Through the years, NASCAR drivers and teams have tried ways to gain a competitive advantage. From innovative ways to questionable methods that sometimes don’t pass muster, competitors try to push the envelope of the rulebook attempting to gain even a tenth of a second advantage. It’s something that has been part of the sport since it began.
When teams do find some sort of advantage they do their best to keep it a secret, hush-hush, under the radar. But in the NASCAR garage that’s nearly impossible.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr., like many drivers, knows that being in peak physical condition is one way to gain an advantage. And that extends to inside the racecar during a race. Inside a racecar, temperatures can easily rise over 150 degrees Fahrenheit, add in a fire suit and a full-faced helmet and the physical toll on the driver can be tremendous.
Drivers have ways to channel cool air into their helmets and they have cool shirts. But they also have to hydrate; replace the fluids lost during a long and grueling race. For much of its existence NASCAR drivers depended on water bottles changed out during a pit stop or simply thrown out the window during a caution. In recent years there have been some hydration systems available. One company, however, has taken hydration systems to an entirely new level. And Stenhouse has helped with the development.
Rainmaker Solutions out of El Segundo, California has been working on an in-car hydration system unlike anything seen before in NASCAR. The system delivers automatic hydration to drivers eliminating the need for water bottles and having a crewmember swap out the bottle during a pit stop.
The system delivers a premeasured amount of water to the driver through a 4-mil hydration hose that runs through the center of their fresh-air hose to a mouthpiece designed to attach to their radio mic. The frequency and amount of fluid can all be pre-programmed through a smartphone app.
The computer alerts the driver that it is time to hydrate with an LED light on the steering wheel. When the light flashes, the driver pushes the button, and the “instant-on” pump delivers the premeasured amount of water to keep them hydrated during the race.
The system, called FluidLogic, was developed by Rainmaker Solutions president and CEO Ed Jaeger. Jaeger is a former racer and when he was racing, he would forget to drink while focusing on the race. When he did realize he needed to hydrate he would have to do so while groping for a water bottle. That took his attention away from the racing, and if he didn’t stay properly hydrated, he lost some of his competitive edge.
“I saw how dehydration can take a toll on a driver, both during and after a race,” said Jaeger. “Drivers tell us that they can now focus more on driving without having to think about getting the proper amount of fluids.”
Stenhouse has used the system for the last three years.
“I’d never really used one in the past,” he said. “You know, I’ve seen other people’s drinks systems that they’ve had, but I feel like the smart features of the FluidLogic is… I mean you can set it to remind you to drink at certain times.
“They got a new canister now that keeps the drink stuff, your formula really, really cold throughout a long race, they’ve lightened it up a lot and it’s really nice system the way it comes through your air hose, so the tube stays even cooler because it’s through your AC hose right into your helmet. You don’t have to drill holes in the front of your helmet or anything. Just a really, really nice package.”
Stenhouse sees the system as one that gives him an advantage.
“I do think it is,” he said. “I mean, it’s good for me. I’ve worked on my fitness, a lot of hydration and paying attention to how I feel after the races and things like that. So, I do feel like after a long race, if I’m drinking throughout the race and staying hydrated throughout it, I do feel that come Monday morning, the end of the race I’m in a much better shape. I feel like I can do my job better.”
Stenhouse has provided feedback to the company as they have worked on the system for the last three years.
“They’ve kind of just finally gotten the system, I feel like kind of bulletproof and ready to go,” he said. “So, they are really starting to promote it now to get other people on board using it.”
And that of course means that the advantage Stenhouse did have, is now available to everyone in the NASCAR garage.
“Yeah, I don’t know of a lot of people know it’s out there,” Stenhouse said. “I think if they did, they would all have it…. I’m sure a lot of people, will have it soon.”