Build Your Own Cool Shirt/Suit Cooler

Edit: This was my first early version which has been improved on here:

Staying cool in a race car is imperative in hot weather. An over heated driver can have major mental lapses resulting in making very serious mistakes, and the race track is not where you want to make mistakes. When it is 90+ degrees out, the in car temps for a driver in a full nomex race suit will be well over 100 degrees, and after about 15 minutes, the body starts to overheat. The answer to that has always been running a cool shirt type system, in which the driver wears a shirt with cooling tubes attached to it, which then attach to a cooler with a pump in it that will circulate cold water through the lines and across the driver’s upper torso, thus cooling down his core temperature. The systems are not cheap though, you can drop an easy $500 for the in car setup, which includes the shirt, and the cooler and mounting plate. While I highly recommend buying the $150 shirt for Cool Shirt, you can make the same cooler container and mount and save your self well over $200. While it isn’t as pretty, it is just as functional.

Typical Cool Shirt Pricing: $200 cooler, $160 electrical speed switch, $70 for the mount, $90-200 depending on your hose length you want, $150 shirt. While you won’t make a killing reproducing and selling these if you value your time, you can save yourself a little cash to make your own.

Here is a cooler I recently built for our Chump car. Since the drivers are doing 2 hour stints, it is imperative that they stay cool. Cool Shirt uses a very hard to find cooler, but after some digging I found out the cooler is an Engel Cooler/Dry box. They are very good coolers, and if you look hard enough, you can find them for about $50. The pump was sourced from bass pro shops and is a Johnson 500GPH 12V bilge pump for a boat, IIRC it ran about $25. Fittings are about $6 each, and hose maybe another $20. Electrical switch/wiring is about $30. Scrap aluminum laying around about $30.

The tubing is standard 3/8″ clear vinyl tubing, and the quick connect fittings used by Cool Shirt can be had from McMaster Carr part numbers 5923k74 and 5923k44 for the male and female ends with the shut off valves integrated. If you run an intermediate quick disconnect hose, then you will need 4 males and 2 female ends. If you just run a solid hose from the cooler to the driver shirt connection, then 2 of each. I highly recommend having a longer section of hose you can disconnect for ease of cooler removal, etc. You will want about 6-8 feet of hose minimum between the cooler and the driver. Rather than screwing with more expensive bulk head fittings, I then drilled the appropriate holes in the lid to run the hoses through along with the electrical wires for the pump. A multi position potentiometer switch mounted on the dash will allow for the pump to run at various speeds depending on how much cooling the driver wants.

To keep the pump upright, I zip tied it to the grate that came with the cooler. A screw in barb fitting from home depot makes the connection from the hose to the pump. I can’t remember the size of the fitting, I just took it to home depot and screwed on into the plastic, but it was likely 1/2 npt with a 3/8″ barb fitting which I then tapped the plastic and inserted the fitting into the pump.

The female quick disconnects.

And then I made a quick mounting plate for the cooler using some aluminum plate, aluminum angle, rivets, and an old ratchet strap. The plate will then mount permanently to the car and the cooler straps into that. The secret to staying cool longer with these systems is to use block ice rather than cubed ice. The cube ice will melt too fast, where as the block ice will keep your water colder much longer.

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