When you see a NASCAR race going on, the sun beating down on the asphalt, the heat of the engines as they roar around the track, not to mention the huge crowds of people all gathered to watch…it’s easy to conclude that it must often feel like hell on Earth, at least temperature-wise, and especially during the summer months.
Despite Temperatures reaching up to 130 Degrees F in a NASCAR race car they are not equipped with Air Conditioning Units. The extra weight will result in a loss in handling and speed. To cool drivers Race cars have vents and fans driven by the car’s momentum and cooling packs for drivers if needed.
If it’s that hot on the outside, then the inside of a speeding NASCAR must also be like an oven, no? The driver also has to be fully clad in a helmet, fire-retardant suit, and underclothes to protect further from fire injury. They must sweat buckets, yes? Surely the answer to all this is just to install an air conditioning system in the car and be done with it?
In this article we’re looking into NASCAR vehicles and air conditioning, and the peculiar relationship they have.
The simple answer to this question is no, they do not. Despite the fact that temperatures within a NASCAR vehicle can get up to 130 degrees (Fahrenheit), there is no AC unit installed to bring that temperature down to a more comfortable (or even safe) level.
But why is it that the most basic hatchback now comes with air conditioning as standard, but something as mighty as a Chevrolet, Toyota or Ford NASCAR vehicle has to do without? The main reason is weight. Adding an AC system to the car would make it heavier, and thus would impact power and speed. Remember that when it comes to building NASCARs, necessity is king. Anything considered even remotely unessential will be cast out.
There’s no technical reason why NASCAR teams couldn’t build AC systems into the vehicles per se. It would be a challenge, however, because as we all know the interior of a NASCAR is completely different from that of a passenger car. The AC unit itself could be installed, and programmed to work during the race to keep the interior cool, but it raises a number of questions.
- Would drivers be able to adjust it if it were too cold? If so, where would the controls go?
- Doesn’t adding AC just make more for the pit crew to maintain and worry about?
- Could having AC remove other benefits of the added heat, such as keeping drivers from needing the bathroom?
In a previous article on our blog, we did discuss at length methods that drivers use to stay cool. In summary, the drivers have to rely either on air vents drawing in and filtering air from outside like a fan system, or on special ventilation and cooling systems built into their seat and helmets. These can ensure a steady stream of air is brought into the car, but it’s not cool, and overall will only bring the interior temperature down by about 10 degrees.
Stories from most NASCAR drivers reveal the car to be an utter sweatbox, literally. One NASCAR driver, David Ragan, once said that he loses anywhere from 5 to 7 pounds through sweat during a race. It’s also known that NASCAR drivers learn to hydrate properly before race day so that they won’t experience the debilitating effects of dehydration during the race.
It sounds excruciating, of course, and most drivers would agree that it’s hard-going, but they’d also point out that it’s part and parcel of being a top NASCAR driver. It’s also a key part of being an effective team, managing the heat and its effects.
A hotter track and car makes it harder for the tires to find traction. That being the case, teams have to anticipate different traction levels through the day as temperatures change. Don’t forget that some races cover 500 or even 600 laps. That’s hours of temperature shifts to reflect upon.
So, the heat is a big part of helping drivers stay on top of their game, but does it also have other benefits for them? David Ragan said that he loses 5-7 pounds through sweating, which sounds like the worst (or best) sauna ever, but one other advantage according to Ragan is that it stops him from needing the bathroom during races.
In one interview, he said, “Generally you sweat out so much you don’t have to go. In over 11 years of racing in the NASCAR cup series, I’ve never had to go to the bathroom bad enough to go during a race.”
Of course, he’s right there. Having to go during a race would present all kinds of disadvantages. It would only work out if everyone had to go at least once. Above anything else, needing the bathroom could prove a fatal distraction that stops you from making those split-second decisions you need to make to stay safe out there.
The main obstacles to the implementation of AC in NASCAR vehicles are mostly technical or mechanical. It’s simply not practical to install an AC unit for your driver, especially when it would potentially make your car slower and more lumbering in a race where you need to be as agile as possible at all times (despite the brick-like construction of your car).
Finding better ways to draw in and filter more air into the cabin remains the best solution, it would seem. Innovations in helmet and suit technology could be helpful in that regard, allowing for new ways to help keep drivers cool.
If Ragan is fairly typical among NASCAR drivers, however, there may even be some resistance to any system — AC or otherwise — that would cool down cars too much. The heat is part of what sets NASCAR drivers apart, in their eyes, so whether such cooling devices or measures would even be welcomed remains an open question.
NASCAR races take place during early Spring, the summer and late in to the autumn. For large parts of that temperatures are high. Sitting behind a 500 plus horsepower engine does not help with that at all and you might think drivers need some cooling to get through 500 mile long races.
They would agree with you! However air conditioning is not an option in NASCAR race cars the moving parts the, the extra weight and the drain on power would reduce a drivers competitiveness. So there is no AC switch in a NASCAR. Drivers have to rely on vents that draw air into the car as it drives and if particularly hot days extra fluids and even cooling packs could be used.
But certainly not Air Conditioning!