Now let's do a little math, understanding that fire-retardant underwear falls under a different SFI spec (3.3 for Driver Accessories) than suits. Even so, it does use the same TPP and flammability tests as the driver suits. If you add underwear that has a TPP rating of say 6 to a suit that has a TPP rating of 19, you now have a total protection time of more than 12 seconds instead of just 9 with the suit alone. Get the picture?

Now as far as layers and fit, a suit and underwear combination that is worn too tight will compress the air gaps created within the layers and allow heat to reach the skin faster. So make sure that you have the proper fit in your suit and accessories.

Like the fit on suits and underwear, gloves should fit snuggly but not too tight. One key question you should ask yourself when the off-season rolls around is does the SFI rating on your gloves match your suit? It does little good to wear an SFI 5-rated suit and SFI 1-rated gloves. Your 1-rated gloves will give you a whopping 3 seconds of protection while the suit gives you more than 17 (since you took our advice and are wearing FR underwear). Consider this: if your race car catches on fire, what's the first thing you're going to use to get out? If you answered your hands, you're right. Think about it, you will be undoing your belts, window net, and more, all with your gloved hands. Wearing a low-rated glove is asking for trouble. Why risk your hands? Remember, it's pretty hard to work on your race car while nursing second-degree burns on your fingers.

Treat your shoes the same way as you treat your gloves; good fit, an SFI rating that matches the rest of your equipment, and, oh yeah, don't forget to wear fire-retardant socks. Remember, unless you back it into the wall, many fires start in the engine compartment and what's the one part of your body to the engine compartment? Yup, your feet.

At the end of the season, carefully inspect every aspect of your shoes. If you're like most short-track racers, you aren't changing in and out of your racing shoes between qualifying, heat races, and features. Walking around in your racing shoes creates added wear, wear that can turn into holes. Those holes compromise the integrity of the shoe and create a space for heat and/or fire to penetrate.

Whether it's a defNder or a HANS, a Leatt Brace or a Hutchens, a head and neck restraint is something no driver should race without. Consider the story of David Shullick, Jr. of Ridgeville, Ohio. He was leading the Supermodified feature at Concord Motorsports Park during this past November's North South Shootout weekend when something in his left front broke.

He hit the foam blocks in front of the wall between Turns 1 and 2 at somewhere in the 140 mph range, according to observers. Going from 140 to 0 in an instant (he hit the wall at approximately a 60 degree angle), could have easily resulted in a fatal crash but thanks to his head and neck restraint, Shullick walked away.

We focus so much time and energy on our race cars we often forget about the most important aspect of our racing operation, the driver. If you're the driver for your team, the off-season is the perfect time to re-evaluate your health and how it affects your abilities behind the wheel. Do you smoke? Quit. Are cheese-covered fries your food of choice before a race? Think about making the switch to something just a tad bit healthier. The point is that by getting in shape you can improve your focus, stamina, and reaction time, all of which will benefit you behind the wheel.

By the time this issue hits the newsstands, Florida Speedweeks will be a mere five weeks away from kicking off the 2009 racing season. That's not a whole lot of time to get thinking about next year's racing program, but it's enough. Good luck and we'll see you in the New Year!