Sprint Car racing may be one of the more radical forms of motorsports out there. Let's face it, there's a better chance of a Sprint Car driver getting upside down than in any other form of four-wheeled racing. So it stands to reason that drivers who race Sprint Cars take their safety seriously. More than once we've heard drivers in other forms of racing say, "Oh sure, you bet I'd wear a HANS if I raced a Sprint Car," or, "Those Sprint Car racers need that (insert your favorite safety accessory here)." But the fact is, the rest of us could take some cues from the safety initiatives that Sprint Car racers employ.
We've spent many pages of Circle Track preaching about the need to take proper safety precautions when you get in a racecar. Do you wear a head-and-neck restraint? What's the SFI rating of your firesuit? How are you attaching your window net to your rollcage? While all of these questions have been posed in the pages of this magazine, we thought we'd take a different approach this month. We sat down to talk safety with a 16-year-old California Sprint Car racer. Her name? Alissa Geving. That's right, our chosen subject for this interview is a girl who attends Catholic school by day and works on not one but two Sprint Cars (a 360 and a 410) at night.
Here's some background for you. Alissa's father, Gary Geving, is a well-known Northern California Sprint Car racer who slung mud for 14 years before getting out of the driver seat to focus on his daughter's racing career. As do many short-track racers, the Gevings race as a family. From the time she was born, Alissa was around Sprint Cars. Cradle in the pits? You bet. So it was inevitable that she would someday end up behind the wheel. She got her first taste of competition behind the wheel of an Outlaw cart, four years ago at the tender age of 12. "It was the super beginners class," Alissa says. "My dad was concerned about safety and wanted to make sure I started out slow."
Alissa's arsenal of safety...
Alissa's arsenal of safety equipment includes a custom-made, multilayer firesuit, a top-of-the-line helmet, fire-retardant gloves, shoes, socks, and Carbon X underwear, all of which is SFI-rated.
Over the next three seasons, Alissa moved up into bigger and faster karts until 2007. Gary was able to put together a deal that would allow his then-15-year-old daughter to run Sprint Cars at their home track of Petaluma Speedway, the fast 3/8-mile dirt oval in the town of the same name. It was time for Alissa to follow in dad's footsteps and try her hand at Sprint Car racing.
Gary didn't skimp on his daughter's equipment, making sure she had the best of everything, which is interesting considering the way he raced. "I don't think he was that safety conscious," Alissa says. "When he raced, a lot of the equipment we have today wasn't available, so I don't think he ever really thought about it."
While Dad may not have thought about safety then, Alissa sure thinks about it now. We asked her to list off her top five most important safety items, other than obvious things like helmets and firesuits. These are things she would never get into the car without. Here they are, listed in order of importance.
1. Head and Neck Restraint Alissa's chosen restraint is a HANS Device, and it's lucky she has one. Last season she rolled her Sprint Car and says the HANS helped save her neck in that accident. "A lot of kids I race with wear one, but not many of the older people do," she says. "Maybe it's because it's a new piece of safety equipment, but all my friends have one. I've been racing most of my career with one, so it's like a habit. I wish everybody wore one."
Alissa even wears her HANS during mudpacking, "just because things can go wrong and I don't want to risk it. Hey, throttles stick, and if you're unprotected that could be the end. It takes 10 seconds to put one on; there's no point not to."
2. ARM Restraints For Sprint Car racers, arm restraints are almost a necessity, and at some tracks they're even part of the rules. However, there is no reason not to wear them. On her journey upside down, Alissa's restraints kept her arms inside the car and safe from getting caught in between the car and the ground.
This sequence of photos shows...
This sequence of photos shows the beginning, middle, and end result of a flip by California Sprint Car racer Alissa Geving. She walked away thanks to good safety equipment.
Note the arm restraints that...
Note the arm restraints that Alissa uses. The big, wide straps provide a larger area to dissipate the forces of a violent rollover.
Racing and safety is a family...
Racing and safety is a family affair with the Gevings. That's Dad, Gary, in the background in the shorts and Mom, Melissa, cleaning the car.
Alissa's Butler Built seat...
Alissa's Butler Built seat features a full halo, a common feature in many Sprint Cars but much rarer in other forms of racing.
3. Good Gloves Ah yes, we'd like to think that Alissa read last month's story about matching your glove's SFI rating to your suit's SFI rating, but we forgot to ask her. "Good-quality gloves are a big thing for me," she says. "You must have protection but also the ability to get good feedback through the wheel. A bad glove can prevent you from getting that good feedback."
4. Earplugs We found this one interesting. Sure, you see all of those NASCAR Sprint Cup guys stuffing the custom-molded plugs into their ears in the pre-race show, but how many short trackers do you know who wear them? If you're like us here at CT, that number is pretty low. "I like to hear," Alissa joked. Joking aside, hearing damage is a common problem among racers that can be easily solved with a halfway-decent set of earplugs. "One time I forgot to put them in, and I couldn't believe how much my ears hurt and rang after the race," she says. "Needless to say, I haven't forgotten them since."
5. Fireproof Socks Ok, fireproof socks? She must've read that article last month. No need to elaborate here. In the right type of accident, it's easy to burn your ankles if you're not wearing the proper flame-retardant socks.
We found Alissa's list to be not only interesting, but also educational, especially where the earplugs are concerned. We don't think a lot of racers consider them as safety equipment, but they are. If you don't believe us, just spend a few decades racing weekly and then check your hearing.
Alissa also wears a fire retardant...
Alissa also wears a fire retardant balaclava or head sock, a great way to protect your head and neck. We bet Dale Earnhardt Jr. wished he had one on a few years ago.
We also discussed some other items with Alissa, including the importance of wearing good-quality products. When she climbs into her car in 2008 at Petaluma, she'll be sporting a full complement of safety products, including Carbon X underwear, another item she never goes without. Her suit is a mutlilayer, custom-made Simpson.
In addition, her car is properly constructed from front to rear, including a Butler Built seat with a full halo.
"I've tipped it and rolled it a few times, and when I did I landed wrong, so my ribs and back hurt," Alissa says. "But I've been really lucky. I wouldn't be all right if I wasn't wearing all this safety equipment."
Alissa's focus on safety comes not only from her firsthand experience of flips, but also from growing up around Sprint Car racing where she was witness to some scary incidents. "I've seen my dad in some crazy accidents and had to watch him go to the hospital more than once." That's a great motivator for the aspiring World of Outlaws racer (it's one of her goals) to take safety seriously.
Alissa and her family celebrate...
Alissa and her family celebrate that first win at Petaluma on July 18, 2007.
Admittedly, the safety equipment this young lady has isn't your Kmart special, but, as she says, "If you're unprotected, that could be the end. Always take that extra step. It could save your life."
At the time of this interview, Alissa's season was about to get underway. In addition to racing at Petaluma for points, she will be running 410 races on Friday nights at Silver Dollar Speedway as well as taking part in the Civil War Series, a California-based traveling show of 360 Sprinters. Her and her family's approach to safety should serve all of them well in the rough-and-tumble world of Sprint Car racing.
The triangular net dubbed...
The triangular net dubbed a "Sprint Car net" has gained popularity among some big-time NASCAR drivers. It's designed to act like a halo on the seat but is removable for easy entry and exit of full-bodied cars. These from SafeQuip are universal designs that work with Sprint Cars, midgets, late models, modifieds, and more.