A Staff Report from the Straight Dope Science Advisory Board

How do racecar drivers relieve themselves during a race?

Dear Straight Dope:

We tried both NASCAR and your own lovely message board--but no such luck finding any answer to this question. How do NASCAR drivers relieve themselves if the urge comes during the races? Is there a device in the driver suit or do they wait till the end of the race. Thanks for any info you may have.

L, these people are professional athletes, and you want to know when they make wee-wee? Does Major League Baseball get asked questions like this?

First of all, drivers have the salaried equivalent of your mom telling you to go before you got in the car. Crews are paid to prepare not only the cars, but the drivers, for races, and one of the duties of the crew is to monitor the driver's pre-race routine. Hank Rogers, from R&H Motorsports, described it this way: "If all goes well, Chris [Hayes, on the NASCAR circuit] will eat a meal of his choice around 10pm, no later than 11pm the night before a race. If Mother Nature is doing her job, he will pass this meal 8 to 10 hours later, thereby hopefully eliminating the urge to use the race car as a restroom. If we can catch Chris in the morning, we will try, and I say try to get him to eat a bowl of hot cereal before his 'well rounded pit stop' [Hank explains that this pit stop takes place about an hour before the race], with the intention of reminding him that he may have other things to do before the race." What about unplanned stops, right before the race? David Schenk, from the Sadler Racing Team, told me, "Just prior to a race, you will see all of the drivers hitting the bathroom. Last year on pit road at Talladega just before the race, I went into a Porta-Potty right after Bill Elliott, and when I came out, Jeff Gordon was waiting to use it." I'd like to be sure I was sitting on the pole for that particular contest, let me tell you.

A driver typically has a much more serious problem with dehydration than with overhydration, as it were. The tracks get intensely hot (130 degrees plus, by some accounts), and the suits insulate the drivers quite efficiently. Most drivers report a weight loss of 5 to 10 pounds of fluids over the course of a race. Oh, and in those superinsulated suits, there is no specially adapted device for handling liquid waste. Nor, according to the people I talked to, do drivers wear adult diapers, just in case.

However, I may have uncovered the racers' equivalent of an urban legend. No one will admit to just going in the car, or to having any personal knowledge of such an incident, but everyone told me that they think it's happened, EVEN THOUGH I DIDN'T ASK!!! David Schenk's comment: "I think I even remember one driver a couple of years back having to go so bad, he just wet his pants." As a Straight Dope reader, you start to recognize these "friend of a friend" type stories right away. I even crossed over to some open-wheel teams for the question. A nice lady named Maryann at the Galles Racing Team tells it this way: "However, if the urge strikes, it's up to the driver to basically 'wet his own diaper' as it were. Believe it or not, it has happened ! I bet the crew gets pretty ugly after the races though." I can imagine.

Finally, there is another aspect to '"relieving oneself" that it pains me to consider. Here's a quote from a source that wanted to remain anonymous: "If [our driver] has been ill, or has eaten something that has given him diarrhea, we will try and plug him up with Immodium AD, and needless to say, up til now, this has worked for us so far. No accidents so far that I know of." I think they'd know, don't you?

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