By: Liz Allison
As we enter midsummer in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, the biggest challenge for the drivers is tolerating the hot temperatures inside the cockpit. The temps inside the race cars are on an average of 30 degrees hotter than outside. For example, it was a balmy 94 degrees at Chicagoland Speedway in late June with a heat index of 115. Thermostats inside the cockpits, however, were displaying temps anywhere from 150 to 157 degrees.
To help manage the heat, the cars are set up with a ventilation system to blow outside air on the drivers through hoses while the drivers sit on a bag that pushes air up from the seat. Air from the hoses blows on the drivers’ feet from under the steering wheel and to their head through the top of their helmet. The air hose system blows outside air through a CO2 filter to filter out all the exhaust fumes before reaching the driver. In addition to air on their faces, the back blower (air coming through holes in air seat) blows air to the back of the legs and back.
While the cooling system certainly helps with the interior heat, it doesn’t take the heat away completely, and the high summer temps are still an ongoing issue. On average, a driver loses five to ten pounds during a three-hour race… even having the urge to use the bathroom is a non-issue from simply sweating for three to four hours.
The biggest concern for the drivers sweating off pounds in this intense heat is dehydration. Hydrating properly actually should begin the day before the race. Drivers often hydrate thoroughly throughout the week, and will even be administered before or after race day. Experts claim waiting until the day of the race to hydrate is too late. Dehydration can cause cramping and slower reaction times, which would be dangerous for anyone, let alone someone hitting speeds of 185 mph.
Another measure taken for drivers dealing with heat is full- or partial-foot heat shields to protect their feet from burns caused by the boiling temperatures directly under their pedals. Many drivers have experienced severe burns on their feet when not using heat shields.
You might ask why Monster Energy NASCAR Cup cars do not have air conditioners. It’s basically a weight issue…in addition to an amperage concern. The cars are using all amps the electrical system can supply and the cars are maxed at their 3,500 weight limit, which leaves no unallocated weight for an AC system.
Bottom line, there are ways to help manage the heat but at the end of the day… it’s just plain hot in those cars.