By Sean Becker
One of the worst things you can do to a racer, is take racing away. The west coast sprint car season typically starts around the first week of March and ends the first week of November. That’s 36 weekends of racing, and with the willingness to travel, a possibility of over 80 events you can compete in. Whatever total number your schedule ends up being, it’s a grueling and daunting commitment for both car owners and drivers. Yet when the season finally does end, I always find myself a bit lost. I never seem to know what to do with myself now that I’m back in the “real world”.
For sprint car teams, the off-season entails a lot of hard work and financial commitment. Inventory needs to be taken. You’re either rebuilding or upgrading equipment, refreshing engines, and replacing components. It takes a huge amount of passion and dedication to be prepared for the start of the season. Both car owners that I race for are located in different towns, so my involvement with the cars are very limited. But it’s extremely important to me, out of respect for them, that I prepare myself as well as I can both mentally and physically for the start of the season.
I cannot express enough how lucky I was to grow up when and where I did. Red Bluff, CA is the birthplace of Outlaw Kart racing and it’s only an hour away from my childhood home. Eventually, Cycleland Speedway started putting on kart races and that was only 10 minutes from our front door. With Red Bluff racing in an indoor pavilion, that meant racing happened rain or shine every winter. As Cycleland’s popularity continued to grow, so did their schedule and before too long, we practically had year round racing.
As the years go by and my family life with our two growing kids continues to get busier, I don’t get to make it out to Red Bluff during our sprint car off-season as much as I would like. But, thankfully my grandpa still keeps a kart always ready for me whenever I’m available. Then with the help of my younger brother and my dad, I’m usually able to run 3 or 4 times during the winter before the sprint car season starts.
You tend to hear a lot of drivers talking about “knocking the rust off” at the start of the season, and it’s true, it takes time to get the feel back in the race car being out of the seat for 4 months. I think being able to race in the off-season is a huge advantage for me both physically as well as it is mentally. To be able to put myself into that racing competitive intensity as much as possible is important. I don’t care what type of car you’re racing or what division you’re competing in, being in “race mode” translates in all forms for racing.
With the current evolution of our sport, I now watch a small group of our more talented and more dedicated pool of drivers chasing their endless summers to New Zealand and Australia to race. A part of me always feels a bit left behind, because seat time is one of the most valuable assets a driver can possess. The other part of me knows there is no other place in the world I’d rather be then at home with my friends and family during the Holidays.
I do try to prepare my body the best I can before the start of the sprint car season. I still play in a rec basketball league. After the Holidays, I’ll start myself on a 3 month workout program of P90X and P90X-3 videos that I will also continue throughout the season. They are mainly cardio and core routines that I choose to do with some days using just a little bit of weights. But I’ve found that no matter what I do, there is no way to completely prepare yourself for the amount of g-forces that pull on you running into the corners. The strain it puts on your neck and upper body is unreal. Nevertheless, I know if I stay true to my schedule, I will not be falling out of the seat that first race.
For me personally, as a driver, the off-season is always the perfect time to hit the reset button. Reflect on both your past accomplishments as well as disappointments and heartbreaks. Set goals for where I want to be and what I want to do for the upcoming season. Because once the checkered flag falls on the last race of the season, the countdown to the first green flag of the next season begins. The anticipation always grows, but if I put in the work, I know I’ll be ready.