So this is the pit. Inside the vast 480-acre infield at the Daytona International Speedway, I'm standing with Carl Edwards' pit crew. Their man has just squeezed into his Ford Fusion, and the Speedway has awakened with a roar as the Daytona 500 ushers in the start of the 2007 NASCAR season.
Edwards begins the race a distant 14th, but in many ways he's leading the pack. How? He represents a new breed of NASCAR star, blazing the final frontier for a competitive advantage among his racing peers-an advantage that, for Edwards, begins in the gym. "Driving is 90% mental," he says, "and the last 10% is where the physical side helps you. Just like someone who sits in an office all day, you're going to make better decisions if you're well-rested and in good physical shape. I think NASCAR guys have realized in the last few years that if there's a way to get ahead, the gym is the best place to start."
In fact, this past summer, Edwards, already the most ripped racer in the world, hired Carmichael Training Systems to take him to the next level. Perhaps it was a reaction to his 2006 sophomore slump, which came on the heels of his breakout rookie campaign the previous year. "It's a partnership between me and Carmichael. My trainer Dean [Golich] and I hit it off, and I figured if I can work with fun people and make gains competitively, it's the perfect situation."
Dean Golich saw an opportunity for Edwards to improve. "He was in good shape, he was strong, but he wasn't necessarily aerobically fit," says Golich. "The reason he's fit is he takes it seriously; it's an important part of his life. He likes to lift weights, and his program was geared toward that. But strength is not the limiting factor in the race car. Dealing with a busy racing season and hectic daily schedules-I've never seen a schedule busier than a race-car driver's-that is the limiting factor. So we needed to switch a little bit."
The plan was simple: Hit the road. Edwards got on the road bike and the mountain bike, and he started climbing stairs at stadiums until he was drenched in sweat. "It's helped me a lot with the racing, but it's helped me more with my day-to-day workouts," he says. "It helps me to focus a bit more and increase my endurance."