An interview with:
Dr. Steve Olvey
Dr. Patrick Jacobs
Part 1 of 2
INDIANAPOLIS (December 16, 2002) - What follows is the transcript of the CART weekly teleconference presented by WorldCom featuring CART Director of Medical Affairs Dr. Steve Olvey, Dr. Patrick Jacobs and Champ Car driver Oriol Servia.
Eric Mauk: Welcome, everyone, to the CART weekly teleconference presented by World Com. We have a different slant on this week's teleconference as we are pleased to be able to present to you Dr. Steve Olvey, CART's Director of Medical Affairs, and Dr. Patrick Jacobs, Assistant Director of Neurological Surgery in Miami. These two doctors recently published a paper that details a rather lengthy study that they did on the requirements of fitness and actually what goes on in the human body in a race car driver and compared that to some of the elite world class athletes, kind of compared and contrasted some of the requirements that the race car drivers have as opposed to some other athletes and came up with some fairly interesting results, a paper that was published, we put out a press release on that Friday. Dr. Olvey, Dr. Jacobs, thank you for joining us today.
Dr. Steve Olvey: Thank you.
Dr. Patrick Jacobs: My pleasure.
Mauk: For Dr. Olvey, obviously you've been around racing and race car drivers for a very long time. Can you tell us what prompted you to undertake this study?
Dr. Olvey: Really, it's because in the years that I've been doing this, one of the most frequent questions asked of me by the media, almost every venue we went to, was, "Are race drivers really athletes? What does it take to drive the race cars?" I used to tell them that, yes, they are, and it's very physically demanding because my observations over the years were that they were quite fit, and you had to be quite fit in order to compete at the levels that our cars were. But it was very difficult to convince a lot of people.
We did a study years ago looking at heart rates with drivers and found that the heart rates were quite high, and they would come down under caution periods, they'd go back up again immediately when the cars were driving. This paper was presented at a conference in Paris, France, probably 10 or 11 years ago. There was still a lot of skepticism. Most of the physicians there felt it was due to anxiety levels on the part of the drivers, kind of adrenaline release and rush of driving the cars, and couldn't really be physical exertion because everybody drove their car to work, and they sometimes drove fast, they couldn't conceive of this being very physically demanding.
Then at Miami, Dr. Jacobs and I are both in the same department, he presented a conference I went to where he was talking about a very small metabolic monitor. I thought, gee, if we can put that in the race car with the drivers, maybe we could prove what their oxygen uptake was and how much energy was really required to do this.
When I brought it to his attention, he looked at me like the rest of the doctors and thought I was crazy because he couldn't conceive, I don't think, of how race drivers could be in the same plane as other athletes with regard to cardiovascular fitness. I'll let Pat take over from there, as he designed the study.
Mauk: Dr. Jacobs, can you address that? Were you surprised at the results of the study?
Dr. Jacobs: Yes, I certainly was. As Dr. Olvey mentioned, my background in racing is not as deep in years of experience. I was very naive in terms of the drivers' fitness and whatnot. Of course, as anyone else, to the first eye's exposure to racing, it's very difficult to understand why there would be these types of stresses. Most sports settings are characterized by large muscle actions, that is dynamic movements of the legs perhaps, arms and legs, which obviously require oxygen to fuel these muscle actions.
Initially, upon inspection of the drivers' movements, there may be some very short, rapid movements of the arms, but relatively stable positioning within the car. Of course, initially knowing everything, I assumed that there would not be a tremendous oxygen consumption measurement in the situation, and that most of the heart rate increases would then be related to increases of neural excitement.
Often in a sports setting we may say a heart rate increase is representative of aerobic fitness, aerobic exercise stresses. We also use a percentage of the estimated peak heart rate to be able to determine if a person is in the aerobic training zone. Well, there are other requirements also. If that was not the case, if these other requirements were not in place for activity actually to be aerobic or anaerobic exercise, any activity that would excite you, shoplifting, say, would become an aerobic exercise. There's been this argument for some time whether it was really a sporting setting. We were very surprised and excited once the first few test results came in to see some numbers which were in the area of which you would see in many of the traditional sports settings, say soccer, basketball, and baseball. It was very, very surprising.
Mauk: This study was also published in the December issue of Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise and also pointed out the difference in demands on the road courses as opposed to the oval courses, as the study was carried out on the oval at Homestead-Miami Speedway as well as the road course at Sebring International Raceway. Take us through what you found comparing the road course demands on a driver and the oval course demands on the drivers.
