Not many 22-year-olds drive in NASCAR or compete against the best drivers in the world on the track. But that’s exactly what Cole Whitt is doing, and with four years on the circuit and 102 races completed, it’s fair to say that he’s one of NASCAR’s bright and upcoming stars. How could he not be, with career highlights like being the Hoosier Sprint Car Rookie of the year and the youngest USAC (United States Auto Club) National Champion? Or having solidified his standing as being one of the few drivers to have raced in all three of NASCAR’s top touring series — this all before turning 21.
Now driving the No.26 Toyota Camry for Swan Racing in the NASCAR Spring Cup Series, 36 high-profile races will test his mettle. We test his patience to answer questions amidst our awe of someone who gets to do what we all wish we could — drive really, really, really fast.
Man Cave Daily: The story is that go-karts got your motor racing as a kid?
Cole Whitt: My family races — my cousin, my dad, my grandfather — so you could say it’s kind of in our blood. My cousin was racing Go-karts when I was young and they looked so cool — I had a chance to drive one of his “karts and it was all uphill from there
MCD: An early victory was wining the USAC National Midget Championship in 2008. How did that make you feel?
Cole Whitt: This was definitely big for me, but I look at these things as being different kinds of achievements: some give you awards and trophies and others fill you with self-satisfaction, while others you find as accomplishments that are being part of a team. At the time, folks didn’t think we’d win — I was young and a rookie — but the team was good, I was good and we pulled it off. To do this as the youngest driver was pretty cool and it says a lot about what I had done at that age when I look back. But at the same time it’s just a part of what I’m doing as far as looking towards goals and what can be achieved now.MCD: How much of what you do behind the wheel is muscle memory and how much conscious thought?
Cole Whitt: I’d say both of them is 100% throughout the race — it’s pretty crazy when you have to be in a stock car that gets over 120 degrees for hours and still hit your marks and go as fast as you possible can. It’s tough. But I try and keep myself in the best shape as possible — staying hydrated (I think we lose five lbs of water or more in every race) — and also at the same time doing a lot of working out. I do cross-fit training and strength training. It’s not that you need a lot of muscle mass for our sport but I personally don’t think it hurts. A lot of the guys do endurance training and I add that to the weight training as well. You need to be able to power up when needed, but also be smooth and calm and control your heart rate and try not to get too anxious in the crazy moments.
MCD: How can you prepare, other than practicing driving?
Cole Whitt: I think that in my workouts I am also training my mind at the same time: my workouts are so tough that I’m going to take my heart rate out and max it out. Now your mind wants to shut it down, it wants to tell your body “No,” but you have to be able to push through that and get past your comfort zone. It’s the same thing when in a race car; you’re hot, you’re sweaty, if you’re having a bad day you just want to give up — but when you’re doing the kind of training like I am doing, it’s not about just getting stronger but also conditioning the mind to handle the problems. And by going as hard as I can to my breaking point, I can keep working on extending that breaking point and so when I hit it racing I can keep it going.MCD: What’s it like to drive really, really fast?
Cole Whitt: I really think that the speed is noticeable until you get out to the 160 mark, But once you hit 170, 180 it’s all the same because you are going so fast. And of course there’s the G forces to deal with too once you’re hitting these high speeds. And you have to be able to handle this over and over for multiple laps because it can wear on you.
MCD: People say that since race car drivers have good reflexes, they can street drive well. Anything to that?
Cole Whitt: I’ve never really thought about it but yeah, while I can’t control those around me, I’ve never had an accident. I have had a few speeding tickets that I’m not proud of, but it’s hard not to drive fast — and those slow drivers who go 10 miles under the speed limit just drive me insane (pun intended).
MCD: Tell us about the documentary coming out that you’re featured in.
Cole Whitt: Speed Stick Gear did a documentary on me down at Daytona, which is being released on their Speed Stick YouTube channel. The documentary shows what drivers, such as myself, go though, on and off the track in a personal sense as well as the business of racing. It gives you an inside look, and for a 22-year-old to make his first Daytona of his career, it’s pretty cool that it was filmed.