Edward S. Potkanowicz, Ph.D., ACSM-EP
Associate Professor of Exercise Physiology | Ohio Northern University
Principal Investigator | The R.A.C.E.R. Project
Meet life-long racing enthusiast and ACSM member Edward S. Potkanowicz, Ph.D. Ed received his undergraduate degree in exercise science from Youngstown State University in Ohio. After stints as an exercise specialist at the White House and Cleveland Clinic Foundation, Ed began his graduate work at Kent State University receiving both his master’s and doctorate degrees.
As a grad student, Ed uncovered a need to better protect race car drivers. So, he set out to use data to prove that drivers are athletes and science to uncover ways to make drivers safer and more competitive. Full speed ahead in his career, Dr. Potkanowicz now serves as the principal investigator for “The R.A.C.E.R. Project” (The Real Assessment of Core and Environmental Responses) and as an associate professor of exercise physiology at Ohio Northern University in Ada, Ohio.
Dr. Potkanowicz’s work examines the performance challenges and deficits a driver-athlete may experience and how a driver-athlete’s body responds to the thermoregulatory challenges of the competitive environment (i.e., the cockpit, his/her fire suit and the work of driving, etc.). He uses a variety of existing and novel biometrics to objectively and scientifically quantify and evaluate physiological stressors with the goal of developing strategies to improve driver safety, tolerance and performance by managing core body temperature and physiological responses. Dr. Potkanowicz continues to advocate for the support, development and use of biometric technologies to expand knowledge of the driver in the driver-car system.
ACSM staff asked Dr. Potkanowicz a series of questions to learn more about his work, research outcomes and advice for students.
- Why did you choose to research driver-athletes?
It allowed me to combine my love of motorsports with my research interests. While still a grad student, it became abundantly clear that while the field of exercise physiology had spent a great deal of time, effort and energy examining the traditional athlete, few, if any, had ever looked at what the driver-athlete experiences. I also found it disconcerting that for all a driver-athlete endures he or she was seldom regarded as a "real" athlete. My goal from the outset was to use objective scientific data to prove that drivers were, in fact, athletes and to use science to uncover ways to make them safer and more competitive. Learn more about Dr. Potkanowicz’s research from his presentation The Wired Driver: A Discussion of Biometric Sensing in Motorsport.
- What have been the significant outcomes of your research?
For me, it has been dispelling the myth that race car drivers aren't athletes, and all they do is "turn left" (or in some instances right and left). With the acceptance that drivers are athletes and the scientific data to prove it, the field of exercise physiology has begun to provide sport-specific training for the driver-athlete. I enjoy working directly with driver-athletes and educating them about all their bodies are experiencing and helping them to prepare for the rigors of competition.
- What advice do you have for students or professionals entering the field?
Be patient; work worth doing often takes time and commitment. Don't be put off by doors closing in your face. Keep knocking. If you believe in it, it's worth doing. Finally, be daring. Too often research is seen by students as boring and even scary; however, there are still a lot of really cool things out there that we don't fully understand or know about within the field of exercise physiology. If you're curious about something, have questions about something or just want to learn more about it, research it—regardless of what it is or what people think about the topic.
- What does ACSM membership mean to you?
I joined ACSM more than 20 years ago. ACSM has provided me with numerous opportunities to meet new people, make new connections and learn new things. ACSM has also helped me stay current in the field, share my work with others and introduce my students to the profession and a community of like-minded people.
- What surprises people about you?
Students often assume that a professor's path to a career in higher education is a linear one. Mine was not. I found my career in higher education after several years of 'trying on" different careers to see what fit.
- Anything you’d like to add?
To quote Ayrton Senna, three-time Formula One World Champion, “The main thing is to be yourself. Many times, it's through a mistake that you learn. And the main thing is to make sure you learn through your mistakes and get better.” Good luck to each of you.