Craig Stanton Never Stands Still
© Andrew S. Hartwell
(Appeared on dailysportscar.com July 2003)
If it has a handlebar or a steering wheel, chances are Craig Stanton has operated it. Correction: DRIVEN it! From motorcycles to Sport Renault to Formula Mazda to Formula 2000 to Porsche, Ferrari, BMW and even Nissan, Stanton has heated the tires on them all. And that heat many times burned off the competition, putting him in his favorite place - on the podium.
A brief rundown of his racing resume by marque / series:
Petersen –White Lightning in ALMS / Reiser-Callas Racing in ALMS / Keyser Racing in ALMS
Marcus Motorsports in Grand Am / Bell Motorsports in Grand AM / BoDuck Aasco Racing in Grand AmFerrari:
XL Racing Ferrari 550 Maranello in ALMS
Pierce Racing (SCORE Baja 2000)
GT1 Racing – Late Models Southwest Tour team
GT1 Racing 240SX Factory Speedvision Cup Team
Fizmaun.c~Smith Enterprises Camaro in Trans Am
California Sports Car Club
USAC on the West Coast
In addition to all the seat time he gets during races, Stanton spends a lot of his off hours instructing others in how to get a car from start to finish faster than the competition. He has provided instruction at the Willow Springs International Driving Schools, worked with many drivers in various sports car series as a personal coach and trainer. He has also served as a test driver for a magazine, and conducted numerous test drives for manufacturers including Lexus, Nissan, Infiniti, Mercedes-Benz, Toyota, GM, Acura and Ford.
Craig Stanton will never be called “the man who stood still”. He likes to keep moving and when he isn’t racing as fast as he can in a car, he is driving himself as hard as he can on foot. Stanton is a firm believer in the importance of staying fit. He spends countless hours riding a bike – the pedal yourself kind – and running, keeping himself as fit as humanly possible. The man is a machine.
We talked with Craig recently to try and learn a bit about his background, find out why he is so into fitness, and just talk about his life in the game of racing.
“Fitness has always been very important to me. It started back in high school when I used to race bicycles for Montrose Cycle Team. They have a bike shop not far from where I lived in Southern California. It started one day when I was riding to school. The ride soon turned into a race and I wound up racing with other guys every day on the way to school.
“It was funny because, back then, I soon realized that if I trained harder, or ate the right foods, I could win races. I also learned about strategy and how to draft like (world cyclist) Lance Armstrong does! I just grew up a really active kid.
“What I learned early on is that if I ate right I could go 2 miles an hour quicker on the bike or 1 mile an hour quicker up a hill. The right food is just like running a higher-octane fuel in your car. I had some really good people to hang out with and learn from. Some of my dad’s friends were Olympic athletes and professionals in sports who helped me a great deal in learning about the importance of fitness and diet.
“When I was just 10 years old my dad taught me how to surf. I wasn’t compelled to compete but I did surf a lot and learned how to respect the ocean.”
And when he wasn’t riding on top of the waves, he was riding downhill on snow.
“My dad was a high school teacher and an excellent skier. He used to ski between 30 and 60 days a year skiing! I loved to go skiing with my dad because he and his friends went really, really fast. If he went skiing, I went skiing!
“Back then I was really just scraping the surface of what to do to stay in shape. Now it is a whole new realm of thinking in terms of food and supplements and so on. But I learned early on about the importance of getting a good night's sleep and living a clean life.”
Stanton has perched his posterior in many a ride. What really got him going?
“Right out of high school I started racing off-road cars and motocross and super cross. My life in racing really developed through my involvement in one form of racing leading to rides in other series. I would meet somebody and they would give me a new avenue to go down. I would meet somebody and they would give me a ¾ midget to drive and then there was an avenue where I would run a stock car or an avenue where I did a bunch of road racing. It was often a case of people I met wanting me to drive for them.
“And it was a great time for learning but it always seemed that just as I got real good at something the avenue would go away and it would be time to look for a new ride. I never really had a bunch of funding to work with. What I did have was a desire to work hard, a lot skills and dedication, and a desire to learn as much as I could carrying myself as a good team player.
“I raced for 8 years in motocross / supercross. My goal was to learn and win as much as possible. It was tough as I wasn’t riding a factory-backed bike and I was a bit older than most other riders. Guys who had been riding for years by the time I joined them. A lot of the guys I ran with were younger and had 5 and 6 years in. But it was great because I raced 5 days a week! That was a way of life for me.
“For a short time I did have some support from Yamaha and I had a one year deal with Husqvarna to test their automatic model. It was a really good time in my life. I learned a lot about how to set up for a race, how to pit, how to talk to people on the team, how to set up the bike, how to prep for the long haul, how to talk to sponsors…I just learned a ton about racing.
