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Flippin' Over Carl

By on July 1, 2008
RoadKing Mag

The first time Carl Edwards executed his trademark victory backflip it was pure exuberance; now it has become a regular expectation.

“When I won my first race [in the NASCAR truck series in 2003] I was excited and the adrenaline was pumping and I did a backflip on the spur of the moment,” explains Edwards. “The fans and the media liked it, so the next time I won I did it again. And again. And gradually I realized I’d started something that I couldn’t stop. Everybody has come to expect the backflip and I don’t want to disappoint them.”

Doing a backwards somersault off the top of a car requires strength and agility, and Edwards has plenty of both. He’s arguably the most physically fit driver in NASCAR. He works out constantly — a few years ago he started working out using the Carmichael Training Systems, a Colorado Springs company founded by Lance Armstrong’s trainer — and his washboard abs earned him a spot as a cover model on Men’s Health.

Edwards, who at one point was keeping company with Olympic swimmer Amanda Beard, says his dedication to physical fitness is not a matter of vanity; staying in shape makes him a better race driver.

“If you’re in good physical condition you’re going to be better in anything you do, and that’s definitely the case in racing,” he says. “It’s not easy wrestling one of those big, hot stock cars around a track for three or four hours. If you’re not in shape it’ll wear you out.”

Edwards works out daily, and his routine includes lots of cardiovascular exercises such as biking and running, along with weightlifting and other exercises designed to strengthen the upper body, arms, abdomen, neck and back. He and his trainer change his workouts to match the demands of specific tracks.

Whatever he’s doing, it works. In just his fourth full season in the top-tier Sprint Cup Series, Edwards has earned a place among the elite of the sport.

In 2007 he finished ninth in the standings (while winning the second-tier Busch Series championship) and he started off the 2008 season with a bang, winning three of the first seven races.

That’s a dizzying ascent for a 29-year-old racer who just a few years ago was teaching school, and attempting to land a ride by  handing out business cards.

“I always wanted to race,” says Edwards, who grew up in Columbia, Mo., and began competing in local-division races as a teenager. “I’m living my dream.”

Edwards attended the University of Missouri and worked as a substitute teacher while racing on weekends. He distributed “driver available” business cards around racetracks and eventually caught the eye of prominent NASCAR team owner Jack Roush.

“I was impressed by Carl the first time I met him,” Roush says. “He impressed me not only as a talented racer but as a fine young man.”

Roush signed Edwards and the rest is history. He won 2003 Rookie of the Year in the Craftsman Truck Series and added the Busch Series title last year. This year he is again pulling double-duty in the Sprint Cup and Nationwide (formerly Busch) Series in a bid to become the first driver to win both titles in the same season.

Why does he run both series?

“I just love to race; it’s that simple,” Edwards says. “By running twice as many races I have twice as much fun.”

And after each checkered flag comes the fan-wowing trademark backflip. Edwards’ form is getting better and better, and no wonder — he’s getting lots of practice.

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