HUNTERSVILLE – Joe Gibbs Racing emphasizes the importance of human performance to win a race.
In addition to maintaining and improving their cars, NASCAR drivers and pit crew members at Joe Gibbs work hard to sustain their health and well-being.
“In pro sports, it is all about marginal gains. You want to look for anything that decreases seconds in a race,” said Michael Lepp, athletic director at Joe Gibbs Racing. “If I have a guy with a swollen hamstring, he cannot drive as fast. Therefore, it costs the team.”
Drivers and pit crew members receive orthopedic treatment from OrthoCarolina to help them perform better on the track.
Orthopedic doctors specialize in treating problems in the musculoskeletal system. They cure joints, ligaments, tendons, muscles and nerves.
Physicians are committed to treating injuries, such as sprains, torn ACLs, swollen muscles, dislocations and fractures in the back, elbows, feet, hands, hips, neck and shoulders.
Ken Breath, physical therapist manager at OrthoCarolina, works specifically with Joe Gibbs Racing to treat drivers and pit crew members.
“We use preventative care measures to help prevent drivers and pit crew from getting sick or injured,” Breath said. “We make sure they work out, receive necessary adjustments and stretch before races.”
In addition to workouts five to six hours a week, drivers and pit crew members also take yoga classes and undergo massage treatments from instructors and therapists.
Once a year, NASCAR drivers and pit crew members take a medical test that looks at overall core strength to help the orthopedic physicians identify weaknesses and tight areas.
The long-term goal of orthopedic care is to help racers and pit crews perform at even higher levels prior to their injuries.
“All the drivers are already in good shape beforehand, so they rebound quickly when an injury occurs,” Breath said.
Mike Lingerfelt, a tire changer for Joe Gibbs Racing, broke his femur at a Daytona 500 race more than 10 years ago in Florida. He was immediately transported to the hospital to undergo surgery, but he needed physical therapy after returning to Charlotte. Lingerfelt recovered quickly because he was in good shape before the accident.
“When a guy complains, we immediately have them treated, especially a driver or pit member with chronic back pain,” Lepp said. “OrthoCarolina does a great job at what they do, and we see immediate results.”
Denny Hamlin, who drives the No. 11 for Joe Gibbs Racing, also needed surgery after tearing his ACL in his knee January 2010 at a Sprint Cup race at Martinsville Speedway in Virginia. Like Lingerfelt, OrthCarolina was quick to carry out his surgery.
Breath uses a lot of manual skills when performing on the drivers and pit crew. He works with lasers, ultrasounds and injury modifications to sustain health and eliminate injuries and pain as quickly as possible.
Other OrthoCarolina staff focus on hydration, physiological training, injections and surgeries.
Joe Gibbs also has a regular doctor on staff to treat daily sicknesses, like a sinus infection or cold.
Lepp said he won’t lose the race over a minor injury or something so small that can be avoided. The staff looks at ways to combat the summer heat, such as keeping drivers hydrated and freezing their jackets.
The drivers and pit crew work from February to November with only two weekends to rest. The medical staff works hard on-site at Joe Gibbs twice a week and on the racetrack as they attend almost every race.
“They cannot go 36 weeks without getting sick or injured,” Lepp said. “It’s inevitable.”
The pit crew is the most susceptible to upper body injures because of the impact, vibration and grips.
They also get hurt more often than drivers because they are constantly working vigorously in the middle of races to check the cars and change tires.
“When they pull tires off and put them back on the car, they use a strong grip, causing intense pressure on the elbows and shoulders,” Breath said. “They do these motions repeatedly on race day and during the week. These members are not just mechanics, but also athletes because of the power they put behind maintaining the cars.”
Tire changers and carriers move quickly and jump the wall to get to work, allowing for hip, shoulder and back damage.
Athletes are told it is in their hands how they choose to live their lives.
“It is up to them to get eight hours of sleep each night, work out regularly and get the proper nutrition and follow a diet plan,” Lepp said. “We tell them if they need medical treatment and choose not to be treated, there is always a replacement.”
Regardless of what Lepp and orthopedic physicians tell them, they trust their drivers and pit crew members.
“It is really a huge team of collaboration,” Breath said.
Want to learn more? OrthoCarolina works with numerous NASCAR teams, including Stewart-Haas Racing, Hendrick Motorsports and Richard Petty Motorsports. For more information about orthopedic care, visit OrthoCarolina at Lake Norman.
Locations are as follows:
• Huntersville: 10030 Gilead Road, Suite 160, 704-323-2800
• Mooresville: 150 Fairview Road, 704-323-2900.
NASCAR returns to region
Race Week for Joe Gibbs Racing and the Charlotte area is a busy time. Thousands of fans not only attend the Charlotte Motor Speedway to see the races, but also local hubs, like Joe Gibbs Racing. “We get a lot of sponsors who come out to Joe Gibbs Racing track,” Lepp said. Dedicated race fans camp out all around Charlotte near the racetrack. Charlotte holds lots of events, like Speed Street and tours at the NASCAR Hall of Fame. “The population really grows during Race Week, especially in Lake Norman,” Lepp said. “We had eight people from all different countries come out to Joe Gibbs already. Our parking lot will be full for the next couple of weeks.” The Coca-Cola 600 Race will be held May 24.