When you watch a race, you probably wonder how NASCAR drivers stay cool throughout the event. Their fire-retardant gear combined with 80+ degree weather makes it unbearably hot inside those cars. Luckily, NASCAR drivers have ways of staying cool during races.
NASCAR drivers stay cool during a race using a ventilation system that slightly manages the heat. They also continually hydrate before and during an event to keep themselves from losing too much bodyweight through sweat. The cars can eclipse 130 degrees if the outside temperature is hot enough.
While NASCAR drivers can never cruise around the track with an air conditioner, they can at least minimize the heat inside their car with a few sound preparations. Below, we will discuss what they do to keep themselves from overheating throughout a 300 to 500-mile race.
It can get very hot in a NASCAR car depending on the outside temperature. Take the temperature during an event, add 30 to 40 degrees, and that is how hot it gets inside the car. Therefore, the hotter it is outside, the hotter it is inside the car. Many tracks are in areas that get brutally hot.
The NASCAR season runs between February and November, so drivers get to race during the hottest months of the year. While NASCAR is no longer exclusively based in the Southeastern United States where it claims to derive its roots, many of the tracks are still located down south.
Places like Daytona, Talladega, Martinsville, Bristol, Texas, Atlanta, Phoenix, Homestead, Fontana, Las Vegas, and Nashville are just a few of the many tracks located in areas where it can get brutally hot. For example, if it is 85 degrees outside for the Daytona 500, drivers could expect to drive in a 115 to 120-degree car.
It often takes more than 3 hours to complete a NASCAR event, meaning drivers are subjected to perpetual heat for an extended period. While it’s true the open window separated by their safety netting provides a bit of fresh air, it does not circulate well enough to keep a driver cool.
A NASCAR Driver’s Attire
With it up to 90 degrees outside and up to 130 degrees inside the car, NASCAR drivers can expect to feel even warmer since they are wearing a fire-retardant suit, gloves, and a NASCAR-certified helmet. Since drivers need to wear this equipment for safety reasons, their bodies combat the heat through sweat. It’s common for drivers to lose 5-7 lbs of sweat during an event – some lose up to 12 lbs.
As you may have concluded, a driver’s safety attire acts as a double-edged sword. Yes, it will keep them safe in case of a crash. However, a driver’s attire, combined with the already-stifling heat, can make them prone to suffering dehydration.
If a driver loses three percent of their bodyweight through sweat, they will become disoriented and lose focus. This can quickly become a dangerous situation when operating a 3,400+ pound stock car and regularly driving at high speeds.
While you may think drivers hydrate during a race to stay cool, they are really doing so to keep dehydration from setting in. To combat dehydration, drivers may drink bottled water stashed in their car during pit stops or a caution flag. Some choose not to store bottled water in their vehicle and use a built-in hydration system instead. It goes into their helmet and allows access through a straw.
Sometimes, water may not be enough to stay hydrated given the extreme temperatures inside a NASCAR car. Some drivers opt for Gatorade because it serves a dual role. Gatorade helps replace electrolytes lost through sweat, and it is carb-rich, which supplies energy to the drivers.
Although NASCAR drivers drink copious amounts of water, Gatorade, or both during an event, they also hydrate in the days leading to the race. The goal is to be fully hydrated before entering the car for the next three to five hours, so they only need to maintain their level of hydration during the event.
While it is important to hydrate through drinking appropriate fluids, it is also important for drivers to stay away from foods and substances that can dry them out. Therefore, they will limit caffeine, alcohol, and soft drink intake in the days before the event.
As for foods, drivers will eliminate anything that is overly spicy or high in sodium, as both will threaten to hinder their hydration levels. Drivers may supplement their hydration by eating fruits and raw vegetables, both contain higher concentrations of fluids.
NASCAR drivers can never really get cool during an event. They can, however, lessen the heat by about 10 degrees throughout the race. They do so by using built-in ventilation systems that provide some fresh air and minor relief from the extreme temperatures.
Inside their car, drivers have a built-in ventilation system that is attached to hoses. However, the hoses only blow air toward the driver’s feet and into their head though the top of their helmet. The hose has a built-in CO2 ventilation system that filters out toxins and exhaust fumes, allowing for fresh air to enter.
