With the 2015 NASCAR season underway and the 57th Daytona 500 just behind us, teams are going to continue looking for advantages on the tarmac. In racing, the biggest way to win is by having a competitive advantage. The adage “if you’re not cheating, you’re not trying” is one of racing’s most well-known sayings. Fifty years ago, that would’ve been an easier thing to accomplish before governing bodies really put a close eye on bending the rules, trying to keep the series more competitive with regulations that adhered to strict guidelines. These days, it’s harder to get an edge where 1,000ths of a second can win or lose you a championship...and, possibly, sponsorship dollars.
One of the missing pieces of the performance enhancement puzzle is vision. Alcon, the eye care division of Novartis Group, has teamed up with Hendrick Motorsports to progress their pit crews into even bigger super athletes than they already are. The resources and dollar figures are staggering in stock car racing’s most prestigious series, where teams can easily pour $100 million into their teams. It’s so competitive that crewmembers get drafted right from college, sometimes forgoing dreams of heading to other professional sport teams after higher education.
Rigorous physical training, combined with Alcon’s dedication to enhancing visual acuity, make for an experiment in not just muscular definition and brute strength, but the ability to produce athletes whose vision gets honed, trained and adapted to the rigors of fast-paced racing.
Over the past 10 years and one million man hours of development work (yes, 1,000,0000), Alcon has perfected their DAILIES TOTAL 1 contact lenses for daily use, but they’ve taken what was learned and adapted it to their regimented battery of vision tests for Hendrick’s athletes. These lessons learned start with a training camp, so to speak, where the pit crews for Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jimmie Johnson, and Kasey Kahne will not only conduct standardized optometric testing, but according to “A” team founder Dr. Don Teig, will “measure visual acuity and provide a game plan to address areas of improvement.”
In generalized terms, these areas of improvement are minuscule, often in the 100s of seconds, but for a pit stop that only last 11 seconds, it’s a monumental leap. Director of Human Performance (which sounds eerily like a utopian mandated field) for Hendricks Motorsports, Andy Papathanassiou, emphasizes, “We recognize that precise vision is absolutely essential to the success of our racing team.”
Alcon’s “A” Team is dedicated to conducting the research and development with the pit crews. These 21 “high performance vision associates” as they’re called are specialists in the field of optometry and devote themselves to not only completing a 16-hour program to be considered, but also are masters of a particular vision specialty.
The “A” Team conducts an intense program that weeds out weaknesses in certain members and then exploits ways to hone their skills come raceday. “Like any working professional, these athletes put in long hours and need to be completely focused on the task at hand,” Dr. Teig says. “They cannot afford to deal with missteps or fumbles.” These hyper focused fields and expert testing allow for incredible detail in to what areas of the eye, brain, body relationship to focus on.
Usually, obtaining access to the training facilities of a race team is to cut through a lot of bureaucratic red tape as the catch 22 of showcasing how they function is important, while also hiding some of their closely guarded secrets. However, when they give you the opportunity to try out some of the testing personally, you don’t give it a second thought. While I am fortunate enough to have incredible vision (around 20/15), the battery of tests do not just test out your ability to see distances, but connect the dots so to speak with mental and problem solving functionality.
Within racing you have to constantly adapt to the pressures of incredibly fast paced action, and if something goes awry, be able to think creatively about a solution. I found that most of these tests that I would take for granted, actually take many hours to become proficient at.
When corrective lenses are required, the DAILIES TOTAL1 contact lens were fitted before testing to provide crewmembers with exceptional technology, without sacrificing comfort and breathability over the course of day, which is often the most common complaint of contact wearers. If they can assimilate both better vision and higher performance, then the benefits of conducting these testing sessions can be fully realized with lower pit stop times, which then correlate to decreased lap times—and in turn, championships.
The proof of this constant adapting, learning and improving mantra is evident in the results of the Daytona 500 that just passed. Granted, a Hendrick car didn’t win, but they placed incredibly well earning a second, third, and ninth place finish along with Jeff Gordon’s pole position, respectively. While you cannot attribute any one thing to the incredible success of the Hendrick team, there’s no doubt that vision places a paramount role in their future.