“When I went to cars I was pretty beat up with injuries from the bikes. I met a guy who wanted me to race a car for him. It is funny how that came about too. I was racing off-road cars at that time and I saw a phone number on the side of a truck for a repair place. I went to the shop to get some work done on my truck and the guys who worked in the back of the shop knew who I was! They told the owner, “That’s Craig Stanton. He is really fast on the motocross bikes.”
“The shop owners asked me to drive their spec racer – a Sport Renault. They said ‘it’s pretty much yours if you want it, and we got 10 races for you in one month!’ I said, “I could do that!’
“The first full year for me was 49 races and the next was 41. We went all over the US and won a bunch of races and two championships. I wasn’t really a pro at that time; I was just running in the regional and national races. I wanted to be in a vehicle that I could get my license with, and then maybe do a regional and a national program with. From there I wanted to get into professional racing with the same racer. In the first year, 1986, we wore the car out. It was actually cheaper to buy a new car for the 1987 season.
“During my racing days in the Renault, I continued to develop my approach to fitness. I had always been running – I was on the track team in High School – and riding bikes. I had always kept up with it because I always felt better. And with injuries and what not, I was in training a lot. There was probably several times when I slacked off on my routine and each time parts of my body would start to seize up. My neck and back would ache! It was hard just to keep ahead of that pain.
“Endurance is important in car racing - being in a good cardio zone. I just came back from a 3-hour bike ride today with some of the guys I train with. I probably do between 10 and 16 hours of cardio a week. And that really makes me over-fit for the cars. I can sit in the cars for a long time.”
Contrary to what this writer had heard, the buffed and lean Stanton does break a sweat when he drives.
“I do break a sweat because it is hot in the car and sweating is your bodies way of reducing your body temperature. The body acts like a radiator. What I believe is, the first thing that goes when you are overheated is your focus. Your body is saying, “Umm, we are going to try to eliminate this whole experience by making you think that it is not a good thing or making you lose your concentration. It is something of a pop-off valve your body uses to tell you it is under stress. I believe that the first thing that goes when you are exerting yourself is your mind telling you that you are done. If I can be in a car, and focus longer, than I don’t get that loss of concentration or loss of focus. My fitness allows me to stay in the car for hours and hours.
“There was a race last year where I raced at Road America with Stefano Butiero in the XL Racing Ferrari. It was hot! I think the guys put a pyrometer in the car during a pit stop and got a temperature reading of 172! It was just about as hot at the Petit Le Mans last year too. My conditioning allowed me to drive longer and harder than the other drivers.
At Sebring this year, Audi pilot Emmanuelle Pirro had to pit early because of cramping muscles. There is no doubt that he too practices a regimen for keeping in shape. So the question becomes how was he so afflicted at that race?
“Cramps tell me his body was low on calcium, magnesium, potassium, food and / or water. When somebody cramps on a hill run or during one of our workouts, it usually means the person is not hydrated and is losing some minerals. I don’t know what Pirro was doing for replacement.”
Stanton puts his commitment to fitness to the test outside the driver’s seat by competing in a grueling series of competitions known as Adventure Racing. The series put teams of athletes against one another on mountain bikes, kayaking and trail running events with the team scores used to determine the winners.
“You know, I am blessed to be surrounded by so many athletes. That is the case certainly in racing and it is especially true with the group of people I compete with in the Adventure Race competition. I’m blessed with a team of unbelievable athletes. Our workload is amazing throughout a two-day adventure race. One guy is a pro duathelete (riding bikes and running marathons) and another is a pro water skier who does marathon events – sometimes spending an hour behind a 43-foot boat that is moving between 50 to 100 miles per hour on the open ocean!
“We also have a female on the team who is a cross country coach who was on the pro women’s mountain bike circuit for about six years. Our team has been in the midst of some very extreme workouts with no breakdown in emotions. When you are suffering like that throughout the day you really find out who you are. There is no candy coating time to act like somebody else. That time is when you are your true self. I mean you are so tired and putting out so much workload that it is just amazing. And it is so exciting to me that we all work so well together.”
Coming back to sportscars, we asked if Stanton had a preference for the kind of cars or series that he wanted to compete in. His answer was as honest as his workouts.
“That is a good question but the answer is really that I like all forms of motorsports.
“I do like stock cars, and I did think the midgets were really fun. But I do think sportscar endurance racing is probably the one I like the best. I think it is the most demanding and challenging. It demands the most of teamwork and I am a big advocate of teamwork. It seems the teams that get the best results are the teams that work the best together.
