Tech Tip: How to Keep Cool in a Racecar

We've all been there. 110 degrees outside, 2-layer race suit, Nomex underwear, helmet, Nomex balaclava, etc. It gets hot. Really really hot, seemingly seconds after you put on the gear and long before you even start driving. Then it becomes almost unbearable. So what do you do? How do keep cool?

There are really only two solutions:

  1. Wear less safety gear. T-shirt, shorts, sandals, that's it. Ok, terrible idea. Don't do this. Wear as much safety gear as you can. You won't regret it.

  2. Get a personal cooling system, a.k.a. cool suit, cool shirt, cool-me-in-this-inferno-system. Much smarter idea and it's more affordable than you think.

There are some simple systems like vests with pockets that you can stick ice packs into. These work somewhat, but the cooling is localized to where those icepacks are. Your left outer ribcage might be cold, but your chest won't be. Not optimal.

You can dunk your Nomex into icewater before you put it on. That's a nice little shock when you put it on and it lasts for 5 seconds. And now you're wet before you even start to sweat. Forget that.

Instead, what works the best is the real-deal personal race car cooling system. The core of the system is a t-shirt that has a bunch of surgical tubing on the front and back, around 15-20 feet usually, and two outlets that come out of your race suit. You wear it underneath your suit, obviously. Here's what the shirt looks like:


The tubes then connect to a tank of ice water where a pump circulates the cold water through your shirt to cool you down. Here's a typical cooler:

You can see the tubing connections on the righthand side. Normally you would place the cooler where the passenger seat would be, but sometimes that's not possible. To solve this, there are now cylindrical systems on the market which allow mounting almost anywhere, like this:

You would think that you only need this at super hot races and the pros are too good to have to bother, but you're probably wrong. It's run in professional teams like V8 Supercars at every single race. Some may leave it out for a quick qualifying session to gain a few extra tenths from weight savings, but at a total system weight of around 10-20 pounds with water and ice, it's a small penalty to pay for what you gain from it. You likely gain more than you lose actually.

That's because it's not just the literal feeling of being cooled down that you benefit from. Without going into a human biology lesson, when your body gets hot, blood moves to the skin to make you sweat and cool you down. That means less of your blood can go to your vital organs, including your brain and you therefore will quickly have reduced cognitive capability. This is not something you want to have happen at the wheel of a racecar.

Moreover, raising your core body temperature can lead to some serious health issues due to heat exhaustion. In the worst case, it can lead to stroke and death. Don't go there, make sure you stay cool when you're racing a car.

At Level X Motorsports, Ultra Chiller sells all the components you need, like the ones pictured above. There are a bunch of options at different price points. Starting at $349.98, you can get the cylindrical space-saving systems in 8-inch or 16-inch heights. That includes your choice of shirt and a mount - everything you need to get started.

For $438.99, you can get a traditional cooler-based full system with floor-mount standard cooler, mounting bracket and your choice of shirt color and size.

There are also various other systems available, individual shirts, packages without a shirt, etc. Head on over to Ultra Chiller's page to see them all.

This Tech Tip is courtesy of Tim Trampedach, an SL-C builder with an all-Porsche drivetrain.

Be sure to follow the manufacturers instructions and use only water as a cooling medium.  The use of other fluids or materials can be hazardous.  

Also, if you decide to DIY a cooling system, try to copy the production systems that use regular ice and water.  Don't use dry ice as a cooling source, as the carbon dioxide that comes from melting dry ice can displace oxygen and cause brain damage or death.