Without air conditioning, race cars get really hot, and the average NASCAR race lasts over 3 hours. Add to the fact that because of the longer period of warm outdoor weather, most races are held in the sunny south of the US of A. On race day, individual drivers put on fire-proof racing suits and put them all together; we are talking about hot races.
Just like endurance athletes, NASCAR drivers lose pounds in water weight and need to replenish fluids and salts to avoid severe dehydration. To avoid the negative side effects of prolonged physical activity, like mental fatigue and muscle cramps, drivers need to drink during a race. But how exactly does a NASCAR driver drink during a race, what do they drink, and are there special hydration programs they need to undergo? Read on to find out.
How do NASCAR Drivers Drink While Racing?
Although NASCAR prioritizes the safety of their drivers, or maybe because they do, there is no authority on racecar driver drinking and eating requirements. Every racer is different, and the tremendous amounts of pressure these athletes face can shut down digestive systems that will only allow specific foods and fluids.
That means part of the challenges of racing is for a racer to balance drinking adequate fluids and flying along tracks like the Daytona International Speedway, leading to the development of different kinds of systems for hydration.
There are only a couple of methods drivers use to drink during races, and systems are continuously being upgraded. Efficient systems will combine ice-cold water in cool racing suits with hydration systems to lower the core body temperature of drivers and replace fluids through a straw in the helmet for fluids. Lacking these systems, some veteran drivers still prefer to squirt a water bottle into their helmets. Drinking from a bottle at 200 mph is tricky, but the pace laps, caution flags, and pitstops offer chances to drink fresh water.
NASCAR Driver Drinking Methods
In order to avoid extreme dehydration, NASCAR drivers begin hydrating several days before the race. Trying to drink enough fluids to anticipate the loss of fluids after races the day of the race is nearly impossible and could end with drivers needing IVs to hydrate faster. To saturate the body and not just the belly with water, hydration programs are developed for each racers body type.
In order to be ready for a race’s demands on the body, a racer must prehydrate with 10 millimeters of fluid per kilogram of body weight. That means a 150-lb driver would need 20 ounces of water 2 hours before racing and can expect to lose around 12 pounds of fluid through their entire body as the race progresses. To account for the rapid water loss and rehydration, both electrolyte-rich sports drinks or salt pills are used to replace lost salts as well.
|Bottle||Fast and Controllable||Empty quickly and requires driving while drinking|
|Water Drinking System||Reliable and Hands-Free||Can take getting used to, and drivers may forget to use it|
|Gatorade Hydration System||Replaces fluids and Salts||The ice-cold liquid may cause stomach cramps and brain-freeze|
Do NASCAR Drivers Need Food and Water While Racing?
Every driver is different, and some need to eat during a race, whereas all races need some form of hydration and fluids throughout the race. The routine a racer chooses to undergo in regard to eating and drinking is specially designed for them and is practiced well ahead of race days. The goal of a race is to eliminate as many variables as possible, and seriously needing to pee or having sudden stomach cramps is not ideal for anyone.
Some racers will eat protein-rich, low or no-carb meals before races to avoid adding weight to the car or needing to quickly scarf something down at a pit stop. Other racers will keep snack bars or protein bars and snack boxes in the glove box. If a sudden urge to eat or drink comes along, a driver can signal to the pit crew to have something ready at the next stop.
In a few cases, to carb-load like marathon runners, drivers will eat carb-rich pasta in their cars and place the bowl on the passenger seat when not snacking. Regardless of what a driver does, race regulations forbid drivers from removing any part of their gear, including helmets and gloves, while on the race track. All food must be able to be eaten with gloves and a helmet on, so pre-opened wrappers and loosely sealed baggies are usually relied on.
Why Do NASCAR Racers Drink While Driving?
There are several reasons a NASCAR driver should stay hydrated while racing. When watching the cars fly around the track on television in your climate-controlled room, it is hard to imagine that the racers are doing all that much. But, despite a basic built-in ventilation system, cars and the drivers under the suits are exposed to temperatures in the mid-100s. Combining that with intense mental activity and constant small-digit movements, rehydration is key to a successful race.
Heat and concentration can lead to faster dehydration, so fluids need to be absorbed rapidly to offset any negative health effects. Most drivers do not need to completely replace all the fluid per hour they lose, but they need some form of salt and water entering their system to stay healthy. After a race, fluids can be rapidly provided in the form of IVs or other hydration practices in case fluid loss was too great.
NASCAR races take high concentration levels and can be hard to sustain for hours at a time. Energy delivery drinks, electrolyte-drink mixes, or plain water with a previously taken salt pill can all keep a driver’s mind alert at all times. Once a race enters the final lap, not just the winner’s score matters as all races have a chance to grab extra points, this is when a racer needs to be most focused, and for that, they need proper hydration.
Through the windshield and driver’s side window, it may seem like a racer isn’t moving a whole lot. Compared to athletes that play ball sports, sitting in a car, albeit a very hot one, doesn’t seem too excruciatingly physically demanding. If you look closer, you will see constant small digit movements in fingers, feet, and other muscle groups that can all become prone to intense cramping. Muscles seizing up while you are hurtling across the asphalt at 200 mph is a recipe for disaster.
Once you are fully hydrated, it is infinitely easier to stay hydrated than if you let yourself dry out completely and try to drink enough to hydrate. Drivers that keep a strict hydration program are much less likely to face extreme dehydration during a race and get more of a benefit when they drink water than racers who have not stayed full of water. Slowly almost constantly drinking is the best way for racers to keep their water levels high and never risk dehydration, even during the longest, hottest races.
Deal with Injury
The amount of water in our bodies directly relates to how injury-proof we are. As crashes are not rare and, in fact, one of the reasons NASCAR has the number of fans it does, injury prevention is crucial to staying a driver after a crash. Even with all the safety gear, injuries can happen, and that could mean missed races or other consequences. Staying hydrated gives your body the extra fluidity it needs to absorb and reflect serious injuries and potentially make them much less threatening.
What Do NASCAR Drivers Drink?
Just like other sports, individual drivers know what they like to drink and formulate a beverage that meets their exact needs. The main criteria of a drink are that it should hydrate, replace lost salts, and work to keep the driver alert. Great-tasting drinks can encourage a racer to drink more frequently, and system-cooled beverages can also help reduce body heat and make for a more comfortable race. Most of the time, water, formulated sports drinks, or hydrations systems provided by companies like Gatorade are used by racers.
It is never advisable for drivers to drink beverages like coffee, energy drinks, or tea, as these are diuretics and can lead to almost uncontrollable urges to pee. Having to use the bathroom greatly reduces concentration and is a distraction most drivers don’t want. Soda and surgery drinks that do nothing for rehydration should also be avoided and are not what NASCAR drivers drink during a race.