Inside the gym that is preparing drivers for 500 brutal miles


INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Speeding around the oval takes more than just guts. It takes strengths many of the field of 33 are developing in a fitness program unique to their needs.

A gym based 10 miles from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway helps drivers get there.

For IndyCar driver Charlie Kimball, that goal starts here at PitFit Training on the northwest side of Indianapolis.

“We want to have our drivers prepared for anything whether it’s an accident, whether it’s performance on track, whether it’s recovery from an accident,” said Jim Leo, CEO of PitFit Training. “We’ve dealt with all of it.”

Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist Jim Leo opened the gym 26 years ago to fulfill a need, a void open in preparation for open-wheel racing.

“I saw something out there that nobody seemed to see and decided to go for it,” Leo said.

The sport’s stage is like none other, so too are the ways these driving athletes need to be strong.

Leo says his program focuses on what you might expect, the physicality of what goes on in the driver’s seat.

“We don’t come in and just do normal bench presses and squats and situps,” said IndyCar driver Charlie Kimball. “We’re doing different movements that are particular and focused for what we do and need in the race car.”

Creativity in strength exercise and specialized tools offer neck training, prepare the body for g-forces and hanging onto the wheel.

“When you’re racing on track at 200 miles per hour, you’re having to steer 5,000 pounds of downforce, 750 horsepower under your right foot,” Kimball said. “To make that work lap after lap after lap because it’s not the first lap that matters.”

Then there’s the mind. 

PitFit readies drivers with visual and neurocognitive training to simulate the stimulus overload experienced when controlling an engine.

“You’re obviously cheating death every time you get in the car and so there’s a lot of stress that goes on with the driver that they have to overcome,” Leo said.

Kimball says he has found that to be true alongside some other big name workout buddies.

“We all have our strengths, Scott Dixon’s heart rate never gets higher than most of us sleep at,” Kimball said. “Tony Kanaan is great on the bike and quite a runner. Alexander Rossi lifts some pretty big weights, Spencer Pigot lifts big weights. James Hinchcliffe is a beast on the bench but not quite as good on the squats and deadlifts.”

He may have a lot of racing celebrity company but Kimball stands alone in at least one way. He is the first licensed driver with diabetes in the history of IndyCar. It was a diagnosis that stalled his career mid-season in 2007.

Kimball will be hoping to bring home a checkered flag on Sunday.

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