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Revved-up athletes: race-car drivers train on the tract and in the gym to get their bodies in peak physical condition.

Gearing up for the grueling 805-kilometer (500-mile) Indy 500 requires more than just skilled driving. Drivers must endure intense speeds, high heat, and crushing forces. "It's one of the most rigorous, stressful situations I can think of," says Patrick Jacobs, an exercise scientist at Florida Atlantic University.


Speeding upward of 322 km (200 mi) per hour would leave most people's palms sweating. When the brain senses danger, the endocrine system releases the hormones (chemical messengers) adrenaline and cortisol, which trigger our fight-or-flight response. Racers have learned to stay calm under pressure instead of panicking.


Racers depend on their nervous system (network of nerve cells that carry information throughout the body) to sense their surroundings and react. They sharpen their reflexes by doing practice laps in their superfast cars. Off the track, drivers use computerized visual-training programs to improve reaction time and enhance their field of vision (area you can see without shifting your eyes). Some even prepare by playing racing video games.


With heat from the asphalt and engine, temperatures inside a race car's cockpit can reach 66[degrees]C (150[degrees]F). Plus, drivers wear a helmet and gloves, and a multilayer flame-resistant suit. "As heat builds up, you have difficulty concentrating, as well as slower reflexes," says Dr. Stephen Olvey, a critical-care neuroscientist at the University of Miami. To cool the body, the skin--the main organ of the external, protective integumentary system--produces sweat. Drivers can lose up to 3.6 kilograms (8 pounds) of sweat during a race. A trim physique also helps in sweltering conditions. That's because fat traps body heat.


On hard turns, drivers experience g forces of about five times Earth's gravity--greater than those felt by astronauts during shuttle liftoff. "Drivers have to fight these forces to stay positioned in the center of the seat," says Jacobs.

To stay put, racers rely on their muscular system, which allows the body to move and flex. Racers use resistance training (exercise against a weight) to build strength and endurance in their neck, abdomen, and back muscles.


A measure of race-car drivers' oxygen consumption and heart rate on the speedway proves they are as fit as other pro athletes. In fact, many drivers stay in shape by running, swimming, or cycling. Racers try to not overdo this type of exercise, though. Too much aerobic training could increase the efficiency of their cardiovascular system, so their heart beats more slowly. Sudden movements could then cause lightheadedness, which could be disastrous when driving a car that is rocketing the length of a football field per second.


Web extra

Find out more about the different Human-body systems at:


* Do you think driving a race car is as physically rigorous as doing some other sports?

* How do you think race-car drivers prepare off-track to get their bodies in shape for upcoming races?

* What are some factors you think may cause race-car drivers to become overheated during the race?


* The combined area of all four of the car's tires in contact with the racetrack at any moment during the Indy 500 is roughly the size of a piece of notebook paper.

* The Indy 500 public address system that keeps fans informed of the race's progress has 341 loudspeakers, 38 subwoofers, and more than 70 miles of speaker wire-making it the world's largest public address system.

* The average person has approximately 2.6 million sweat glands. The majority of these are eccrine sweat glands that produce sweat. The less numerous apocrine sweat glands form around hair follicles and are the ones responsible for the stench.


* In 2007, the Indy 500 went green and became the first motorsport race to require that drivers run their cars on renewable fuels. Since then, racers like Leilani Munter have been searching for other ways to promote environmentalism on the racecourse. Imagine she has hired you to create a flyer to pass out at this year's Indy 500 about what she is doing to offset her carbon footprint while racing. Get started by checking out her Web site: What would you do to help the environment if you were a race-car driver?


MATH: The average Indy car uses 1.3 gallons of gas per lap. A driver makes 200 laps in the 500-mile Indy 500 race. How many gallons of gas does the car use per race? The average Indy car has a gas tank that holds 22 gallons. How many pit stops to refill the tank would be needed? Today's family cars average 34 miles per gallon (mpg). How does that compare with the average mpg of an Indy car? (Answers: 1.3 gallons per lap x 200 laps = 260 gallons of gas; 260 gallons/22 gallons = 11.8 pit stops; 500 miles/260 gallons = 1.9 mpg for the race, or nearly 18 times less efficient than the average family car.)


* Take a tour of the Formula 1 race cars used in the Indy 500 with this interactive diagram: /hi/motorsport/formula_one/car_guide/default.stm.

* The Indianapolis 500 takes place on May 24th; find out more at:

Revved-Up Athletes

DIRECTIONS: Answer the following questions in complete sentences.

1. What are some activities that race-car drivers do to stay in shape and prepare for races?

2. When are the hormones adrenaline and cortisol released in a driver's body?

3. What do drivers do to protect their bodies from the high temperatures inside the cars?

4. Why do racers avoid doing too much aerobic exercise?


1. Some activities that race-car drivers do to stay in shape and prepare for races are: run, swim, and cycle to stay fit; build strength in their neck, abdomen, and back muscles to withstand g-forces; and use visual-training programs and video games to improve focus.

2. The hormones adrenaline and cortisol are released in a driver's body when they are stressed. These hormones trigger the fight-or-flight response.

3. To protect their bodies from the high temperature in the car, drivers wear a helmet, gloves, and a multilayer flame-resistant suit.

4. Racer avoid doing too much aerobic exercise because it could increase the efficiency of their cardiovascular system, making their hearts beat more slowly. This could lead to sudden movements causing lightheadness, which is dangerous when they speed down the track.
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Title Annotation:LIFE: BODY SYSTEMS
Author:Crane, Cody
Publication:Science World
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:May 11, 2009
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