Retired professional race car driver Don Kitch, Jr. can’t remember a time when he wasn’t interested in racing.
From a very young age, he grew up in a world of wheels, spending his free time driving go-karts and participating in Soap Box Derby races. He was so passionate about this world that when his family’s lawn mower failed to start one morning, he took it apart and put the motor on a go-kart.
Essentially, if it had wheels on it, he wanted to drive it.
Don’s obsession grew until he was 28, when he got serious about training. This marked the start of his racing career, which spanned over 25 years and included over 200 professional and amateur racing starts.
Many people don’t realize that racing requires an extremely high level of fitness. Luckily, Don had always been active, having grown up in an athletic family; but when he got serious about racing, that fitness became mandatory.
For Don, this meant religious daily training: upper and lower body weight training, cardio, even hot yoga. “It’s hot in the car — typically well over 100 degrees,” Don explained. “You’ve got to be ready for that.”
Racing isn’t just physically challenging, though. The mental aspect can be just as taxing, if not more.
“I think one of the big challenges drivers face is emotional containment. You want to avoid getting too wound up about the event coming up. The pressure can be pretty great, and you don’t want that bubble to become too inflated.”
Dealing with this pressure included both physical and mental tuneups immediately prior to a race. Whereas the physical aspect might include stretching and light aerobics to warm up, the mental aspect often meant
temporarily disappearing to have some quiet time and slow everything down. As Don puts it, “Before you can go fast, you need to go slow.”
Don’s other way of coping: “Focus on the performance, not the result.” “You can’t do anything about the other drivers, so you’re just wasting mental and physical energy on that,” he explained. “You can only control your performance.”
“The more stressful your life gets, the more you need the physical fitness.”
When asked if anything has ever gotten in the way of his personal fitness, Don’s response was firm:
“Motor racing is incredibly stressful. You’re always working on deals, always trying to fund a campaign. And once it’s funded, you have to start on the other end of doing stuff in the car.
The more stressful your life gets, the more you need the physical fitness. Because it’s a release; it’s a head clearer. Clarity comes when you’re exercising. Nothing can get in the way of that. When things do try to get in the way of that, that’s the time to do it.”
[Related: Get Moving to Manage Stress]
Always Racing, On and Off the Track
Don’s dedication to both mental and physical fitness is what allowed him to continue racing into his 60s, when most drivers wind down by 50.
While most drivers might want to relax after retirement, Don opened his own racing school well before retiring “to have something to fall back on once the racing wound down.” Since its founding in 1987, ProFormance Racing School has become a leader in the driving industry, with programs such as advanced car control, street survival skills, and high-performance driving.
Don is also devoted to charity work, which he has tied to his racing ever since he got started. In 1997 he founded Team Seattle, a campaign that centers around the 24 Hours of Daytona sports car race as a fundraiser for Seattle Children’s Hospital. Since then, the campaign has raised more than 6 million dollars with races all over the U.S. and Europe.
“There’s so much money madness surrounding motor racing, and this just helps make sense of that. If we’re linking all of the energy and the promotion and the exposure to a charitable concern, then I can accept it better.”
Don’s Fitness Philosophy: “It’s a Way of Life”
Clearly, Don has a lot to be proud of, both in terms of fitness and otherwise. He has done so much that when asked about his fitness milestones, he almost forgot to mention that he has hiked Machu Picchu, climbed Mount Rainier multiple times, and completed several half marathons.
Don says that there’s “no use of the word ‘no’ or ‘can’t’ in the world of motor racing — it’s whatever it takes” — and it’s obvious that he has applied this philosophy to other areas of his life as well.
In fact, when asked about his fitness philosophy, all Don can say is that “it’s a way of life.”
Once past 60, Don began to see age as “nothing but a number.” He loves that he’s still able to “hang with the young dogs and not sit on the porch,” whether that means staying at the race track from 5:30 in the morning to 7 at night, jumping in a Ferrari and handling it well, or keeping up with his young daughter.
“Overall, I’m proud of the fitness that I’ve found and maintained,” Don agrees. “My life is very stressful and very fast-paced, and I’ve been able to maintain that pace because of the fitness programs that I’ve participated in.”
Fitness has enabled Don to maintain racing speed into his later years. How does fitness help you live the life you want?
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