It has been four weeks since my last race at Laguna Seca, and it will be another four weeks until my next race at Watkins Glen. The first three races this year have had about a month and a half of down-time in between each one, so I’m sure that most of you are wondering what I do with all of this extra time.
I approach driving race cars as a full-time job, both as an athlete as well as a businessperson, and most everything I do in my life revolves around—or somehow comes back to—how it relates to my career. Not only do I need to be both physically and mentally prepared in order to perform at my best when the race weekend comes around, but I also handle my own sponsors and media, both at and away from the track.
Unlike most sports, where you can just pick up a ball and start practicing, having the ability to get behind the wheel of a race car between events is much more challenging. A day of testing is not inexpensive, with the costs of renting the track, fuel, tires, getting the car and crew to the track, and travel. We run with a pretty tight budget, so I have to get creative and find ways to do things that can enhance my driving in different ways.
On the physical side of things, I need to have good upper-body and core strength, as well as good endurance and cardiovascular health to be able to drive at the limit for hours at a time in what is a quite-hot environment. At any given race, our cockpit can be up to 140ºF!
I do spend time lifting weights, but I don’t like using a fixed machine; I think it is important to incorporate some type of stability, balance, and movement while lifting, because driving is very dynamic. Think about it: If you train only while sitting on a bench and lifting weights, then when you get into a race car that is constantly moving and bouncing off curbs, your body might be slightly confused, and therefore pretty numb to feeling the actual handling of the car! I also try to switch up my cardio training among running, hiking, skate-skiing, cycling, jump-roping, and using my battle rope to constantly bring a new challenge to my body.
The most helpful types of training that I have found are being involved in sports that not only challenge me physically but mentally, too. Cyclocross racing—a form of bicycle racing—is a new one that has been great for me; it forces me to be calm, think about race strategy, and concentrate on the technicalities of handling a bike and the racing line—all while being extremely physically exhausting. You can find a more in-depth explanation on why this is a huge help for me in my blog: http://ow.ly/NyBf4
Another sport that has been great for my driving is rock climbing. Contrary to what most would think, I actually got into rock climbing because I have a fear of heights. In a race car, drivers are constantly pushing their own mental limits and the limits of the car. While I am on a rock wall hundreds of feet in the air, pushing myself past that fear while staying calm and thinking through problems is an extremely helpful skill for the moments when I am racing for position, or looking for that extra tenth. A further in-depth explanation on why I rock climb is in this link: http://ow.ly/NyCsK
Both rock climbing and cyclocross are great in that they require me to be emotionless, extremely analytical, strategic, and mindful, and to have a sense of calm—all while being at the limit and physically stressed. These are the skills I need to be at my best in a race car.
There are also other tools I use to train specifically for the mental aspect. I am a very visual learner, so I learn best from in-car videos and data from the car (which are graphs that show throttle inputs, brake inputs, steering inputs, etc. on any given track on any lap). I use both of these to compare with my teammates, with myself, or even with other videos I find online to see where I can make improvements.
I also like writing things down—notes after each driving session during a weekend, pre- and post-weekend notes, as well as notes from previous years in other cars. In addition to my own notes, I get packets of written reports before and after each race weekend from my engineers and my driver coach, Mike Zimicki, on things that took place during the weekend, what we worked on, and what we need to do to improve for the next event.
At home, I have a simulator that basically consists of a steering wheel and pedals attached to a folding table with a computer screen; it’s nothing fancy, but it does the job, and gives me the chance to drive laps around each track virtually before the events. Once again, the visual aspect is big for me.
Watching and reviewing races are a huge help for me as well. I like to analyze other drivers and teams, see their strengths, weaknesses, and strategies, and even watch myself from the outside and understand what I could do to be better. It is nice to be able to pull myself out of the “box” I am in during a race and watch from an outside view or perspective, because there is so much that drivers don’t even know is happening when they’re focusing on their own race in the heat of the moment.
Reading articles and books about driving, engineering, or anything having to do with racing is something I spend time on as well. I’ve found that, like everything in life, there is so much to be learned from those who are more experienced or knowledgeable than you, and you should take advantage of it!
The business aspect of racing is also a huge component to my career. I keep in contact with my current sponsors, strengthen those relationships, and work on ways to make sure I am delivering for them and their needs. I am always brainstorming and coming up with ideas to either help my current sponsors or to help find additional ones, as well as searching for ways to generate more coverage for them.
Networking and building my list of contacts is a top priority, whether I am at the track or not, and I have also been working on plans for the 2016 season since January 1st of this year.
Interacting with my fans on social media has also been a big part of my career—and my life!—because it has given me the opportunity to be more personal with my incredibly loyal, supportive, and inspirational fans. I know that without them I wouldn’t be where I am today!
It may be easy to think that eight weeks in between races is a long time, but I still struggle to get everything done before each event. It really is a full-time job—but even though it is work, I love every minute of it. I am thankful to be able to pursue my dream every day, and this is only the beginning.—Ashley Freiberg