Who needs Mobil 1? There’s enough hamburger, bratwurst, and pork chop grease around the infield garages at Daytona International Speedway to lube every pushrod, crankshaft and exhaust valve in the joint.
It may not be 200 mph, but the speed at which pit crews, officials, and media types race around the garage area can be dizzying. There’s little time to lounge and enjoy the warm Florida sunshine, let alone a proper meal. What precious minutes crew members may have between adjustments and repairs are spent refueling themselves. It doesn’t take a keen eye to see there’s plenty of fuel around - and not the Sunoco kind.
The smell of high octane exhaust is nearly overpowered by the scent of searing meat emanating from grills up and down the garage area. Almost all of the racing teams have food catered for their hungry tire changers, engine techs and car chiefs.
If the marketing folks of Pepto Bismol or Tums want to increase their presence in auto racing, I’d suggest starting in the garage area. Everything else in NASCAR has a sponsor - why not the infield? I can hear it now: “Jimmie Johnson pulls the #48 Lowe’s Chevy Impala into his Pepto Bismol pit stall for four fresh Goodyear tires and a full tank of Sunoco racing fuel.”
But one driver you won’t find strolling around the garage with a hot dog in hand is Mark Martin, driver of the #5 Hendrick Chevy. In fact, if it weren’t for his nuclear neon green GoDaddy.com fire suit, you might not realize that the 5’6”,125-pound veteran was there.
“It’s not any different here than it is anywhere. It’s just awful what we eat, and we’re starting to learn and find out that it’s coming around,” says Martin.
A 40-time race winner on NASCAR’s elite level, Martin discovered many years before his peers that eating healthy would make him a better competitor behind the wheel. Back in 1988, the Batesville, Arkansas native decided that it was time to drop the cheeseburgers and French fries for fresh fish and steamed veggies.
“When my career got to a certain level where I didn’t have to personally be at the shop and work on the cars myself all the time, it was time to shift some of that energy toward trying to make myself better, rather than trying to make my cars better,” explains Martin.
Martin is candid that the transformation didn’t happen overnight. He started eating more chicken, potatoes, and broccoli, but was still drinking alcohol and having salads with ranch dressing. Now, his outlook has changed: “Ranch dressing? You might as well be eating pizza or cheeseburgers. It’s awful ... I gave up mayonnaise for mustard. I didn’t like mustard ... but I gave it up.”
Now, at a spry 52 years old, Martin is extremely particular, almost obsessive, about what he puts into his small but very fit frame. With a few swipes and taps on his smartphone, Martin can immediately tell you what he’s eaten that day and what he still needs to eat to meet his nutritional goals.
"On a certain day I might look and say oh I’m short on protein today, I need a shake. Or I’m high on carbs today, I got to have a shake with no carbs. On another day, I got to have some fruit to get that up," says Martin. "I could be doing something else with my time, you know. This is what I do. Between the racing and the training, I’m not gonna bust my butt in the gym and not get 100% out of it."
Dave Sherlock, Martin’s motor home driver, doubles as his personal cook. Says Sherlock, "He won’t eat a hot dog. It’s basically ... it's just the fish. I mean, he eats a lot of fish."
"Fish and just straight up chicken. I don’t put anything on it. Orange roughy, zucchini, squash, and then a sweet potato. And if I don’t cook the zucchini or squash, it’ll be asparagus or broccoli, but he’s still eating the fish."
Pepper. Lemon juice. A smidge of organic non-stick spray. Sherlock quickly learned that these are the only additions Martin allows to his food.
“It just took a little getting used to doing. I make sure I won’t put anything out here [at the grill] that I would use on my food, ‘cause I’ll get the tendency to grab it and [start] pouring it on. You know it’s for Mark, so you know not to put anything on it,” says Sherlock.
For his part, Martin – who says he eats five or six meals a day, and who is known to keep a protein bar in the driver’s side door of his race car, just in case a race goes long – explains, “I just like food. I like food. I don’t need to goob a bunch of junk on it to make it edible. It’s good to me because it’s food.”
“I can’t ever get very far from food. I’m not going to get caught in a five-hour stretch with nothing to eat. I can’t handle that.”
And sure enough, as we concluded our interview, Martin immediately hopped off the motor home couch, went to the fridge, and pulled out an apple.
“I love food. I love it.”