This diagram from Bell Racing shows how forced-air helmets direct airflow around your head
These forced-air helmets work by increasing pressure inside the helmet, which accelerates airflow into the area in the front of the helmet, thereby maximizing ventilation and cooling. "These designs evaporate the moisture that builds up around the head," says Keitzman. That is, of course, the key to keeping a cool head during a hot race. "If you do not have proper air circulation, your body temperature will go up," says Swanson.
In both helmet designs, one end of the hose is attached to the pipe while the other is attached to some type of filtration and/or cooling system mounted elsewhere in the car.
Air Cooled Drivers
There are a number of manufacturers making cooling systems for the racer. The biggest factor to consider is the type of racing that you do. A series of three to four 25-lap contests will have a different effect on your body than a 150-lap ARCA race. F.A.S.T. makes a unit called the FA-129 Racer Series helmet blower. It's perfect if you're racing in an area of the country that is fairly temperate, such as Elko Speedway in Minnesota. This is a 105-cfm blower that has a filter mounted to the inlet. The small motor sucks fresh air through the filter and blows the clean air into the hose that is affixed to your helmet. The result is a constant flow of clean, fresh air.
Of course, you have to have a forced-air helmet to accommodate the blower system. However, it is not a problem if you don't. F.A.S.T. will convert your helmet for as little as $200. Add the blower system and you'll have cool, filtered air for $350.
Now if you race at, say, Ark-La-Tex Speedway in Louisiana, where the temperature gets a bit warmer in the summer months, you're going to want an upgrade over the FA-129. F.A.S.T.'s FA-130 boosts the blower rating to 150 cfm, delivering more fresh air to your lungs faster. Shafer Enterprises, which manufacturers the Cool Shirt, also makes blowers, offering 135- and 235-cfm blowers with HEPA-4 air filters.
Of course, it can get really hot in those dog days of summer. When it does, that air system may need an extra boost to keep your core at that all-important 98.6 degrees F. To get that extra boost, many manufacturers have added an inline cooling system between the blowers and the helmet. In a nutshell, the air being sucked in by the blower is passed through a cooler full of ice. Warm air goes in, cool air comes out.
Born out of the needs of the medical industry, the Cool Shirt has been around since the late '80s. There are several types on the market, but they all have the same basic design. Chilled liquid is pumped through tubing that is sewn to an undershirt. The shirts can be straight cotton or Nomex/CarbonX blends.
Note the side vent and filter on this Sprint Car driver's helmet.
Rich Shafer, president of Shafer Enterprises, which manufactures the Cool Shirt Personal Cooling System, says that the only real way to reduce your body's core temperature is to cool your blood. "Drinking cold fluids will rehydrate you but it won't cool you down. To cool your core, you need to cool your blood."
With heavy perspiration, up to one half of your body's normal blood supply flows to your skin's surface to aid in evaporation. This leaves the other half of your blood supply to operate your brain, muscles, and vital organs, resulting in fatigue, weakness, aches, poor decision making-you get the point. The Cool Shirt and others like it cover 30-40 percent of the skin's surface with temperature-controlled cool water, ranging from 45 to 60 degrees F. "As the liquid pumps through the shirt, it cools the surface of the skin, which, in turn, cools the blood," says Shafer. "That cooled blood returns to the internal organs so vital in keeping your mind alert and your reaction times up."
While Cool Shirts have been around for almost two decades, racer acceptance is still the biggest challenge for both Swanson and Shafer, who says, "The hardest thing is to get them to try it. Once they try it, they're sold."
Cooling, The Next Generation
Several years ago, two Stanford University PhDs, Dr. Dennis Grahn and Dr. Craig Heller, developed a new way of cooling the body. Their patented CoreControl system works for your body basically the same way the radiator works for your engine, from the inside out. And get this-the only area it touches is the palm of your hand.
"It's a more direct path to cooling the blood," says Mark Smith, executive vice president and director of R&D for AvaCore. Smith explains that there are specialized blood vessels in the palms of your hands that are specifically for heat dissipation purposes. These vessels allow large amounts of blood to flow directly beneath the skin. By targeting that specific area, the CoreControl system can cool the internal body temperature very quickly.
Defending ARCA Champion Frank Kimmel uses a CoreControl during practice at Daytona as the
The portable handheld unit features a small cooler that holds ice water, with tubes running to a pistol-grip handle enclosed in a case. To use it, you flip the switch on, stick your hand through a hole in the case, and grab the grip. Crank down the wrist cuff to create a slight vacuum around your hand, sit back, and relax. The vacuum enhances blood flow while allowing the unit to operate at a colder temperature, which, in turn, cools the body's core quicker.
CoreControl is a versatile tool that can be used by just about everybody on the team: the pit crew during the race, the driver between heat races, and even spouses in the infield. AvaCore is currently working on prototypes for systems that could be used by drivers in an actual race.
Keeping body temperature down should be a top priority for all racers. Whether you choose to go all-out with a top-shelf cooling system or just go for a helmet with front and rear venting, do something to keep yourself cool. And remember, the most effective way to cool your body is to keep core temp down and fresh air coming into your lungs. By doing so, you will be able to think clearer and make better decisions. Your body will respond quicker during the race and feel better after it. Don't lose the race because your body gives out.