NASCAR Drivers Feeling the Heat

Sprint Cup drivers were feeling the heat at Kansas Speedway during the STP 400 as the ambient temperature reached the low 90s. That puts the temperature inside the cars at 140-plus degrees, and drivers were grabbing cold drinks and ice packs to cool down.

Last week Greg Biffle endured 600 miles of hot air in his face when the helmet cooling system malfunctioned on the first lap, and his conversations with his team were well publicized. The same thing happened with Kimi Raikkonen in the Nationwide race at Charlotte Motor Speedway on May 28. Biffle’s face was burning, Kimi’s…rear…was burning.

But heat in the cars is no new thing. It’s something drivers deal with every season in varying degrees. Whenever the topic arises, my mind flashes back to 1998, the second year I watched NASCAR.

It was Martinsville in September. Temps were still in the high 90s. The late Kenny Irwin Jr. gave up his seat to Kenny Wallace, while Ted Musgrave gave up his to Steve Grissom. It was that hot.

Hut Stricklin stood by as relief driver for owner-driver Ricky Rudd, who had a reputation for being one of the toughest of the tough. The coolant system in his fire suit went out early in the NAPA Autocare 500, and Rooster (as the redheaded Rudd was called), was almost ready to call it quits well before lap 100.

The car had other ideas, though, and Rudd just kept running better the hotter he got. Like the true racer he was, Rudd couldn’t climb out of the seat when was running so well and he had a streak of 15 consecutive seasons with at least one win on the line, and only six races left in the season after this one. Rudd sucked it up and kept driving, knowing this could be his best--maybe his only--chance to keep his streak alive.

I watched in awe as his crew gave him ice packs through the window of the No. 10 Tide Ford, as well as spraying water into his suit, some of it hot because the hose they used had been sitting in the sun. The ice packs quickly turned to hot water, but Rudd just kept driving. By the end of the race, he literally fell out of the car into Victory Lane and gave his interview lying down, with oxygen being administered. Rudd had blisters along his entire back side, but his win streak was still alive.

The Callahan Report covered the story at the time. It's worth the read.

The last 5 laps of that race:

And Rudd's Victory Lane interview:
NASCAR Drivers Feeling the Heat NASCAR Drivers Feeling the Heat Reviewed by Janine Cloud on Sunday, June 05, 2011 Rating: 5