One of the biggest challenges facing racers during summer months is keeping a racecar's engine as cool as possible. It is important that teams keep a close watch on water temperature throughout race day. However, racers often lament overheating problems but have no idea the type of radiator on their car.
Racers should never assume an overheating engine is simply due to hot weather. The design of the radiator is to cool the engine no matter the ambient temperature outside.
"A good rule of thumb is for every 10-degree increase in the outdoor temperature that means 10 degrees warmer in the motor," says Richard Bailey, owner of Innovative Cooling Equipment (ICE) in Concord, North Carolina.
ICE is a relatively new company attempting to break the "a radiator is a radiator" stereotype. The company builds a product that is not only efficient but durable
When Bailey was asked what to look for in terms of radiator damage after an accident, he picked up a hammer and slammed one of his radiators. He then pointed out that all he actually damaged were the fins designed for cooling; the radiator lines were not damaged and hence did not leak after the hammer blow.
Nonetheless, a radiator's fins are extremely important. If you are involved in an accident that damages the fins, use needle-nose pliers to carefully straighten them as much as possible. This is important because closed or damaged fins lead to lower volume of air passing through the radiator.
Radiators come in one-, two-, three-, or four-core systems. Essentially, this number refers to the number of passes the water will make through the radiator before it exits back into the engine. You can see why having the right amount of cores is crucial. If you are running during the summer with a one-core system, then you are running the risk of overheating very quickly. This is why some teams will never see a problem until the summer months hit. A four-core system, which I run in my car, is a lot heavier because it holds more water and it is simply a bigger system. But we run more laps then the average Saturday night racer. A two-core, or dual-core, system might work just fine for the typical Saturday night car.
Speak with your engine builder this year to determine a safe operating temperature for water. Most of the time, 220 to 240 degrees F is safe, but if you do overheat at some point, make sure you take a close look at your cylinder heads and your head gaskets. Depending on how long the car was kept at the high operating temperature, you more than likely will have a blown head gasket or, worse, a cracked cylinder head. By using an additive like Water Wetter or 40 Below, you can help control engine heat.
One of the most important issues with radiators is whether or not you have proper airflow contributing air to the radiator. It's critical to use a sheetmetal shroud that allows air to reach the radiator without being obstructed in any way, and make sure you use duct tape to seal the radiator to the shroud. This will force the air to pass through the radiator rather than finding an escape route.
If you have time, one of the smartest things you can do after each race is to pull the radiator out of the car and inspect it. This is especially true if you have had an accident involving the front end of the car. Check all of the lines and fins, but more importantly, check the welds for any small cracks or potential breaks. And remember, if you start to see a small puddle of water on the shop floor on in the pits, even the slightest of leaks will develop into a larger problem. Once water temperature rises, it builds up pressure so any small leak in a radiator will only intensify under racing conditions.
Choose the radiator best suited for your type of racing. For most Saturday night teams, it's critical to be budget conscious, and it could be quite expensive investing in a four-core system like Cup teams use. But if you are looking at stepping up to a dual-core system, a radiator made by FSR Racing Products is worth a look. The company builds custom dual-core radiators for everything from Sprint Cars to Street Stocks. The units are relatively inexpensive, costing $200 to $250.
If at some point during the year you knock a hole in the radiator, take a moment and inspect it. Some teams will trash a damaged radiator and purchase a new one. But like most other radiator shops, FSR does full service repairs. So call your radiator manufacturer and find out if they can repair the radiator before you invest in a new one.
If a team chooses the right radiator, overheating shouldn't be a problem. However, constant trouble keeping the water temperature down usually means that bigger problems are present. By keeping a steady eye on the radiator, teams can avoid potential problems that can sideline a car.