Most racers will freely admit that they are not all that concerned with hitting the wall, getting together with another car, or getting caught up in any type of accident that comes with short track racing. However, when you ask those same racers about fire their tune may just change. No racer wants to face the prospect of his or her race car catching on fire after a wreck or blown motor. But the fact of the matter is fires do happen in short track racing and when they do the results are not always pretty especially at tracks where the safety crews are not adequately equipped.
Clearly one of the most important items you can have, regardless of the division you race, is a firesuit. We have written much over the past several years about suits, TPP, one layer versus two layer and so on, but they are not going to be included in this story. However, we did want to kick it off with a short but telling story concerning suits from one of our resident project car drivers, Dalton Zehr.
“Most tracks only require a single-layer suit. Granted, they breathe much nicer than a three-layer suit, but when I ordered my new suit I specifically requested a three-layer suit. I was told, ‘Look, a two-layer suit is all you'll really ever need' by the lady on the other end of the phone. I said, ‘No that's OK, I'd like a three-layer suit.' I was very persistent. She then asked me, ‘Have you ever been on fire?' I said no, I've never been on fire. She said, ‘Well that's odd because the only people who request a three-layer suit are those racers who have been on fire before.' I chuckled and I said, ‘Well…what does that tell ya? Maybe you really should want a three-layer suit.'”
Zehr goes on to say that when he mentors young racers he always tells the parents to get the best suit they can, and he relates it all to tires. “Tires are something we all understand,” says Zehr. “You're going to spend $500 on a set. If you sit out one race you can go from a single-layer suit to a two-layer. If you sit out one more race you can go from a two-layer suit to a three-layer suit and have the best product out there.”
However, sitting out a couple of races so that you can afford the really good firesuit is merely the first step. There are five other things that you really need to take a hard look at to give yourself or your driver the best chance for survival in the event of a fire. So in somewhat of an order of importance (they're all important) here they are.
Of all the pieces of fire retardant clothing there is one item that you should spend a little extra money on, but many racers don't. That item is your gloves. Too many guys and gals, especially in the entry-level divisions are out there tooling around in circles wearing mechanic-style gloves. Guess what? They burn, and they burn pretty darn fast. Now consider this. In order to get out of a burning race car you need your hands to take down the window net, take the steering wheel off, unbuckle your belts, and then grab the rollbars to pull yourself out of the car. All of those items are metal which get really hot when exposed to fire. In the event of a fire in the race car, the longer you are in the car the more likely it is that one or more of those items are going to come painfully close to the flame. When you go to grab one with your mechanic gloved hand, the neoprene, nylon, and polyester the gloves are made out of will melt right to your skin.
Mechanic gloves are for wrenching on the race car, leave them in the toolbox and get yourself a good pair of two-layer racing gloves.
This Street Stock racer may think he is protecting his hands with these gloves, but in reality they belong back in his trailer or truck.
A typical pair of mechanic gloves needs only 2 seconds of exposure to fire to begin to burn and 5 more seconds of burn time to fuse both sides of the fingers together…had somebody’s hand been in these gloves the neoprene would have melted to their skin.
While just about every track and sanction specify Snell rated helmets, some do not differentiate between the Snell Rating for motorsports—SA-2010—or those for motorcycles—M-2010. Consequently, at some tracks you can legally race in a cheap Snell-rated motorcycle helmet.
However, that could be the worst decision of your life. Motorcycle helmets are not made for race cars. First of all, most motorcycle helmets are not made with fire retardant materials. They don't have to be. They are designed to absorb impacts of your head bouncing off the ground going 65 mph, not protect you from fire. “On these things (motorcycles) you slide away from the fire, in a car, you're trapped in the fire,” says AMA motorcycle racer Glen Castle.
Any helmet manufacturer worth its weight in padding will tell you the same thing. And in fact, many take steps to prevent racers from buying the wrong helmet. For example, Simpson's policy is that they won't install HANS clips on a motorcycle helmet.
HANS clip mounting aside, the picture to the left shows exactly what happens when you have a motorcycle helmet that gets near a little heat. Think about that next time you go helmet shopping and remember to buy the right helmet, there are plenty of SA-2010 helmets that are value priced. The moral of this exercise? Don't wear a motorcycle helmet, it can melt to your head.
Will Kimmel’s Simpson Air Inforcer Vudo helmet is SA2010 rated, meaning it has been designed for and tested to withstand the rigors of automobile racing including fire.
Just 6 seconds after a small flame is introduced to the cheek pad of this motorcycle helmet the interior is fully engulfed.