IRL: Ganassi Racing team drivers get fitness assessment

PITTSBURGH, Pa. (March 31, 2003) - When thinking of athletes who need to be physically and athletically fit, professional race car drivers may not come to mind as readily as other athletes involved in sports such as football, basketball or track...

PITTSBURGH, Pa. (March 31, 2003) - When thinking of athletes who need to be physically and athletically fit, professional race car drivers may not come to mind as readily as other athletes involved in sports such as football, basketball or track and field. "However, the rigors of auto racing demand that drivers be at their peak physical and mental performance levels in order to be competitive," said Chip Ganassi, owner of the Chip Ganassi Racing team.

The five drivers of the Ganassi Racing team - IRL drivers Scott Dixon and Tomas Scheckter and NASCAR Winston Cup drivers Sterling Marlin, Jamie McMurray, and Casey Mears - will be spending Monday, March 31, at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center's (UPMC) Center for Sports Medicine, where they will undergo comprehensive physical fitness testing, sports performance training and other specialty consultation by UPMC's sports medicine and sports performance team.

"The day spent with UPMC's staff of sports medicine and sports performance specialists will provide each driver with a baseline assessment, the first step in an ongoing evaluation and treatment process to continuously enhance their competitive performance and personal physical fitness levels," said Ganassi.

The UPMC team has provided similar evaluation and treatment programs to numerous other high-profile professional and elite athletes from around the world, including professional golfers, professional football players, baseball players and motocross riders, as well as top-ranked college football and hockey players preparing for professional leagues' draft process.

The UPMC team explains the program it has designed specifically for the Chip Ganassi Racing team:

The drivers will have comprehensive medical examinations through the UPMC Executive Physical Program at the UPMC Downtown Pittsburgh satellite. The exams will include assessment of vision and hearing, pulmonary function, cardiac stress, oxygen consumption and physiologic response to exercise, blood screening and other tests, and will be conducted by Anthony Yates, M.D., a UPMC internal medicine specialist and long-time team physician for the Pittsburgh Steelers. "Drivers at this level need to be in top physical shape in order to endure the particular physical and mental demands of their sport, much like the professional football players I see," said Dr. Yates. In UPMC's Center for Sports Medicine's Neuromuscular Research Lab (NMRL), the drivers will undergo specific testing for balance and shoulder rotator cuff strength. "We want to take a look at their balance because it requires integration of the multiple sensory systems, including the eyes, ears, skin, muscles and joints," said Jean McCrory, Ph.D., associate director of the NMRL.

"We will pinpoint the rotator cuff strength because professional drivers have stated that they feel performance decreases when shoulder muscles become fatigued," added Dr. McCrory. "We want to test the strength of these muscles to make sure it is adequate for them."

In the Center's physical therapy and rehabilitation area, the drivers will have musculoskeletal screenings by Director of Physical Therapy Brian Hagen. The screenings will include tests for overall and specific strength, flexibility and agility in addition to a specific computerized postural screening exam. "We will look for any muscular imbalances in strength and flexibility, which may be potential sites for overuse injuries," said Hagen.

Based on the testing and screening data, Hagen will develop an exercise program for each driver to increase endurance and muscular performance for handling the racecar.

Because nearly 40 percent of racecar drivers sustain a concussion during their careers, the Ganassi team will meet with UPMC Sports Medicine Concussion Program Director Mark Lovell, Ph.D. Dr. Lovell will collect baseline data from the drivers as they take a 20-minute computerized neurocognitive test that measures brain function such as speed, reaction time, hand-eye coordination and memory. The test is called ImPACT (Immediate Post-Concussion Assessment and Cognitive Testing). Should any of the drivers sustain a concussion in the future, they can be re-tested on ImPACT and the baseline data can be compared to post-injury data. This will provide an objective evaluation tool to help determine the effects of the concussion and evaluate recovery. ImPACT, developed by Dr. Lovell, is used frequently throughout motor sports as well as many other professional sports.

In addition, the drivers will consult with UPMC's director of sports nutrition, Leslie Bonci. "The biggest thing with these athletes is dehydration because of the duration of the competitions and how hot it can get inside the cars," Bonci said. "Also, we will spend some time talking about the best food choices for athletes who are always on the road." The vital medical information gathered for each driver will be stored on a "smart card," a small wallet-sized plastic card, containing a computer chip, provided through UPMC's Healthcare Passport Program. The drivers can keep the cards with them in the event of a medical emergency or if another healthcare provider anywhere around the world needs to have immediate access to the information.

Chip Ganassi Racing has been involved in the world of motorsports since 1990. The storied team history includes four consecutive CART championships from 1996-1999 with drivers Jimmy Vasser, Alex Zanardi and Juan Montoya. In 2000, Montoya won the 84th running of the Indianapolis 500 and in 2001 the team began competition in the ultra-competitive NASCAR Winston Cup Series.

Scott Dixon and Thomas Scheckter lead Target Chip Ganassi Racing into their first season in the IRL Series. Dixon joined Target Chip Ganassi Racing last year after four races and finished 13th in the final point standings. Dixon won the IRL season opener at Homestead Motor Speedway on March 2.

Scheckter competed in 12 races in the IRL Series and posted one victory along with three pole positions in his rookie year. Sterling Marlin, Jamie McMurray, and Casey Mears pilot the three Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates Dodges in the NASCAR Winston Cup Series. Together, they have a total of one top-5 and three top-10s so far this season. UPMC is the only local sponsor of Chip Ganassi Racing.

The UPMC Center for Sports Medicine, housed within the UPMC Sports Performance Complex, is a one-stop shop for comprehensive sports medicine, including injury prevention and rehabilitation, orthopaedic surgery, neuromuscular research and assessment, sport-specific performance training with conditioning and strengthening, and sports nutrition. UPMC Sports Medicine team of orthopaedic specialty surgeons, primary care sports medicine physicians, physical therapists and athletic trainers is the sports medicine provider for the Pittsburgh Steelers, University of Pittsburgh Panthers, the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre and numerous individual professional and amateur elite athletes from around the world. The Center's staff also provides athletic training services to athletes at 41 area high schools and seven local colleges and universities. The Center provides the same level of care for recreational athletes as well as for other patients who are non-athletes.

In addition to the Center for Sports Medicine building, the expansive UPMC Sports Performance Complex also encompasses the state-of-the-art indoor and outdoor practice and training facilities of the Steelers and Panthers. It is the only facility of its kind in the country that combines a professional and collegiate sports team with an academic sports medicine clinic and research center. More information is available at


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Series IndyCar , NASCAR Cup
Teams Chip Ganassi Racing , Chip Ganassi Racing