2 minute read

What’s on NASCAR Drivers’ Feet?

TOO HOT TO HANDLE

SHOES PLAY KEY ROLE IN PROTECTING DRIVERS’ FEET

BY BEN WHITE

• Bobby Allison and most of his Cup Series counterparts wore standard leather loafers during the early years of NASCAR. A mong the most important items in life are the shoes that go on one’s feet. For drivers in NASCAR-sanctioned races, their job would be impossible without the protection proper footwear provides.

At the time when NASCAR held its first Cup Series race at Charlotte Speedway on June 19, 1949, everyday street shoes worked perfectly, as nothing special was required to protect a driver’s feet throughout the 1950s.

By the mid-1960s, however, speeds had increased through the development of high-performance engines. Engine headers stretched directly under the floorboards, causing intense heat to radiate throughout driver cockpits, making them extremely hot. A driver’s feet were resting on the floorboard where paint would burn steadily away.

That’s when drivers began searching for a solution to keep from suffering major burns to their heels during 500-mile races. Dave Marcis, a NASCAR driver from 1968 through 2002, was famous for wearing black wing-tipped Sunday dress shoes each time he raced.

“We would burn our feet on the floorboards because the heels of our shoes would burn right through,” Marcis said. “So, I went to my closet and found my leather wing tips and wore them the rest of my career. They were comfortable, fit my feet well because they were brokein and kept the heat off my heels better than anything out there.”

Some drivers didn’t fare as well. At times, burns and blisters developed so badly that medical attention was needed in Victory Lane.

“For many years, there just wasn’t a good shoe to use during 500-mile races,” said 1983 NASCAR Cup Series champion Bobby Allison. “For most of my career, I used a standard leather loafer that most of us wore. Sometimes we had shoe repairmen add additional leather, but they weren’t comfortable. As a result, I would usually be hardheaded and wear a regular shoe and really burn my feet.

“I burned my feet so bad after winning the 1981 World 600 at Charlotte that I couldn’t stand in Victory Lane. After going through two or three really serious burns to my feet, I went to a Hushpuppytype boot and that worked pretty well for me. I could push enough insulation in the side of them where my feet didn’t get burned. By the mid-1980s, we started wearing heat resistant racing shoes. We eventually had heat resistant mats in the cars and heat shields that they wear today, things we didn’t have in those days.”