“The more rewarding weekends are usually the ones I spent with teams who have a common goal and work towards that goal as a team. I have been with teams that work horribly together and it shows on the track. You can’t mask that stuff. And that can be frustrating.
“I am a closet perfectionist really. I have to be careful when I am on a team because I want to come across as low maintenance, easy to get along with, and very approachable by everyone on the team. Inside my mind’s eye I can often see clearly how a team should be run and orchestrated throughout a race weekend and when it all comes together for real it is just the best feeling you can have.”
This season, Stanton is teamed with Johnny Mowlem in the Peterson Racing / White Lightning Porsche running in the ALMS. The team is running most, but not all of the events in that series this season. Schedule changes and Le Mans preparations and participation cut out some dates. But Stanton sees this ride as his best shot at getting his name out there.
“I would have liked to run the full ALMS season and chased a championship but it wasn’t to be. I believe we are going to do Laguna, Sonoma, Road America, Miami and the Petit Le Mans. Johnny Mowlem and I were teammates once before, with Reiser-Callas racing. Some of the races Johnny missed and I would drive as David Murry’s teammate and at other races David would miss and I would race with Johnny.
“My affiliation with the Petersen / White Lightning team represents the best shot at winning races and making a name for myself yet. This is the best stop to date for me to show my wares with a good co-driver, a good team, a good car, and a lot of good sponsors.”
With the divergent paths taken by the ALMS and Grand AM, the choices are distinct. Price controlled racing in new cars that may or may not further evolve aerodynamically and in available horsepower, or essentially wide-open parameters that invite uniqueness? Which would Stanton choose?
“Since I have driven a ton of different cars, I feel I have the ability to adapt extremely quickly. I don’t really have a preference either way. What I like most is to be in a good car, on a good team with a good teammate and everybody working towards the same goals as a team.
I want to be out there racing every weekend! That’s my goal for next year actually. I am looking to close a deal for the full season in all three series. I am going after the Grand Am Cup, Rolex Championship and the ALMS Championship, plus Le Mans, plus the BAJA 1000 and 500 (off road racing) and do about three or four different stock car races.
“I’m also hoping I can get a ride at Sonoma or Watkins Glen for the Winston / Nextel Cup races. That may or may not happen. I want to be sure I have the right ride. I just don’t want to be running around in the back of the pack. It is so important to have the right package for those road races.
“I do a lot of coaching for other drivers and teams. I have ten to fifteen clients who hire me through out the year. Many of the drivers who call are semi-professionals or bona fide enthusiasts who have had a few years experience. They usually call me when they truly want to take next step up to maybe Grand AM Cup or the Rolex Series. There are presently three people and teams that I am working with and, I am happy to say, that two of the teams will be running next year in Grand Am Cup and Rolex.
“We have had workshops and I have even called in other drivers to give the teams their perspective as well. The same goes for crewmembers from other teams who come in to help. It is a great process. We have been visiting some of the tracks the teams will be racing on next year, collecting data and getting to know where to pit, how to get around the track and all the other things that seasoned teams take for granted.
“It gives me a lot of personal satisfaction to coach others, especially when they succeed. One of the guys I have been working with had his first pro race at Fontana. I was like the proud father! I was almost ready to tear up! And it just felt so good to realize that the team was able to be there because of the things that I had done to help them get there. It was awesome!”
Does Stanton feel he can coach his wife too?
“Hah! She is awesome too! And I would probably be homeless if it wasn’t for her! Her name is Joy. We met back in 1985 and were dating for many years and we have been married for five years now. She is a personal trainer. She races competitively in US Rowing events representing Long Beach Rowing Association. She has two nationals and a regional event coming up soon. She rides bikes. She is very fit and she is really good at the track. That is, people love to be around her in the paddock and so on.
“Someday we would like to have kids. I am a big kid! In fact, we have a big climbing wall in our backyard and I just had to chase several kids away because we have a house rule that if I am not back there with them they can’t be climbing the wall."
By now it should be clear that Craig Stanton puts his all into his life, keeping himself ever prepared for the next adventure. And he has some ideas about what those adventures might be.
“I want to win Le Mans. I want to win Daytona, and wear that Rolex around! And I want to win Sebring really bad. And I want to win some championships. The last few years of my career has been running with a gentleman driver as a teammate, acting as a coach. Those rides have been really rewarding, but my strategy has changed. Teaming with Johnny Mowlem is exactly what I mean. He is a hard charger!
Given the man’s penchant for endurance, let’s hope that Johnny and the rest of the Petersen / White Lightning team can charge hard enough and long enough to keep up with the man who never stands still!