'I Just Wanted to Feel Better'
There is less of Tony Stewart to go around these days, but don't get the idea he's gone all Mark Martin on the racing world.
That would be, in the carefully considered words of Stewart, "insane." But Stewart, who is roughly 15 pounds lighter than he was last fall, did admit that Martin was his inspiration for attempting to get into better physical condition as he approaches age 40.
Asked recently why he decided to drop some pounds before heading into the 2011 Sprint Cup Series season, the driver of the No. 14 Chevrolet for Stewart-Haas Racing, Stewart grinned before answering.
"I just wanted to feel better, actually," Stewart said. "I'm realizing I'm not 20 any more. I'll be 40 in May. It was just me sitting down and saying, 'Hey, I've got to pay better attention to this.'
"And honestly, Mark Martin is probably the greatest inspiration to all of us in this series on this. He's one of the most fit people out there -- especially for his age. He's heads and shoulders above most of us in fitness. He's a good mentor, and a guy to look up to. You look at him and say, 'Hey, he does it. I can do it, too.'
"I know we have a heck of a schedule, but he's found a way to make that part of his daily routine. That's really kind of part of my inspiration."
Martin turned 52 on Jan. 9. He is entering the final year of his current contract to drive the No. 5 Chevy for Hendrick Motorsports and he knows that seat will be filled beginning next season with Kasey Kahne, but said he has no intention of retiring anytime soon.
"I'm going to race [in 2012]," Martin said. "I'm going to race -- but why should I be worried about that now? I wasn't worried about it when I got this deal."
Martin said there is no doubt in his mind that his strict diet and dogged workout routine is what has kept him racing in NASCAR's top two national touring series for more than 30 years.
"I've got to believe that, No. 1, it has a lot to do with my longevity in the sport," Martin said. "Number two, the mere fact that I'm willing to do it has a lot to do with my longevity, too. And by that I mean that you've got to want it pretty bad -- and I want to compete on this level against the best, so I'm willing to do whatever it takes, whatever is within my power to do that."
Meanwhile, Stewart is willing to take baby steps toward the place where Martin already lives. He has started by changing the way he eats.
"I'm eating more frequently," Stewart said. "I'm eating breakfast. Usually I sleep through breakfast, but I'm actually getting up in time to have a late breakfast now.
"I'm eating five times a day. It sounds like you're eating a lot, but you're really not. I'm eating smaller meals. That was a real big deal for me, just changing the habits. It's not having a diet; it's not necessarily working out. It's changing your lifestyle to where you're doing your daily routine differently. Little things like that can really help out."
It's not only that Stewart is eating more frequently, it's also what he's consuming.
"I'm eating more salad. I actually eat cereal in the morning without sugar on it, and I use skim milk in my cereal," he said. "[I'm doing] little things where I actually look on the box to see nutritional values. I'm not normally one to do that sort of thing, but I'm trying to change some old habits."
Not that he even pretends to be in Martin's league when it comes to health and nutrition. Not when some of the staples of Martin's diet are whey shakes and goji berries that go for $17.95 per pound.
And don't even get Stewart going about Martin's workout routine. He wants no part of it.
During the long race season, Martin said he works out four consecutive days -- Monday through Thursday -- and then takes Friday, Saturday and Sunday off to race. That won't do in the offseason, when Martin said he gets stir crazy with "so much time off." So he works out four days in a row, takes two off, and then starts the cycle over again no matter what day it is.
And each of his workouts is not for the partially committed.
"I strength train," Martin said. "My cardio workouts are only 30 minutes. My strength training sessions are about an hour and 15 minutes. But they're brutal, with a minute to a minute and 15 seconds between sets -- and a lot of sets to muscle failure. They're brutal.
"You really don't want to work out for four hours. You really want your strength training to be limited to an hour. But I do a huge volume of work, so some of them go to an hour and 15 [minutes]."
Stewart just smiles and shakes his head when told of Martin's workout routine. Both drivers say they talk frequently, but it's usually about racing. Martin said he was aware of Stewart's efforts to lose weight and that he applauds him for it, but that he's not going to offer unsolicited advice.
And Stewart said he knew he could never survive trying to do it Martin's way. He said he knew it the minute he heard Martin "weighs his food" before he eats it.
"No, there's no way I could do the diet or those workouts like he does," Stewart said. "I still like my Burger King and I still like my pizza. I like chili. I like things that aren't necessarily on that diet of his. But he's real religious about it. You do it long enough and it really does become part of your life -- but there are still things that I like to eat that I can't completely give up."
For Stewart, that includes the occasional cold one. Martin, on the other hand, gave up drinking alcohol years ago.
"I still sneak a Schlitz in every now and then," Stewart admitted. "Between my Schlitz and [Stewart-Haas public relations man] Mike Arning's PBR, we still get some of that in. The great thing about starting to eat better is that you can actually cheat here and there -- and I definitely look forward to cheating in that way."