Have you ever wondered how NASCAR drivers stay cool inside those hot race cars, especially given that the temperature inside a stock car racing machine can be 30-40 degrees (1-4°C) Fahrenheit warmer than the ambient outdoor temperature? This means that in the sweltering summer months the temperature inside those racecars can reach a whopping 140 °F (60°C)! Below we will look at the ways that NASCAR drivers stay cool during a race.
NASCAR Cars are fitted with cooling systems to prevent driver overheating during a race. Air is pushed into the drivers’ helmet and racing suit from a NACA duct near the rear side window this aims to both cool the driver and remove Carbon monoxide. Some drivers also incorporate “air seats” and when required ice packs.
Although the engine and the temperature outside all makes a difference in the heats that NASCAR drivers have to contend with there is also just how squat and compact these cars are, especially the interiors — something the TV cameras just can’t quite convey. it means NASCAR drivers and teams have to find a way to stay cool during the race.
The compact design of the interior severely prohibits airflow inside the car; essentially, sitting inside the cockpit of a NASCAR machine is like sitting in a 200-mph furnace. Something which drivers do 3-4, sometimes even 5 hours straight during the course of a race.
Pretty incredible when you think about it. So how do they endure it? The answer is with some pretty cool technology, which will come as no surprise to anyone familiar with the sport.
What are NASCAR’s air conditioning systems?
That’s right, NASCAR racecars have a/c, just not the kind you have in your car. A NASCAR stock car’s cooling system is powered by two fans. The first of these is connected to the top of the driver’s helmet. How it works it that air from outside is drawn into the car via a NACA duct in the rear side-window, behind the driver’s window.
This fresh air runs through a hose that leads to a carbon monoxide filter. In turn, another hose leads from the filter to a small fan inside the fitting that attaches the hose to the driver’s helmet. The principal here is that keeping the driver’s head cool is essential.
There is also another fan that works the same way but instead the hose is attached to a “belly blower” placed inside the driver’s fire suit. This helps to cool the driver’s body, particularly the chest and midsection.
This “coolbox” system is the standard, and in addition there are some drivers that use what is called an air seat. These are made of a special material that uses tiny holes that allow air to flow onto the driver via a fan or blower that works in the same way as is used in the coolbox.
And that is NASCAR air conditioning in a nutshell. Really, it is relatively simple, but neat nonetheless. While it is the primary means of heat management used by race teams, it is not the only one as you will discover by reading on.
What are the Other NASCAR Cooling Methods
358 cu.in. (5.8 Litre) V8 engines that produce over 750 horsepower create a lot of heat. So it is no surprise to learn that there are actually several means employed by NASCAR teams to deal with the tremendous heat produced by the car’s massive engines, other than the coolbox system we just discussed.
- Heat shields: using NASA space shuttle technology are used in almost all kinds of racing, and NASCAR is no different. Typically consisting of an insulated side and a heat-reflecting foil,
- Thermal shielding can be made from a variety of materials, but the most common are aluminum and pure quartz sand.
- In NASCAR, thermal shielding is placed around key components inside the car not only to protect said components but also to cumulatively effect heat management. Thermal shielding can also be used to enhance performance.
- It is also used in driver’s fire suits and gloves, and heat shielding is also worn around the driver’s shoes which makes sense given the brake, clutch, and accelerator pedal’s position in the floorboard and proximity to the engine.
- Thermal shielding is also popular in racing because of its lightweight quality (considering that it is used in space technology).
An old solution but still a (somewhat) effective one is ice. Sometimes you may still see driver’s putting ice down their fire suits, though usually you will only see this nowadays in the hottest of races, meaning those held in the dog days of summer from July through August (the Southern 500 in Darlington, S.C. also comes to mind).
This is a cheap and easy — albeit temporary — fix on an especially scorching race day. Sometimes every little bit helps. Technically, this method of cooling is called conduction.
What Cooling Upgrades are in the Next Gen Car?
The gen 7 car making its debut in 2022 introduces an upgrade to the stock car racing machine’s cooling system in the form of aeroduct slots placed at top of the windshield that ingest air into the cockpit.
Vertical slots placed in the rear window also help to ingest outside air into the car as well as expel warm air out.
The Downsides of the NASCAR cooling systems
NASCAR does in fact, mandate the use of some kind of cooling system in all cars. This is for the drivers’ safety, for heat stroke is a real threat with the kinds of temperatures seen inside these cars. The coolbox system is also important in preventing carbon monoxide poisoning.
Before the development of the filtration system currently in use, veteran Cup driver Rick Mast was forced to retire due to illness caused by carbon monoxide poisoning.
Believe it or not however, NASCAR’s a/c system does come with some potential downsides. Any weight added to the car is a considered a negative in terms of performance.
Also, the NACA ducts on the car that make cooling and ventilation possible also serve to create aerodynamic drag — that is, the effect of turbulence effecting the car’s ability to propel itself through the air and ultimately hindering top speed.
Finally, there is the matter of the electrical power required to operate the fans. Because the coolbox saps voltage from the battery, the car’s engine must direct more voltage to the battery to compensate, in order to keep the battery fully charged.
This results in an inevitable power loss. Although these things may seem trivial, cumulatively they can make a real difference in a car’s performance on race day. Especially when races are as long as 600 miles like some in NASCAR
There are ways to mitigate the heat that NASCAR drivers are subjected during their 500 mile and up races. However these cooling systems are there to reduce the heat not remove it. It is still an incredibly challenging experience to complete a full NASCAR Race.
The cooling systems will help drivers, but even with these attached to helmets and suits it is still possible for NASCAR drivers to lose up to 10lbs of body weight during a race and liquids are more important than cooling in these circumstances. We have a full article on how NASCAR (and IndyCar) drivers manage to take on liquids during a race.