If you can't stand the heat, get out of the race car

Are NASCAR drivers athletes? The debate continues...

If you can't stand the heat, get out of the race car
Listen to this article

On Thursday night, LeBron James could not finish the first game of the NBA play-offs.

After the air conditioning failed at the AT&T Center in San Antonio and the inside temperature neared 90-degrees, James complained of leg cramps. He finally left the game with four minutes remaining on the clock.

When has a NASCAR driver ever allowed extreme temperatures to sideline their effort on the race track?

Sure, it's not unusual for drivers to find a back-up in case of severe illness. But NASCAR drivers are accustomed to racing in extreme conditions particularly during the summer months when temperatures in the cockpit can exceed 140-degrees.

#91 Lowe's Riley-Matthews Motorsports Pontiac Riley: Jim Matthews, Marc Goossens, Jimmie Johnson
#91 Lowe's Riley-Matthews Motorsports Pontiac Riley: Jim Matthews, Marc Goossens, Jimmie Johnson

Photo by: John Dunagan - Fastlines

While it would be hard for James to gain sympathy from race car drivers due to the heat, six-time Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson can relate to the pain associated with cramping. He experienced a similar situation when he failed to hydrate himself sufficiently during Grand-Am race at Daytona in July 2007.

For Johnson, it was a double duty weekend. In addition to his normal Sprint Cup activities, the then 31-year-old had qualified and practiced the sports car and shared the seat of the No. 91 Pontiac over the course of the six-hour race.

Jimmie Johnson
Jimmie Johnson

Photo by: Motorsport.com / ASP Inc.

“I got behind on hydration and didn’t keep up while I was in the car,” Johnson said. “I had an electrical problem that took out the drink system in the car. I had to pit maybe 10 minutes before it was time because I couldn’t push the brake pedal hard enough to get it stopped. I missed the chicane on the backstretch. I came to pit road. I got out of the car. Of course tried to get cooled down and have some fluids.

“But about an hour later I started cramping and I actually went into a full body cramp and was stranded inside my motorhome lying on the floor. I wish I had a picture of what I looked like. I mean I’m telling you every muscle in my body locked up. I could barely get to my phone, which was on the table. I knocked it off and then I don’t know if you have ever had a cramp, but try dialing a phone with everything like it is.”

Johnson tried to reach his Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jeff Gordon, who was parked next door in the motor coach lot, but to no avail. Johnson acknowledges, “I didn’t know what I was going to do.”

“Then shortly thereafter he called back,” Johnson said. “I just started yelling at him to get over here. As he came in my bus it took him about two or three minutes to stop laughing at me. Then he got me to the Care Center, and three IV bags later I felt like myself again. That was a very tough experience for me. I didn’t cramp in the car itself; but after, it got me bad. That was a tough one. That was Daytona, July.”

As the NBA season is winding down, NASCAR is heating up – particularly at tracks such as Sonoma Raceway, Kentucky Speedway, Daytona International Speedway and Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Johnson admits that the track that “usually gets you” is Homestead when the Cup tour returns to Florida in November.

Race winner Carl Edwards, Roush Fenway Racing Ford celebrates
Race winner Carl Edwards, Roush Fenway Racing Ford celebrates

Photo by: Eric Gilbert

Carl Edwards, who is regarded as one of the most physically fit drivers in the garage, has never suffered from cramps during the course of a race. But heat has challenged him over the years. In his first NASCAR sanctioned race at Memphis, Edwards was uncomfortably hot, then realized his truck was ablaze.

“At one point then threw the caution and I couldn’t see what it was for and then I realized I was on fire and they were throwing the caution because my truck was on fire,” Edwards said. It was so hot. I don’t think it has ever gotten any better, it is just that you get used to the heat.

“I don’t know if there are physiological things that happen or if it is all psychological. As far as heat is concerned, the hottest I have ever been is on some of these hot days. It is usually about plus-140 in the car but I have learned to enjoy it. It is kind of fun when it gets really hard and that becomes part of the race that you have to overcome, part of the difficulty. I look forward to the hot days.”

