Be prepared, while none of...
Be prepared, while none of us think about it, the worst can actually happen. This driver walked away thanks to first-rate safety equipment. Scott Spicer
Well, the off-season is officially upon us. In many parts of the country snow is falling on the ground; wrapping paper still litters the living room; and our new President is warming up for his inauguration party. Now is the perfect time for you to head out to the shop and assess the most important part of your racing operation ... you. We'll cover seven areas of safety and performance that cover, protect, and affect the guy or gal sitting behind the wheel.
Also known as your helmet, it could be one of the most important pieces of safety equipment that you own. Let's make the assumption that you read "The Phantom Impact" in Circle Track's Feb. '08 issue. That story tells you, in no uncertain terms, why you should make sure that you are wearing a motorsports-rated helmet as opposed to a motorcycle helmet. Here's a hint ... it has to do with fire retardency.
Helmets that have hairline...
Helmets that have hairline cracks in them like these should be sent back to the manufacturer for inspection.
If ever there was a product in racing that you should not shortcut on, it's your helmet. Don't be afraid to spend more money on your helmet. Wal-Mart's $99 special has no place on a racer's safety equipment list.
Now, even if you have the Cadillac of all helmets, ask yourself this question. Were you in any type of accident during the past season? If the answer is yes, you need to closely inspect your helmet for any signs of damage. This includes both the interior and exterior. While a small scuff or hairline crack may look innocent, the liner of your helmet could be compromised.
"Sometimes the evidence is not visible," says Bell's Kyle Keitzman. "During the '06 Indianapolis 500, Darren Manning backed into the wall. The impact generated over 100g's but there was no outward damage to the helmet's shell, however you could actually see the outline of the back of his head in the lining."
This firesuit needs repair,...
This firesuit needs repair, but a common mistake is to take it to a seamstress who does not have Nomex or fire-retardant thread. In repairing a firesuit, it's essential to use Nomex thread. Short-cutting here, increases your chance of getting burned in a fire.
If you hit the wall hard enough that you can see the outline of your head in the inner liner, it's safe to say that your helmet is now junk. If that inner liner is damaged there is no way possible that it will provide the same level of protection in another accident.
Hairline cracks or other damage can be hidden by ornate paint schemes. Your best bet if you suspect your helmet might be damaged in any way is to send it back to the manufacturer. It will be more than happy to inspect and fix it.
Not to sound like a broken record (perhaps you've read about this subject in past issues of Circle Track), but your racing suit is the number one line of defense between you and the one thing no racer wants to face, a fire. The quality of that suit is what separates you from going to the hospital or just going home. Realize this; the majority of racer burns are caused by heat transfer, not direct flame. In other words, it's a rare occasion when a racer gets burned by flames that have penetrated his/her suit, they get burned by the intense radiant heat that is the result of a fire. Given enough time, the heat literally "passes through" the suit and its protective layers.
Wearing fire-retardant underwear...
Wearing fire-retardant underwear is one of the easiest ways to get additional fire protection into your firesuit.
Let's have a quick review. Thermal Protective Performance, or TPP, is the measurement of protection offered by a firesuit against both convective and radiant heat. The SFI Foundation uses TPP to determine firesuit ratings in accordance with SFI Specifications, forming a basis for the safety regulations adopted by many racing sanctioning bodies.
The purpose of measuring TPP is to determine the length of time the person wearing the firesuit can be exposed to a heat source of approximately 1,800 degrees F before incurring skin blistering or second-degree burns in laboratory conditions. Higher TPP ratings equate to better protection. Find your suit's rating in Chart A below and then determine if you can get out of the car faster than you can get a second-degree burn.
While it may be cool or hip to go commando when you're out partying, the racetrack is the last place you want to skimp on your underwear. Wearing fire-retardent underwear also happens to be one of the easiest ways to get additional insulation into your racing suit. That's because using multiple layers of fabric helps keep the heat source away from your skin longer. The layers create air gaps that have to heat up before that heat can transfer. The extra seconds gained with each layer are precious to you safely escaping from a burning car.
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.
This is an extreme example,...
This is an extreme example, but if you've been using the same gloves for a while, inspect them closely. Seams can wear thin and padding can come loose. For kids who race, they can experience a growth spurt that can even make a new set of mitts obsolete.
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.
Holes, like the one in the...
Holes, like the one in the shoe on the right, compromise its integrity, creating a space for heat and/or fire to penetrate. The shoe on the left is still in great shape thanks to proper care.
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.
This device will save your...
This device will save your life, no question.
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!