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Thursday, July 22, 2004
Castroneves: Not always glamorous life

By Helio Castroneves
Special to ESPN.com

Helio Castroneves
Castroneves
We did the math, and the math is scary. Last year, I spent 170 hours on airplanes, not counting trips to Japan and Brazil. That's more than a full week of my year aboard planes in the United States alone.

Think I lead a life of glamour and adventure? Think again. Sometimes it's just routine. Sometimes it's hectic. Sometimes it's just plain crazy.

And the craziness is about to start all over again.

We're preparing for the toughest stretch of the IRL IndyCar Series season, a run of six races in the next seven weeks. Beginning with last Saturday night's Firestone Indy 200 at Nashville Superspeedway, we'll race almost every weekend for the next two months. It's demanding, difficult and grueling.

I'll let you in on a little secret. I love it.

Racing this often is demanding physically and mentally, not just for the drivers, but for the whole team. Obviously most of the drivers are in good shape, but I try to do different things to prepare for specific races. Before the race at Richmond -- a short track that's physically exhausting -- I worked more on weight training to help with strength in my arms, shoulders and neck. Then, before the race at Kansas City, I worked more on endurance to contend with the heat.

We get into a rhythm with all these races in a row. The schedule makes things more difficult time-wise, but it also makes the racing part of it easier. The routine and repetition makes everything more comfortable.

Personally, I enjoy it. In fact, when we run consecutive weekends like this, the occasional weekend off is a jolt to the system. You're cruising along, racing every weekend, and then -- whoa -- you're idle. I have no idea what to do on those weekends off.

People sometimes get the impression that race car drivers aren't athletes, but this stretch of racing week after week proves that we are. We might not use our bodies to run 100 meters in 10 seconds, but we have to make sure that we are in good condition. Most people could race 10 laps at the limit. But what about 200 laps at the limit?

When your body is fatigued, it doesn't react to what your mind tells it to do. That's when mistakes happen. Physical conditioning makes a big difference. You're talking about very small reactions here. You're also talking about long distances.

It's difficult and probably unfair to compare athletes from different sports. A soccer player is not the same as a distance runner. A weightlifter is not the same as a swimmer. Yet some people dismiss what racers do as non-athletic. What we do is physically demanding. We might not use our bodies in the same way that other athletes do, but we have to be in condition.

In racing, your muscles perform the same tasks again and again. When you're not driving, your exercise routine doesn't provide the same movement. You lift weights and run, but it's not the same thing as driving a race car. When we race week after week, we actually get better.

It's not just your body that gets used to the repetition. Your mind does, too. When we start racing this often and this regularly, you always have other responsibilities aside from racing. You have appearances and press and meetings. It's a very full schedule, but I enjoy that. I like to be busy.

It actually helps when you travel like this year after year. All of us at Marlboro Team Penske have become very accustomed to and very good at traveling. You know not to over-pack. You know how to negotiate airports. You know where to stay and how to get where you're going. It becomes very routine, and that makes the job at hand that much easier.

It might not be very glamorous, but I'm looking forward to every minute of it.

Helio Castroneves drives for Marlboro Team Penske in the Indy Racing League. He is providing a diary to ESPN.com throughout the 2004 season. Castroneves' Web site can be found at www.heliocastroneves.com.br/.