Clearly, racing is a dangerous sport and despite the best efforts of safety manufacturers you'll never eliminate all the risk. While fatalities and serious injury will continue to be an unfortunate part of our sport, now more than ever technology has led to numerous improvements in safety equipment. With the offerings from today's manufacturers there is no excuse not to take every advantage available. But not everybody does.
Most racers know that a good helmet, quality firesuit and a well made rollcage are the first lines of defense against serious injury in a car, but there are other items that will enhance your ability to walk away from a wreck. Here we take a look at a few.
Most major sanctions require you to wear an SFI-rated firesuit whose rating choice is most often left up to you, the racer. In order to make the best selection that offers you the most protection for your budget, you need to understand TPP or Thermal Protective Performance. TPP is a rating system contained within the SFI specification 3.2A for firesuits that is based on the garment's fire retardant capabilities in the presence of both direct flame and radiant heat. The purpose of TPP is to measure the length of time the person wearing the garment can be exposed to a heat source before incurring a second degree, or skin-blistering, burn.
Now here's something you may not know: Most racer burns are caused by heat transfer rather than direct flame. That's important, so keep it in mind. Back to TPP for a minute. The TPP rating is the product of exposure heat flux and exposure time. The TPP results can be converted to the time before a second degree burn occurs. The higher the garment rating, the more time before a second degree burn occurs.
Chart A (above) shows the various SFI 3.2A ratings as well as their corresponding TPP value. While the rating 1,3,5,etc., is important, the key number is TPP. For example, the minimum TPP rating to achieve a 5 rating is 19 which gives you 10 seconds of protection before yielding a second degree burn, however because of the range in the rating system you can also have a 5 rated suit with a 35 TPP rating which actually gives you 17 seconds of protection before a second degree burn. Many manufactures publish the TPP of their individual garments, but those who do not are more than willing to share it with you if you call and ask them.
Bob Bolles' G-Force 545 two-layer suit is SFI 5 rated but because of its TPP rating of 23
So now that you know an SFI 5 rated garment with a TPP value of 19 gives you 10 seconds before you get a second-degree burn and an SFI 1 rated garment with a TPP value of 6 gives you 3 seconds of protection before you get that same burn, why would you wear a 5 fire suit and 1 gloves? Believe it or not it does happen. Mixing SFI ratings somewhat defeats their purpose. While all SFI rated garments offer protection, consider this example when mixing SFI ratings. You are wearing a SFI 5 suit but you have on a pair of 1 gloves. You get into an accident where the car catches on fire and the flames come in the cockpit. It takes you eight seconds to get out of the car. Because you were wearing a 5 rated suit your body escaped any major damage, however your hands now have second-degree burns all over them because the 1 rated gloves gave up the protection after just three seconds. Now you're sidelined for months as the burns heal.
Make sure when choosing gloves and shoes you match your SFI ratings so that your extremities have the same amount of protection as your core.
Along those same lines...are your socks fire retardant? There has been more than one racer who walked away from a firey wreck only to discover some nice burns on his or her ankles. Thanks to mid-rise shoes and the lack of fire retardant socks they are taking a hiatus from racing until their burns heal.