Fans of the Nashville Superspeedway may struggle to stay cool in the temperatures predicted to be in the 80s. But for NASCAR drivers, staying cold is just another part of their weekly workout. Every driver has their own approach.
“I’m weak” Todd Gilliland said, “I’ve been wearing (a cool shirt) everywhere since the beginning of the year and I have a cool box.”
Daniel Hemrick told SiriusXM “The Morning Drive” that part of his training included playing golf in the heat.
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You will hear all sorts of strategies: cool shirts, cool boxesice packs, water bottles, hot workouts, saunas… some drivers even have personalized hydration programs.
An entire hydration program sounds like overkill. David Ferguson, Associate Professor kinesiology at the University of Michigan, assures me that this is not the case. Proper hydration gives riders a performance advantage.
You may wonder how the Ph.D. – Author of scientific papersVivo-morpholinos induced transient knockdown of exercise-related proteins” becomes the authority on rider hydration.
For Ferguson, it was a series of coincidences. The first was watching a NASCAR race on TV. Jeff Gordon’s debut made him want to drive racing cars. Except…
“Basically, I was too old and too poor,” Ferguson said. “At 18, I decided that I would go to medical school and become a surgeon. Then I can afford my racing cars later in life.”
He attended a track day in Las Vegas where temperatures soared to 116°F. Ferguson completed a rider who was the second fastest for the day.
“The driver asked: “What are you talking about?” Ferguson says: “There are three cars in front of me.” He was so dehydrated that, in fact, his eyesight is tripled.
Ferguson wondered why, with all the effort that goes into the development of racing cars, no one creates drivers. Charlotte then earned a master’s degree in exercise physiology from the University of North Carolina. He graduated just in time for the 2008 recession to eliminate his first motorsports job before he even started it.
So Ferguson went back to school and got his PhD from Texas A&M. The State of Michigan hired him to explore about how nutrition at an early age affects the development of the cardiovascular system. But when he arrived, the construction of his laboratory was behind schedule.
This gave him time to pursue his other research interest: motorsport.
Dangers of dehydration
Body temperature is the temperature of internal organs. They prefer to work at temperatures around 37 degrees Celsius (98.6 °F), but can withstand an increase in temperature of about one degree Celsius – about 1.8 degrees °F. Ferguson measures core body temperature with a pill that the driver swallows. The tablet sends him an internal temperature reading via a Bluetooth signal.
An increase in body temperature causes your body to sweat. Fluid on the skin evaporates, removing heat.
Sweat comes from fluid in the cells of the vascular system. When you lose fluid, Ferguson said, “It’s like oil in your engine. Bad things will happen.”
These bad things start with thirst, the first sign of dehydration. Because you’re low on fluids, your body can’t produce enough sweat to keep you cool. If you don’t replenish your fluids, your temperature continues to rise.
“So 38.5°C (101.3°F) is ‘I’m thirsty, my head hurts,'” Ferguson said. “And then 39°C (102.2°F) means, ‘I’m a little dizzy, I’m a little confused.’ Muscle spasms or fatigue.
Once your body realizes that the sweat isn’t cooling you down, it switches to trying not to create more heat. This means turning off any bodily function not necessary for survival. You may lose consciousness.
The real danger begins if your temperature continues to rise.
“If your core temperature reaches about 41°C (105.8 F),” says Ferguson, “the body actually thinks you have a very dangerous virus.”
The body produces heat because heat kills viruses. That’s why you get a fever when you get the flu.
Now your temperature is rising — exponentially.
“You will reach 45°C (113°F) very quickly,” Ferguson said, “and we need to be in the emergency room. Currently.”
In addition to monitoring core body temperature, Ferguson measures hydration by checking the driver’s urine specific gravity. This is the quantitative equivalent of determining your hydration level by looking at the color of your urine.
A special patch collects the sweat of the driver, because everyone sweats differently. Measuring the concentration of ions in sweat tells Ferguson how much electrolytes a driver is losing. And of course, weighing the driver before and after the race determines the net fluid loss.
Hydration is especially important for racers because they work in enclosed, hot environments where protective gear covers every square inch of skin. Often they are so focused on racing that they may not even realize that they are dehydrated.
Ferguson recommends that riders drink 10 milliliters of water per kilogram of weight two hours before a race. That’s about two teaspoons for every pound of weight. A 150-pound rider will fill their pre-race hydration bottle with 20.5 ounces of water or a sports drink designed to boost hydration.
But the driver hasn’t finished yet when he climbs into the car. Most drivers drink from a water bottle or drinking system with caution or while pitting.
“They grab straws, puff, puff, puff, puff,” Ferguson said. – Liquid is pouring into you. It’s better than nothing. But in fact, it expands the stomach and slows down the exit of water. You don’t really get the benefits of topping up.”
Proper hydration in a vehicle requires the driver to constantly replenish fluids. This means having a drinking system in the helmet and getting used to using it throughout the race.
“We will advise you to drink at certain intervals,” Ferguson said, “whether it’s every time you pass the start-finish, or we can turn on the light on the dashboard to remind you, or maybe a beep in the earpiece. ”
After the race, the rider must repeat the pre-race hydration, even if he does not feel thirsty.
“You can’t over-moisturize,” Ferguson said, “you just soak the liquid out.”
Moisturize early and often
I never understood why drivers start drinking days before a race. The water drunk on Thursday is long gone by Sunday.
“If they get dehydrated,” Ferguson explained, “they release antidiuretic hormones. All these hormones are trying to retain water. So when you give them water, they actually bloat and feel uncomfortable.”
This is a physiological reason to start long before entering the track. But there is also a psychological reason. By monitoring water intake, the driver develops positive drinking habits. This is especially important for the Next Gen.
“Definitely going to be hot” Alex Bowman said, “But I think that’s what we all train for and we all look forward to. Summer cup racing is a very uncomfortable environment and the Next Gen car has made that environment even more uncomfortable, but you just have to keep practicing. I think it’s paying off and hopefully I’m on the right track.”
question about urination
No conversation about driver hydration is complete without mentioning drivers who have to urinate in their car during a race.
“Drivers get in trouble,” Ferguson said, “they just think, keep taking it, keep taking it, like a liter every hour, sit down in a hot environment and drink a liter an hour. Then you are going to pee a ton.”
A driver who is otherwise in good health and drinking water properly should not urinate in the car. Another reason for the crew to encourage the driver to stick to their hydration program.