Racing in the heat of summer is not only hard on you, it is also hard on your engine. Many racers find that the cooling system that worked adequately for them in the spring suddenly can't seem to keep the engine cool enough once July and August roll around. It's all a question of using the most efficient cooling system possible, because the last thing any of us want to see is that telltale stream of steam venting from the overflow tube. The more power your race engine is capable of producing, the more heat it will emit. But don't worry, many overheating issues can be resolved with careful planning and the right components.

Matters of Flow For most racers, maximum radiator size is bounded by the height of the hood. In racing, most radiators are no more than 19 inches tall by 31 inches wide. Instead of going bigger, radiator manufacturers must use a little ingenuity to improve cooling. First, almost all racing radiators are constructed of aluminum because it can so efficiently transfer heat from the water flowing through it to the air outside.

The transfer of thermal energy from the coolant to the aluminum radiator only happens when water is in direct contact with the aluminum. Manufacturers increase the surface area of the radiator tubing (versus its volume) by making it very wide from front to back but slim from top to bottom. Dozens of these slim tubes can be stacked on top of each other, with small air spaces between them. Water or coolant flows into a header or large, open cavity on one side of the radiator, where it can then pass through one of dozens of these slim aluminum tubes before it collects into another header on the other side.

If the coolant just moves across the radiator one time, this is known as a "single-pass" radiator. But most performance radiators for Saturday night racing are "double pass." This means that the water flows across one set of tubes and then comes back on a second set. This second set of tubes is placed right behind the first, making the radiator a two-row core. You can also purchase three- and four-row cores, but they are generally not the best option for Saturday night racing. The more rows of cooling tubes there are, stacked one behind another, the harder it is for the air to get through. A three- or four-core radiator may work well in a Nextel Cup car racing at Atlanta, but considering the speed achieved on most half-mile or smaller Saturday night racetracks, a two-core radiator provides the most efficient cooling.

In addition, thermal transfer can be improved even further by using tubing with extremely thin walls. Of course, sealing narrow strips of thin-wall aluminum tubing to the aluminum headers on either side can be difficult. In street applications, this is commonly done by using epoxy to seal the tubes to the headers, but epoxy is also a good insulator, which reduces the efficiency of the radiator. High-end performance radiator manufacturers, such as C&R Racing, have ditched the epoxy method of sealing the cooling tubes in favor of TIG welds to secure the tubes to the headers. The seams are then sealed by a process known as furnace brazing. In this process, the radiator is heated under a vacuum until it is in a near-molten state. At this temperature, all the components are essentially fused together.

Fins Also important to a radiator's ability to cool your racing engine are the fins. Cooling fins are the thin strips of aluminum that form "V" shapes in between the cooling tubes. How tightly packed these fins are in your radiator is known as the "fin count." Fin count is measured in terms of fins per inch. A higher fin count means there is more surface area for the aluminum to radiate the heat it absorbs from the coolant into the air. But if the fin count is too high, it can actually form a barrier to the air trying to pass through the radiator. When this happens, the air stacks up in front of the radiator or moves around it and doesn't reach the cooling tubes on the second row. This obviously hurts cooling.

As a general rule, a faster race car can use a higher fin count, while a car that is slower-either because of less power or because it is racing on a tighter racetrack-should have a lower fin count. If you are racing on tracks between 31/410 and 11/42 mile in length, you should look for a radiator with a fin count between 14 and 18 fins per inch.

Oil Coolers In some cases, you may choose to cool your engine oil as well to help maintain proper engine temps. Or you may need to cool the oil in your transmission. There are two main ways to go about this. First, you can use a heat exchanger in your radiator. A heat exchanger routes the oil through the radiator header that holds the coolant before it flows through the radiator. This way, the hot engine oil transfers some of its heat into the coolant before the coolant flows through the radiator core to be cooled. A heat exchanger that is integrated into your radiator is compact and generally cheaper than using a dedicated oil cooler, but it also raises the coolant temperature

A second option for cooling either engine or transmission oil is a separate oil cooler. An oil cooler is simply a smaller radiator with larger tubes designed to flow more viscous oil. Usually, an oil cooler is mounted on the front of the radiator. Technically, it does not reduce the efficiency of the radiator, but if the oil cooler is mounted so that it heats the air before that air reaches the radiator, then you can expect the radiator to be less efficient. If you have an oil cooler mounted in front of your radiator and are having problems keeping your coolant temperature low, you may want to consider moving your oil cooler to another location.

Ductwork One of the best-and cheapest-ways to increase the efficiency of any radiator is to increase the volume of cool, clean air flowing through it. And the best way to do that is to fabricate radiator ductwork that forces air from the grille opening in your bumper cover to the radiator.

A moving race car forms a high-pressure zone in front of the radiator. Without some form of ductwork, some of the air flowing into the face of the radiator will reach this high-pressure zone and simply flow around it. Ductwork is designed to keep this air from escaping.