Before drivers can consider racing the competitors next to them, they have to do battle with different elements inside the cockpits of their race cars. Whether it's Street Stock competition on a Friday night or Nextel Cup on Sunday afternoon, all drivers have to deal with fatigue and dehydration, which is primarily brought about by temperatures that can reach above 100 degrees inside the cars.

A driver's greatest enemy, in fact, is heat. With all the safety equipment being worn-including fireproof suits, gloves, head-and-neck restraints, and racing shoes-drivers are being exposed to extreme ranges of high temperatures. Even go-kart racers and Legends Car drivers are subject to these extremes when their heat races or qualifying attempts are run on a July or August afternoon in the hottest and most humid part of the day.

A Late Model or Street Stock driver has similar issues because the exhaust systems in these cars are usually run underneath the driver's feet, and the heat from the engine and transmission is intense. We have all heard stories of drivers who have lost significant weight from sweating during a race. I recently competed at Motor Mile Speedway in Radford, Virginia, on an extremely warm Saturday. The following Monday, I jumped on the scale and found I was still about 3 pounds off my normal weight.

So what's the big deal about losing a little weight? Most of us could stand to lose a few pounds here and there anyway, right? This type of weight loss is from dehydration, and it can have significant negative effects on the body. Fluid loss can lead to a decrease in the amount of blood flowing throughout the body. This means we have less oxygen reaching our vital organs, and we are much more likely to suffer from impaired concentration, decreased energy, and fatigue-not what we want while in the cockpit of a race car.

There are a few ways that a driver can combat the effects of heat, become more comfortable, and hence more effective inside of his or her car. We have all heard it before, but exercising regularly and eating right will do wonders for you inside the cockpit. It could be as simple as running 15 minutes a day and replacing the soda you normally drink at lunch or dinner with water. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends that, regardless of the sport, athletes should be well hydrated before competition, drinking at least 16 ounces of fluid (water, juice, sports drinks) a couple of hours before exercise and another 8 ounces 30 minutes before exercise. This will help prevent dehydration and sharpen your focus while on the track.

Once you are strapped into your seat, there are a few products that will help you combat the heat. One of those is a Cool Shirt(r), a garment designed with 50 feet of tubing incorporated into it to cover 30-40 percent of your skin's surface with temperature-controlled cool water. The idea is to maintain a safe body temperature. The shirt comes with a quick disconnect so that when you are getting out of the car, you can disconnect the hoses without spilling a lot of water. It also comes with a temperature controller to help you avoid getting too cold. Remember, you will start to shiver if your body gets too cold; the purpose of shivering is to warm you up-this isn't good in 100-plus-degree temperatures, and it's not something you want to have to deal with when you are concentrating on driving.

The Cool Shirt(r) works from a personal cooler filled with ice and water and placed inside the cockpit. Once you have plugged into the quick disconnect, you merely turn on the pump and start pushing 45- to 60-degree water throughout your shirt, reducing sweating and the effects of dehydration for over three hours. A university tested the system with a 20-year-old healthy marathon runner in 95-degree weather. The test had him run for 15 minutes and then rest for 30 minutes while still in the 95-degree weather. Without a Cool Shirt(r), he ended up losing 5 pounds. Once he put on the Cool Shirt(r) and repeated the cycle, he only lost 1.4 pounds. Imagine what this could do for you in your race car, especially if you race in long events.

Drink Up
One of the easiest ways to stay cool as a driver, though, is to make sure you have access to plenty of fluids during a race. A lot of drivers place a small cooler with ice water inside their cars. I use Joe's Racing Products' Super Drink Bottle Holder. The holder attaches to the chassis inside of the cockpit. It comes with 3 feet of hose with a bite valve on one end. When you are finished drinking, you can set down the hose and not worry about the water siphoning all over the floorpan of your car.

I've been involved in my fair share of racing accidents and have yet to spill any water in my car. Remember, too, that you lose valuable electrolytes as you sweat, and you need something in your water bottle to replace them. There are many sports drinks on the market, and a lot of drivers drink Pedialyte or a similar product. Whether it's one of these or just plain water, the key is to consume lots of fluids prior to and during the race.

There is one habit, though, that should be avoided (although I've witnessed it a lot during races). Because they get so hot during cautions or red-flag conditions, drivers often pour water on themselves. This is something you should never do because as soon as the race starts back and the temperature in the car starts to rise, the temperature of the water that you poured all over your suit will also rise. Soon you will feel as if you are boiling in your suit, so it's better to continue to drink your water.

Many drivers run some type of cool-air box inside their cars, which is a great way to stay cool. But if you run one of these, you need to check your cool-air box to see if it filters out carbon monoxide. This is especially important for Street Stock and Late Model drivers. After a few crashes or a few times of bottoming out the car, you may wear a hole into your headers or exhaust. This, depending on where the exhaust leak is, could leak carbon monoxide into the cockpit.