Do NASCAR Drivers Take Breaks During Long Races?

Share this article

NASCAR Cup Series races typically last between three and five hours. Naturally, the need to use the bathroom or even get out and stretch may arise during the lengthier events, like the Coca Cola 600. Therefore, you may wonder whether NASCAR drivers take breaks during long races.  

NASCAR drivers do not take breaks during long races unless track officials wave the red flag. They may see yellow flag conditions as a physical and mental break from the often action-packed green flag conditions, but they’re normally driving for 3-5 hours without a break from the car.

Below, we will elaborate more on why NASCAR drivers do not take bathroom breaks unless the race falls under red flag conditions. We will also reveal whether NASCAR drivers just go to the bathroom in their racing suits, before touching on what drivers can and cannot do during a caution. 

Do NASCAR Drivers Take Bathroom Breaks?

NASCAR drivers do not take bathroom breaks unless the race is red flagged. This means the drivers can be in their cars for 3 to 5 hours at a time, with much of that time spent racing at speeds close to 200 mph against up to 39 of the best stock car drivers in the world.

A NASCAR Cup Series race is unlike any other in professional sports. In the NFL, they have a halftime break. The same goes for the NBA. In the NHL, players get two intermissions, while in baseball, the team that is batting gets a break once every inning. In NASCAR, this isn’t the case, as drivers may not leave their cars while the race is ongoing. 

Although NASCAR has sort of adopted an NHL-like approach to its races, with three racing stages and a competition caution following each stage, drivers still may not leave their car under any circumstances while the races are under green or yellow flag conditions. 

The only exception for a driver to leave their car during green or yellow flag laps is when a team has a substitute driver ready. If a driver is ill or injured, but if they can start the race, they may leave their car even after a few laps and relinquish the ride to a substitute driver

Under A Red Flag

When the red flag waves, it means track conditions are too dangerous for the drivers to continue racing or even driving at the dramatically reduced speeds that cautions bring. When this occurs, drivers must park their car either on the track or, during times of inclement weather, in the pits

Since a red flag basically means the race has been suspended, drivers may exit their cars to use the bathroom under these circumstances. This is because there is no point in them sitting inside a hot car for an undetermined amount of time. 

For example, at the 1987 Winston 500, Bobby Allison’s car flew into the catch fence, and the race was red flagged because track officials had to fix the fence before the drivers returned to racing. During this time, they were allowed to get out of their cars and use the bathroom, converse with one another, and even eat if they chose to

A more unfortunate example came during the 1991 Watkins Glen race, when J.D. McDuffie and Jimmy Means crashed in Turn 5. During the broadcast, you saw drivers outside their machines while track safety workers attended to McDuffie, who unfortunately died in the wreck.

Do NASCAR Drivers Wear Diapers?

NASCAR drivers do not wear diapers, nor do they wear catheters. Since they don’t get a break for the 3-5 hours of high-speed racing, if they need to use the bathroom, they must simply go in their racing suits.

When you travel for long distances on the highway, you will see rest stops or travel centers that will cater to your need to use the bathroom while on the road. Unfortunately for NASCAR drivers, they do not have this option. The same goes for MotoGP riders and F1 drivers, as most motorsports don’t account for bathroom breaks!

Because NASCAR drivers can’t take a bathroom break, there is a popular theory among fans that, because they are sitting in one place for so long that they must wear diapers. Another theory points to catheters, but in truth, NASCAR drivers wear neither of these. If they have to use the bathroom, they will go in their fire-resistant suit. 

It’s Uncommon

However, this is a rarity, as Dale Earnhardt Jr once admitted that he rarely needed to use the bathroom during a race. This might shock you, since given the less-than-ideal conditions of a NASCAR car will require drivers to remain hydrated throughout an event. 

And when you watch the NASCAR pre-race show, you may have also noticed that the drivers often have water with them before they enter the sauna-like conditions of a NASCAR car for three to five hours. Therefore, drivers are drinking a decent amount of fluids before and during the race, so going so long without a break is seemingly an amazing feat. 

How Do NASCAR Drivers Race For So Long Without A Break?

It is easy to be amazed regarding the fact that NASCAR drivers race for hours without taking a break, but you must remember that they are losing fluid through sweat at a ridiculous pace. NASCAR drivers often lose between 5 pounds (2.2 kg) and 10 pounds (4.5 kg) of sweat while they are out on the track. 

Since they are losing so much fluid and exposed to perpetual heat for the duration of the race, they can go for hours without needing to use the bathroom. And since they are losing weight in fluid, it means their bodies are losing more fluid than they are replacing, negating the need to eliminate any excess fluid in the body, but they do need to keep themselves hydrated. 

Staying Hydrated

If you lose too much bodyweight through lost fluids, your concentration levels suffer. During a race, drivers often consume fluids through hydration systems in their helmet or simply by drinking water during a pit stop or a caution, to keep themselves hydrated just enough to remain focused on the task ahead, and to avoid disorientation, loss in motor function, and excessive loss in water weight. 

The Same Goes For Eating

Whenever you take long car rides, you will most likely eat foods that your body is accustomed to. This negates the need to pull over at a rest stop or travel center and use their bathrooms. NASCAR drivers employ a similar tactic, eating foods that are light on their stomach so they will not suffer any unforeseen digestive issues during the event. 

These light food choices are often bland, since they will further minimize the drivers’ need to use the bathroom after only a few hours. Staple foods like grilled chicken and rice are common before a race, but other drivers may opt for something else if they feel their bodies respond better to another food choice. 

You won’t see them eating fried food, fast food, or anything that contains a hint of grease since doing so would make for a bad combination when driving in a hot car for between three and five hours!

KEY POINTS

• There are no bathroom breaks factored into NASCAR races

• The only breaks drivers get are during red flags

• They must therefore plan their eating and drinking accordingly

Do NASCAR Drivers Get A Break During Cautions?

NASCAR drivers do get a bit of a break during cautions, as they reduce their speed behind the pace car. However, they don’t get to exit their cars without giving up track position, as the rest of the cars keep going round the track. It does serve as a bit of a mental break from high-speed racing.

After driving at speeds that could reach 180 mph (290 kph), a caution alone would be a break for a NASCAR driver, both mentally and physically. They could also use cautions to take a quick drink of water to keep their fluid levels afloat. It is also common for them to eat a quick snack, or even a sandwich, as Jimmie Johnson once admitted! 

In a manner of speaking, they will get a break, although they’re still driving, but they may only take a full bathroom break if the caution becomes a red flag. One reason drivers cannot take bathroom breaks during a caution is because they would be giving up valuable track position as the rest of the cars continue moving around the track, albeit at reduced pace. 

Losing Valuable Time

Another reason is the fact that, if a driver did take a break during a caution, there is a chance the race would return to green before they were ready to return to the track. Remember, drivers would have to attach the air hose to their helmets, put their HANS device back on, close the window netting, and strap themselves back into their seven-point restraint system. 

If a driver went through this process, they wouldn’t just lose track position, but they would also lose laps that they may not get back, depending on whether they were the first car off the lead lap (thanks to the Lucky Dog Rule). 

Final Thoughts

NASCAR drivers do not take breaks during even the longest events, like the Coca Cola 600. They may only take a break if the race is red flagged. This allows drivers to leave their cars, but if the race remains under yellow flag conditions, there is not enough time to take a bathroom break.