Prepping Your Car

Beyond protective clothing, preparing the car for the worst is hugely important. The driver's compartment should be as sealed as possibly with tape that won't burn. There are aluminum tapes that are specifically designed for sealing areas of the car that could possibly be exposed to fire and high heat. Even the smallest holes can let fluids and fire into the cockpit.

Once the driver's compartment is sealed, a fire extinguisher or fire system should be in place, in working order, and the activation mechanism should be in an easy place for the driver to operate if needed. Also, the system does no good if the safety pin is still in place. Be sure to remove it before each trip out on track.

Lastly, have an exit strategy and practice it. Having all of the safety equipment means nothing if you can't get out of your car. Especially with how popular full-containments seats and head-and-neck restraints have become, getting out of a race car, let alone a burning one, can be very difficult with obstacles on you and in the way.

A fire can induce panic; hey, it's a natural reaction if you're on fire. But practicing getting out on a regular basis can make a scary moment a little less frightening if you know exactly how to do it. Have a crewmember time your evacuation from the car. Practice a few times and break out the stopwatch again. We bet you'll be surprised at how much you can improve in just a few tries.

SFI and Thermal Protection Performance

If you've ever worn any kind of protecting equipment, chances are you've seen the SFI tags on them. Besides the fact that in-date SFI-rated equipment is required, it also allows you to pick the right equipment for what you are doing.

Which SFI Rating Should I Choose?

Safety manufacturers who advertise in Circle Track produce products that carry SFI ratings. A typical rating looks like this: SFI 3.2A/5 where 3.2A is the foundation's standard for firesuits and 5 is the rating. The higher that rating number, the better the protection. In this example, the number 5 is the most important number you will see, especially if the manufacturer doesn't release TPP numbers. Most sanctioning bodies and tracks will require you to have a firesuit with a minimum SFI-rating in order to compete. However, that does not mean that you should buy only their minimum.

What Do All Those Ratings Mean?

The quality of any fire-retardant material can be determined by looking closely at two measuring factors: LOI, which stands for Limiting Oxygen Index, and TPP or Thermal Protective Performance. LOI is the most commonly used measurement for flame retardancy and refers to the amount of oxygen needed in the atmosphere to support combustion. If a fiber or fabric has an LOI of 25, that means that at least 25 percent oxygen needs to be present for the fabric to burn. Consequently, a higher rating equals more fire protection. You won't often see LOI in race suit literature, but it's an important factor in good fire protection.

TPP on the other hand refers to the garment's ability to provide thermal protection when exposed to both direct flame and radiant heat while taking into account the length of time before a person is subject to second-degree burns. While that's a mouthful, TPP is the second most important number you need to know when firesuit shopping. The TPP rating is derived from a mathematical calculation performed with the results of a sophisticated test procedure that utilizes two different heat sources, sensors, and the fabric to be tested. The TPP rating is divided in half to determine the number of seconds until the human tissue reaches a second-degree burn. For example, if a particular fabric has a TPP rating of 35, it takes 17.5 seconds until a second-degree burn occurs in a flashover situation.

The only way to increase a TPP rating is through adding multiple layers. However, as you increase layers, suits get bulkier—and bulk doesn't equal comfort. Your goal in selecting a firesuit should be the balance of comfort with maximum protection.

A great way to increase the TPP without jumping up to a three-layer drag racing suit is to wear fire-retardant underwear beneath your suit. If you're budget doesn't allow for FR underwear, even a cotton sweatshirt adds some protection.

OK, now here's a great question to ask yourself. How fast can the safety crew at your local track get you out of a burning car? If they can do it in 3 seconds, go ahead and buy that $99 single-layer special and drop me a note telling me your home track because I want to race there.

G-Force Racing Gear
Raceday Safety
Summit Racing Equipment
Simpson Safety Products
New Braunfels
604 Moore Road
Avon Lake
OH  44012
Day Motorsports
5904 E. Adamo Dr.
FL  33619
Crow Enterprizes
Capitol Motorsports Warehouse
Speedway Motors
340 Victory Lane
ME  68528
Velocity Racing Gear