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The Physiology of Auto Racing


Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise: December 2019 - Volume 51 - Issue 12 - p 2548–2562
doi: 10.1249/MSS.0000000000002070

Introduction Auto racing poses a unique set of physiologic challenges for athletes who compete in this sport. These challenges are not widely recognized due to the limited amount of original research in this field and the diffuse nature of this literature. The purpose of this article is to review the major physiologic challenges of auto racing and summarize what is currently known about athletes in this sport.

Conclusions The physical stressors of either driving or servicing the race car are overlaid with particular environmental challenges associated with racing (e.g., thermal, noise, carbon monoxide exposure) that increase the physiological stress on motorsport athletes. Physical stress reflects the muscular work required for car control and control of posture during high gravitational (g) loads: factors that predispose athletes to fatigue. The physiologic effects of these stressors include cardiovascular stress as reflected by prolonged elevation of heart rate, cardiac output, and oxygen consumption in both driver and pit athletes during competition. Psychological stress is evident in autonomic and endocrine responses of athletes during competition. The thermal stress of having to compete wearing multilayer fire suits and closed helmets in ambient temperatures of 50°C to 60°C results in the ubiquitous risk of dehydration. Published data show that both drivers and pit crew members are accomplished athletes with distinct challenges and abilities. There are gaps in the literature, especially in regard to female, older adult, and child participants. Additionally, minimal literature is available on appropriate training programs to offset the physiological challenges of auto racing.

1Department of Applied Physiology and Kinesiology, University of Florida, Gainesville, FL

2Department of Health and Kinesiology, Texas A&M University, College Station, TX

Address for correspondence: Michael B. Reid, Ph.D., College of Health & Human Performance, University of Florida, 1864 Stadium Rd., Suite 200, Gainesville, FL 32611; E-mail:

Submitted for publication December 2018.

Accepted for publication April 2019.

Online date: June 26, 2019

© 2019 American College of Sports Medicine