Sitting in a car that is being baked by the summer sun as it drives across the burning asphalt is a nightmare for all of us. Fortunately, when the summer heat comes, we have the option of just cranking our ACs until we are sitting at a comfortable level. NASCAR vehicles are treated as stock cars, so the drivers should have the same option to cool down when the track conditions get unbearable.
With most of the NASCAR races being held in the Southern USA states during summer, it is easy to imagine drivers in their vehicles getting hot. Add to that ton of layers of fire protection and the fact that races are well over 3 hrs long you might be picturing a large refrigeration truck-sized AC blasting the drivers enduring extreme heat.
Do NASCAR race cars have AC? Let’s find out!
Are Air Conditioners in NASCAR Cockpits?
NASCAR vehicles do not have a built-in ventilation system or a traditional air conditioning system like our cars. In fact, the way the vehicles are sealed and put together, as well as the typical race conditions, make keeping cool impossible, but drivers and race teams are always trying to find ways to help them survive the extreme temperatures.
An AC unit adds extra weight to the car, and in a crash, the coolant leaks are environmental issues. Air coming in past the engine will be extremely hot, and the vented air wouldn’t get to the driver’s core through all the protective gear they wear. Over an extended period of time, the exhaust fumes and engine heat would bother the driver. Racers might fiddle with the vent the entire race and add another dangerous distraction.
Since the race tracks are paved with hot asphalt in the summer mostly in the southern states, and races last many hours, staying cool is impossible. Instead, keeping the drivers hydrated and keeping salt and calorie levels up is more important than keeping drivers cool, and many highly advanced systems have been developed to keep drives safe in cockpits heating up to over 130 degrees.
NASCAR Cooling Systems
For race car drivers, the cooling system is a balancing act between the total vehicle weight, race aerodynamics, and the safety of the driver throughout the whole race. Everything is utilized to try and keep the driver’s body temperature below 100 degrees while sitting in a 140-degree car. In these extreme temperatures, anything that effectively cools a degree or two is crucial.
Extra protection for fire has been made with sweat-wicking and breathable fire-proof suits, which allow sweat to move away from the core and take some heat with it. This won’t keep the driver cool but can be combined with a cool shirt with piping and circulating fluids to maintain core body temperatures.
Air is blown into the helmet to vent carbon monoxide (CO) and cools drivers slightly, and so do the airbags and hoses in the seat. Finally, an air intake system that brings outside air in directly to the driver increases airflow but can also affect aerodynamics, and thermal shields reflect engine heat from ever entering the cabin.
|Directed Airflow||Brings new air into the car and allows for division hoses to cool the driver down||Affects car aerodynamics, and temperature reduction is limited by outdoor temperatures.|
|Cool Shirt||Keeps core body temperature up to 10 degrees cooler, which can be life-saving in long summer races||Will not make a driver feel comfortable or cool unless outdoor temps are lower than 70 degrees|
|Seat Fan||Blows diverted air directly onto the driver’s legs and back and create a constant flow of air around the driver’s core||No cooling capabilities just creates constant airflow|
|Helmet Cooling||Adds a carbon monoxide filter and can be attached to a cool pack that gives additional cooling to the forced air blowing past the driver’s head||Has little impact on the driver’s core temperature, which is what needs to be regulated for safety|
|Thermal Shields||Protects the driver’s feet and heels from engine heat and deflects significant amounts of heat radiation from entering the cabin||Can heat up and conduct heat into the car as the race goes on and restricts airflow and engine vents|
Why Do Racers Worry About Temperature?
NASCAR drivers are just sitting there in their cars it’s not like they are running like other athletes, so are high temperatures really that big of a deal? The average temperature in the cockpit of a NASCAR vehicle during a race is over 130 degrees, and drivers sustain this for more than 3 hours.
Other than pull-offs onto the pit road where the pit crew can give racers cold water to cool them down, racers have to rely on clever cooling systems to avoid heat stroke and other health effects of exhausting heat.
Overheating leads to loss of consciousness which at high speeds could be fatal for drivers, as well as other less extreme but still race-altering muscle cramps and a reduced ability to concentrate. In addition to boiling temperatures, the Fireproof suits add heat and restrict airflow even more.
Since race cars reach crazy temperatures and the body uses more energy cooling down than heating up your core temperature so the driver’s temperatures during a race are always a team’s concern.
How Do Drivers Prepare for Race Day Heat?
Most of the cooling is lost heat through sweat and then replenishing the fluids with cool liquids. To battle 140-degree temperatures, cold water or sports drinks consumed constantly are a driver’s best friend. Regardless of the external airflow issues, the cool liquid inside instantly drops core temperatures to safe levels.
In order to handle the changes in ambient temperature, deal with the heat for hours, and ward off heat exhaustion, both a fitness program and hydration programs need to be incorporated into a racers regime.
NASCAR drivers need to be healthy and practice the diet and hydration practices they will employ during a race. The extreme temperatures, the mental stress of the race, and the physical demands of the sport mean a driver must be physically fit and able to handle high temps for long periods. Teams have fitness coaches that put racers through endurance training, similar to those of marathon runners and other high-intensity athletes.
Pre-Race Hydration and Nutrition Programs
Before the race, everything that will be eaten and imbibed must be tested to see how the driver’s stomach reacts to it. Food or a cold after can cause a stomach to seize up and provide distracting discomfort for a driver. Once the fluids and calorie replacements are put in place, drivers stick to them to avoid unnecessary variables.
Several days before the race day, drivers will begin fully hydrating to build up water reserves in cells. These reserves will allow a driver to stay hydrated and rehydrate faster than if they had only drunk enough water on race day. Filling up on water and food before a race gives the drivers their best defense against race fatigue and health issues.
Race Hydration Methods
During the race, drivers will usually eat a salt pill to keep their electrolyte levels up and help them not feel a need to pee. This frees a driver to drink as much water or sports drink as they need to keep cool and replace lost fluids without worrying about negative health effects. During pit stops, racers can receive more fluids and food if that is part of their program; otherwise, they get what they need during the race and use that to stay cool instead of AC in their cars.