Carl Edwards, Roush Fenway Racing Ford
Carl Edwards, Roush Fenway Racing Ford

Photo by: Action Sports Photography

Over the years NASCAR has made significant advances with cool boxes and air ducts to ease drivers’ comfort in the cars and minimize the effects of carbon monoxide. Despite the improvements, Edwards says, if the seats and blowers aren’t adjusted correctly drivers really feel the heat.

“Those guys back in the day without the fans and ducts, those were some men,” Edwards says. “That is tough. It had to be really, really hot…but as far as race car drivers being athletes or not, you don’t have to be an athlete to drive a race car but it is the last little bit that you can do as a driver to be the best that you can be.

“I wouldn’t say we are going to go out and beat an NFL team at something but anyone that doesn’t think race car driving is physically taxing hasn’t driven a race car. It is as simple as that.”

shares
comments
Toyota NSCS Pocono: Matt Kenseth quotes
Previous article

Toyota NSCS Pocono: Matt Kenseth quotes

Next article

Hamlin charges to Pocono pole

Hamlin charges to Pocono pole
The ex-F1 driver taking on NASCAR with a new team Prime

The ex-F1 driver taking on NASCAR with a new team

Saddled with uncompetitive Minardi machinery, Tarso Marques didn't manage to score points in his three partial seasons of Formula 1. But now the Brazilian has the chance to show what he can do in NASCAR, and explains the story of his comeback with new Cup Series entrant Team Stange

NASCAR Cup
Apr 13, 2022
The early benefits and challenges of NASCAR's Next Gen car Prime

The early benefits and challenges of NASCAR's Next Gen car

NASCAR’s new stock car generation is encouraging an influx of fresh blood into its top tier. But there are concerns that parts are in short supply as the entire paddock tries to build up stocks at the same time

NASCAR Cup
Feb 22, 2022
How Penske's rookie sensation opened NASCAR's new era in style Prime

How Penske's rookie sensation opened NASCAR's new era in style

After holding his nerve and hip-checking his teammate on the run to the line, Austin Cindric made a perfect start to life as a full-timer in the NASCAR Cup Series by winning the Daytona 500. Here's how the Penske Ford man emerged first across the line in the first points-scoring race for the much-anticipated Next Generation cars

NASCAR Cup
Feb 21, 2022
Six key themes to follow in the 2022 NASCAR Cup season Prime

Six key themes to follow in the 2022 NASCAR Cup season

There are plenty of uncertainties ahead of the 2022 NASCAR Cup season as an all-new fleet of cars take to the track for the first time. Ahead of this weekend's Daytona 500, our experts explain what you need to know

NASCAR Cup
Feb 17, 2022
How NASCAR had to learn a harsh lesson ahead of Next Gen arrival Prime

How NASCAR had to learn a harsh lesson ahead of Next Gen arrival

The NASCAR Cup kicks off with the Daytona 500 this weekend, but a major engine overhaul and a subsequent mountain of work has been required to be ready for the arrival of the Next Gen cars.

NASCAR Cup
Feb 16, 2022
How Larson took the long way round to NASCAR Cup glory Prime

How Larson took the long way round to NASCAR Cup glory

From villain to hero, Kyle Larson had to reach his lifelong goal the hard way and go through a very public shaming after a ban for using a racial slur, but his talents shone long before his name grabbed the headlines...

NASCAR Cup
Nov 10, 2021
How NASCAR is gearing up for its "biggest change" in 2022 Prime

How NASCAR is gearing up for its "biggest change" in 2022

It’s not just Formula 1 that’s set for upheaval in 2022, as the NASCAR Cup series adopts its Next Gen cars that will cast any in-built advantages aside and require teams to adopt a totally new way of operating. Far more than just a change of machinery, the new cars amount to a shift in NASCAR's core philosophy

NASCAR Cup
Oct 12, 2021
Why Bubba Wallace’s Talladega win is such a big moment for NASCAR Prime

Why Bubba Wallace’s Talladega win is such a big moment for NASCAR

Bubba Wallace claimed his maiden NASCAR Cup Series at Talladega on Monday to become the first Black victor in the category since Wendell Scott in 1963. Both Wallace and Scott had faced obstacles and racism in their paths to their breakthrough wins, and NASCAR is trying to put it right with its range of diversity programmes

NASCAR Cup
Oct 5, 2021