While the hoses only target a driver’s lower body and head, they sit on a bag that allows air to flow from the seat and through their back. Interior mechanics refer to the bag as a “back blower” and it allows for perpetual air flow throughout the duration of a race.
As with the ventilation hoses, the back blower will not drastically lower the car’s temperature. However, interior mechanics have also agreed the point behind this primitive ventilation system is not necessarily to keep the driver cool, but to keep air constantly flowing in the car.
A good way to illustrate just how important the ventilation mechanisms inside a NASCAR car are, let’s travel back to 1998 and relive Ricky Rudd’s legendary win at Martinsville. During the event, Rudd’s cooling system broke and left him exposed to the extreme temperatures.
Without the system, the interior temperature grew so hot that Rudd could do nothing to protect his body and suffered from burns and blisters. It shows that even something that can only generate as little as a 10- degree difference can protect a driver from suffering severe burns just by keeping the air circulating.
NASCAR cars do not have air conditioning. Therefore, drivers rely on other methods to provide a little relief from the heat. In fact, NASCAR cars lack many components that are found in their street legal equivalents. There are no headlights, brake lights, or mirrors either.
If you take one glance at a NASCAR car, you may think it is not much different than their passenger car counterparts on the road. However, the more you look at the car, the more you will notice distinct differences.
For one, there are no headlights or brake lights on the car. Instead, the headlights and brake lights you see are just detailed stickers that resemble their street legal equivalents. You will also notice different tires, plus the addition of a rear spoiler and roof flaps.
When you look inside the car, you will notice there are many missing components. The steering wheel comes off. There is a small cockpit in which the driver sits, and there is little room to move around once they buckle in. There are no side view mirrors, rear view mirrors (although there is a camera), or air conditioners.
NASCAR is stringent with safety. Unfortunately, built-in air conditioning requires pressurized liquids and gasses. If an accident occurred and it simultaneously ruptured the air conditioning system, those gasses would escape, posing a hazard to the driver.
However, even if gasses escaping a car were not an issue, NASCAR would still prohibit traditional air conditioning because it requires unnecessary amounts of energy, which sacrifices speed. Further, the cars would require more air conditioning than the average vehicle because they are prone to more heat given the steel structures inside them.
In a NASCAR car, the steel beams that make up the chassis naturally trap heat, leading to higher temperatures. Add in the driver’s full body fire suit, gloves, and helmet, and even more energy is required to truly keep them cool.
Chris Buescher described the atmosphere inside a NASCAR car as “four different kinds of miserable,” citing that the extreme heat is the worst part of being a NASCAR driver. However, drivers understand the safety aspects that ironically cause such blistering conditions inside the car.
Given fatalities that NASCAR dealt with in the past before the enhanced safety features, drivers are more than content suffering in hot cars for a few hours of misery if it means staying safe during a bad wreck.
It would be one thing if drivers sat in an unmoving vehicle for three to five hours doing nothing. However, once they start racing, the heat falls to the back of their mind, and they turn their focus to the task at hand.
With high speeds and cars riding in packs, the triple-digit temperatures only return to the forefront of a driver’s mind during a caution flag when the race temporarily slows down. It is not that drivers get used to the hot temperatures, they just have a distraction to keep their mind off it.
It is possible that NASCAR cars could have air conditioning in the future. However, the technology to provide air conditioning without taking up copious amounts of energy and using potentially harmful gasses is currently not available within NASCAR.
NASCAR is always looking for ways to innovate and keep drivers safer. With each new generation of car designs they introduce, NASCAR adds more safety features to the cars. The enhanced safety features introduced in the last 16 seasons alone are paramount. There are reasons for optimism that perhaps, in time, NASCAR could find a valid way to provide air conditioning.
NASCAR drivers do not truly keep themselves cool throughout a race. Instead, they use a ventilation system that lowers the car’s temperature about by 10 degrees. This protects drivers from burns and blisters but does not keep them very cool.
I created and have been writing on this site since 2019, collaborating with drivers, coaches, engineers and manufacturers to provide you with the most reliable information about motorsport. Find out more about me here.