Jessica Zemken walked away from this blaze unscathed. Photo by Joe Alexander
Southern Mississippi race car driver Scott Spicer had his eyes opened on August 12, 2006. It started innocently enough, just another hot lap session in his Pro Stock on a track where he frequently races. But as he came out of Turn 4 and headed down the frontstretch of the quarter-mile dirt track, the trailing arm broke. The car spun and rolled over four times.
"The last thing I said was 'land on your wheels, baby.' It never landed on its wheels-it landed upside down. All the gas started running down under the roof. Then poof, the fire came."
There was Spicer, upside down with his helmet touching the roof of his car, barely able to move in the tight confines of the Pro Stock.
"I realized there was no getting outta there by myself," said Spicer. "I tried to stay calm, popped my seatbelts, took the steering wheel off, then asked the Good Lord to forgive me for all my sins."
As the fire raged outside the car, safety workers and drivers alike ran to help Spicer. Unable to free him with the car upside down, Spicer's would-be rescuers, some wearing nothing more than shorts and a T-shirt, heaved and pushed the car until they successfully flipped the burning heap onto all four wheels. It took almost a full minute before they could pull him from the wreckage.
"It opened my eyes to safety because you never think its gonna happen during hot laps," said Spicer, who was wearing a three-layer suit from Simpson Race Products. "Three, four, five times I felt the heat getting on me. I thought that I was burnt when I got out, but I wasn't."
USAC driver Aaron Pierce is pulling off his Impact Racing gloves.
Amazingly, Spicer came out of the blaze unscathed-not a single burn. While luck had a lot to do with it, he had the best safety equipment, which was his best defense. As a driver, you decide what kind of equipment you buy.
Last month, we featured a story on firesuits and what to look for when buying one. As you all know, the firesuit is just one part of the equation. It does little good to go out and buy a high-quality SFI 3.2A/5 firesuit and then race barehanded or in your favorite Nikes. It's like forgetting to put the icing on the birthday cake or putting the wheel on but only tightening half of the lug nuts.
The first thing you should know is that most driver accessories carry SFI ratings, just like firesuits. The only difference is the standard number. For example, a firesuit with a 5 rating would carry a tag reading SFI 3.2A/5. Drivers' gloves with the same rating would have a tag reading SFI 3.3/5. Unlike drivers' suits, not every accessory from the top brand names carries an SFI rating. But that doesn't mean they won't do the job when necessary.
Here at Circle Track, we say there are really no optional accessories when it comes to safety. However, there are varying degrees of how critical a certain accessory is. There are some you should never race without, while others may not be as critical.
One of those "don't jump in the car without them" items is a pair of gloves. Years ago, the late J.D. McDuffie badly burned his hands in an accident because he wasn't wearing gloves. We know that J.D. wasn't the only racer to drive barehanded, and he wasn't the only one to suffer burns on his hands. But before you bring up the age-old "doesn't make the car go faster" argument, consider how difficult it is to turn a wrench, degree a camshaft, or even eat a sandwich with third-degree burns on your hands.
Now that we've convinced you to buy a pair, there are a slew of choices out there. Gloves run the gamut, from as little as $25 to well over $100. Naturally, the price of the glove is relative to whether it has an SFI rating, one layer or two layers, Nomex versus Nomex III, and so on.