Spider Energy Exclusive Interview with NASCAR Driver Ryan Ellis
Do you think you know NASCAR driver Ryan Ellis? The Spider Energy Team did, too, until we had this exclusive interview with him. Ryan began his racing journey at the tender age of four in 1993. Both of his grandfathers were involved in motorsports, and his father, Jim, raced his entire life before passing the torch to Ryan.
His grandfather, Vic, ultimately passed away in a racing accident. Despite this tragedy, Ellis’ family history fuels his passion for high-speed racing. In this captivating interview, we delved into his remarkable journey into racing, exploring his seamless transition from hockey to the racetrack.
Beyond the interview with Ryan, we explored the mental and physical preparation required to excel in this high-speed sport, its toll on his body, and his strategies for handling adrenaline surges. Furthermore, Ellis generously shared invaluable advice for aspiring drivers, offering a glimpse into the mindset and dedication needed to make it in the world of NASCAR. Brace yourself for an enthralling account of passion, perseverance, and the pursuit of greatness.
Spider Energy: Did you play any sports growing up, and how did this influence your decision to get into high-speed racing?
Ellis: I started playing hockey at about 4 or 5 years old, and this was the at the same at the same time I started racing. I played hockey competitively throughout high school and college and still play hockey today. I play hockey in a few local men's league clubs. One advantage that I can say is that hockey has definitely kept me in better shape and helped me learn about teamwork, and I think that's something that a lot of drivers lack because they didn't play team sports growing up; they pretty much just raced, and lived a pretty quiet life outside of racing, so having the team sports aspect was really helpful in my NASCAR career.
Spider Energy: In college, did you ever consider becoming a professional hockey instead of a career in racing?
Ellis: Luckily, skill helped me decide that I was not nearly as good in hockey as racing and didn't have the size to play professional hockey. I don't have the body built for the NHL, that's for sure. I had good enough skills to play club hockey in college and high school at a competitive level but never had the hands it took to play professionally. I always had a passion for both, but the family history of racing and being a lot better at racing helped side with becoming a professional race car driver. I like winning, and having success early in life in racing led me to this direction of NASCAR racing.
Spider Energy: Hockey and Race Car driving have a lot of similarities in that both require a certain amount of aggressiveness. Did any skills from hockey transfer over to racing?
Ellis: They're opposites in a lot of ways. I always found that I could take my anger and frustration out in hockey and be aggressive. I loved checking people; that was my favorite thing. As I said, I didn't have great hands, so going on the ice and getting scrappy or laying someone out was awesome to me. However, in racing, you really can’t let your emotions take over; you have to keep your emotions in check. You must stay calm and not let your emotions about what happens during the race make you lose your focus. Racing is like chess, whereas with hockey, you're all jacked up before the game, listening to music and preparing for physical combat. Racing, for the most part, is a mental game versus a physical one.
"In racing, you really can’t let your emotions take over; you have to keep your emotions in check. You must stay calm and not let your emotions about what happens during the race make you lose your focus."
Spider Energy: Before a NASCAR race, are there any mental techniques you might use to prepare yourself?
Ellis: No, I don’t have any mental techniques that I use before a race. From a mental standpoint, what's different about racing is that you're talking to sponsors and fans for hours before the race, usually anywhere from one to four hours before. You’re doing appearances, meet and greets, or just hanging out with sponsors giving tours of what goes on behind the scenes, so it's hard to develop a pre-race ritual or even a pre-race meal. You grab whatever is available to eat, but that’s my ritual; keeping busy before the race keeps me from overthinking things. Racing comes naturally to me, so I don't want to overthink everything that can go wrong on the track, so staying busy helps me stay calm.
Spider Energy: Have you done anything to improve your racing techniques and skills?
Ellis: Racing simulation software has helped. iRacing is a great simulator, and when I haven't been to a track before, I'll use that, as many other drivers will. Some drivers and teams have access to high-dollar / high-tech manufacturer simulators, but our small team doesn’t have that luxury. After a race, I debrief with my team to go over my post-race notes and focus on what I could do better in the next race. I took a few years off from the sport but noticed a transition in the sport when I was gone.
The drivers definitely got a lot more aggressive in that time. The average age of drivers has gone down, which goes hand in hand with the increased aggressiveness in the sport. In the past, I used to think my passiveness was an asset; now, I need to up my aggressiveness a little bit. How aggressive or passive you are varies from race to race; you need to know when to be aggressive during a race and when to pull back. It’s what separates a great finish from a mediocre result.
I believe that, for the most part, reaction time is something you're born with. However, I do think it can be improved and maintained over time with practice. A company was testing neurological reaction times at Daytona, and I had the highest score of hundreds or thousands of people they tested. They assessed college athletes from very notable schools, fighter pilots, and other athletes from other sports, and they said that I had the number one reaction time they'd ever seen by a wide margin. They tested me again later that day, and I beat that score again after the race. I think five drivers did the test that day, and all five of us had the top five scores they ever had, so I think that is something you're born with, but I still believe in little things like video games being way more applicable than anybody would ever probably want to believe for improving reaction time.
A company was testing neurological reaction times at Daytona, and I had the highest score of hundreds or thousands of people they tested. They assessed college athletes from very notable schools, fighter pilots, and other athletes from other sports, and they said that I had the number one reaction time they'd ever seen by a wide margin.
Spider Energy: One of the less talked about subjects is the extreme physical toll a race can have on your body. Can you talk about the stress of racing and its impact?
Ellis: There are races where drivers will lose between 5-8 pounds throughout a race, and I wear a Whoop heart rate monitor (i.e., a whoop heart rate monitor measures heart rate, sleep, stress, and recovery); most of the race, my heart rate is 80% or more of my max heart rate. It's race-dependent, and when it’s hotter, it's worse, but there's no exercise like racing that I've ever had as I have ever had that increases your heart rate. As I mentioned earlier, I played hockey all the time, and your heart rate count varies as the activities go on, but for me, when racing, you're pretty much at peak capacity. It seems like 80/90% of your Max heart rate for the majority of the race, which is pretty wild.
There are races where drivers will lose between 5-8 pounds throughout a race, and I wear a Whoop heart rate monitor (i.e., a whoop heart rate monitor measures heart rate, sleep, stress, and recovery); most of the race, my heart rate is 80% or more of my max heart rate.
As I am pulling up my whoop statistics from last week’s race, for an hour and 20-minute race, which is a very short race, 66% of my heart rate during the race was between 70 and 80% of my Max heart rate, which is lower than usual; it's typically about 30 to 40 beats higher than that. There were a lot of crashes and cautions last week, which gives us more time to relax and bring our heart rate down.