Mark Martin has always been a fitness freak.
It explains how he’s made 1,141 combined starts in NASCAR’s three national series since 1981. Only Richard "The King" Petty has made more, with 1,185.
It’s how Martin has won 40 Sprint Cup races and 96 total NASCAR events, which ranks sixth on the all-time list.
And it’s why, at age 54, he’s still going strong heading into the Sprint Cup STP 400 on Sunday at Kansas Speedway.
But when Martin joined Michael Waltrip Racing in 2012, he noticed a way for the still-fledgling company to be more competitive. Martin convinced Waltrip to build a state-of-the art training facility for crew members and fellow drivers.
"I’ve been into the training … lifting and all that since 1988," Martin said. "It’s my second passion. As I got going along with MWR last year, I saw the need for becoming even more competitive on pit road and the need to build the best program for our athletes in NASCAR.
"That’s what you do in every other facet of the sport. Whether it’s building the best engines, the best cars, it’s the same kind of battle over pit road. It’s become so critical and important with the level of competition on the race track now, that I saw a need for it, and asked if they would give me an opportunity to help them build the program."
Construction began on the two-level, 7,500-square foot facility last month and is expected to be completed by the end of June. It includes an inlaid car silhouette so crews can practice agility drills around a car; free weights, weight machines, Cross Fit elements, cardio equipment, a pool, hot tubs, as well as a locker rooms and offices.
"I would like to have the best guys on pit road, the very best," said Martin, the 2005 Sprint Cup winner at Kansas Speedway. "I would like to have all the guys who don’t work for us, wishing they could work for us because of how we train and treat our athletes and help them succeed."
The importance of pit-crew performance was evident to Waltrip in the last two Sprint Cup races.
Last week, MWR’s Martin Truex Jr., was dominating the second half of the race at Texas before a final pit-stop and restart with 20 laps to go. Kyle Busch’s team recorded a rapid 11.8-second pit stop that enabled him to get the jump on Truex and beat him to the finish.
By the same token, two weeks ago at Martinsville, Clint Bowyer came in for the final pit stop running third, and an efficient performance by the crew helped him finish second.
"If there’s a slip there, and Clint comes in running third and goes out running eighth, we don’t finish second," Waltrip said. "It’s that close and that tight.
"We have a solid pit crew and want to give them an opportunity to get better. It’s all about that last pit stop on Sunday afternoon, and you better be able to put up a 12-second spot so you don’t lose your chance to win the race."
Martin and Waltrip also hired a head athletic trainer with a college football background in Pam Brown, who spent 2004-06 on the football staff at LSU and was head football trainer at Kent State during 2007-11. She supervises the workouts, treatments, rehabilitations and preventive maintenance for for the pit crew and drivers.
Several of the pit crew members are former college athletes, including football and hockey players, and much of the training they do for those sports translate well to those carrying and changing 75-pound tires and hauling 92-pound gas cans.
And they do it in 13 seconds or less.
"With our season, it goes from February to November," Brown said, "and what I try to do is a lot of preventive maintenance for these guys. Not only do they go from February to November, but they also don’t really get a day off because most of them all also do the trucks and Nationwide races.
"You don’t see your typical football injuries like ACLs or shoulder injuries. You’ll see a lot of wrist, and low back stuff. The tire changer isn’t going to do the same workout out as the gas man. Like in football, an offensive lineman is not going to do the same things as a wide receiver. "
Martin often joins the pit crew members for their workouts, and when the day ever comes that he finally retires as a driver, he can envision a second career as a trainer for pit crews and other drivers.
"You have to follow your passion," Martin said. "To be successful at anything, you have to have passion for it. I have the passion for this. That’s a possibility."