“Winning the track championship my rookie year, it had never been done in 52 years,” said Muldoon, who also competed for several years on dirt.
Clearly, racers are a different breed, and they sure need a strong heart. No matter what level they compete at — from late models and supermodifieds to the IRL and Champ cars to Nextel Cup and Formula One — one of the most vital organs in the body gets a real workout behind the wheel.
Auto racing carries a combination of significant cardiorespiratory stress and underlying psychological demands. According to results of tests performed immediately before the 1999 and 2000 seasons in CART (now the Champ Car World Series), the average heart rate was between 143 and 157 beats per minute, oxygen consumption was equal to somebody running an 8-minute to 10-minute-mile, and energy expenditures on track were about 9-13 times of those at rest.
Current IRL star Helio Castroneves can identify with the research. He had his heart monitored in his first year of open-wheel racing.
“It went up to 222 beats at the start, went down to 120, then shot up to 188 when I spun,” Castroneves said. “I noticed a tremendous adrenaline rush. I knew I needed to start running a lot.”
Speed isn’t the sole cause of a rapid heart beat. Al Unser Jr. was monitored three years ago during a race, and his heart rate was “approximately 120 or 130, right in there” — until it was time to make a stop.
“You need to be able to relax in the car, but mine would actually go up to 170 beats in the pits,” Unser said. “Everybody had their own opinions as to why that was. Is it giving up control? On the racetrack, I’m in control of everything, but when I come in the pits I turn it over to my team.