. My lap times were very good and I did not fall off the road even once. Beating Father Time? No, but at least holding my own driving a race car as a senior citizen. Maybe I can hang on until the 2033 Formula Ford World Tour…