Dr. Olvey: One of the recurring themes that the drivers would always say, the tight road courses were always more physically demanding, they felt. Some of the bigger oval tracks, the drivers would say, weren't really as physically demanding as they were perhaps mentally demanding. They often had long straightaways where they could actually take a breather as it were and really weren't under the stresses and strains of driving the car, except in some long, fast corners. But they always talked about Mid-Ohio, in particular, as being a really tough track. It has a lot of turns per period of time at that racetrack.
One of the things that Pat and I wanted to do was to look and see if we could actually differentiate road courses from ovals with regard to the amount of metabolic energy it took to competitively race on those tracks. We felt we knew the answer. The test did verify the fact that road courses are considerably more physically demanding than the ovals.
Mauk: We are pleased to now be joined by Oriol Servia, who will drive for Patrick Racing in 2003, he hails from Catalonia in Spain. Thank you for joining us this afternoon, Oriol.
Oriol Servia: Hello, everybody.
Mauk: We're just discussing the findings of the study that the doctors did that pretty much found out or determined that race car drivers go through some of the same or most of the same physical demands that many world class athletes do. Do you find it surprising at all or does that hold true with what you thought all along?
Servia: Just for the amount of training I have to go through, I really consider myself an athlete, or if not it means I'm in very bad shape. I need what I do to be able to race the way I'm doing. Unless I am very below the expectations, it means that the races are very tough.
Mauk: Has physical fitness always been a part of your racing career or is it something that you stepped up as you have climbed up your racing ladder?
Servia: I mean, I've always done some kind of a sport or another. It wasn't until '98 when I started Indy Lights that I felt that I needed to really concentrate and do it as something very, very professional. That's when I started with having my own personal trainer and start working very hard, especially my aerobics. Since then, it's been four years that I've been working at least two, three hours a day. Now in the off-season I do morning and afternoon. It's mainly aerobic. Most of the people from outside racing think that we do a lot of weights. I don't know if the doctors will agree, but the main thing we need is a lot of aerobics, a lot of running, a lot of bicycle. That's the main thing I work now in the wintertime actually.
Mauk: Doctors, either of you care to address the benefit of weight training as opposed to aerobic training?
Dr. Jacobs: The stresses in a race car seem to be related to the lateral gravitational forces. Say on an oval speedway, there's a lot of left turns. You have to resist the forces throwing you to the right side. On the road course, obviously we have right and left turns, more abrupt acceleration coming out of a turn into a straightaway and some very intense braking which actually increases force pulling you forward as you brake very intensely. But the exertions are within the muscular system.
Now, depending on the sports coach, there are many different approaches to take. If you were to line up Olympians at a track and field event or a swimming event, the numbers one, two, three on the podium more likely would not always train the same manner. Though some racers may concentrate solely on the aerobic-type activities, other conditioning coaches would adhere to a philosophy that I would agree with, that there really needs to be quite a bit of resistance training also. This has to be balanced with the need to keep the body weight as light as possible also, because the heavier or larger a person, that's mass that has to be controlled when these extra gravitational forces are encountered.
But resistance training does have some cardiorespiratory benefits, particularly if one was using some form of circuit resistance training or controlling the rest periods. You could get a cardiorespiratory benefit, plus a stronger core, especially, that is the midsection, would allow one to maintain the stable sitting position much more effectively.
Mauk: Let's open it up to questions from the media.
Q: Dr. Olvey, the fact that you deal day to day with drivers from the CART Champ Car Series, will this study help you prepare things for the drivers to maybe not only help them as they go by their day-by-day racing, but also to prevent certain injuries that you have to deal with after accidents?
Dr. Olvey: Absolutely. What we have found through the years, both Dr. Trammell and myself, is that the drivers that are the most fit and do train the most vigorously appear to be, and I think this has been born out in other studies, much better able to tolerate crashes, and not only have less severe injuries because of the flexibility that they have, the muscular strength that they have especially in the neck and shoulder area, but they get over the injury quicker because of a general fitness level.
The other part of your question, it is important, especially this year we're going to have a number of new drivers, and I think most of them know what they're getting into. It may be we have some come from some disciplines that don't quite require the amount of effort it takes to be competitive as it does in a Champ Car. So with this study, we'll be able to guide them a little better as to what they need to be prepared for.
Q: Dr. Jacobs, I know you deal with a number of different sports in your study. Can you compare race car drivers more closely to one sport than the other? Is there one sport that you looked at and said, "This is just like X"?
Dr. Jacobs: Motorsports are a very unique variation of athletic endeavor. In some ways, the isometric contractions would be similar, that is the isometric static contractions in the muscles necessary to keep that seated position, might be similar to what you might see in some gymnastic endeavors, holding an iron cross for an extended time period.
On the other hand, the cardiorespiratory stresses are more similar to what you might see in many traditional team sports, basketball, soccer, baseball. So it's very difficult to draw a comparison to different sports. It is a very unique sports setting.