Let's be honest for a moment--there are a million ways for you to get hurt at the racetrack if you don't use your head. And if you are in a hurry that number can jump up to around two million pretty quickly. Getting hurt is no fun, and missing out on racing because you are hurt is even worse. So we at Circle Track, being the protective mother hens that we are, put together a quick list of 20 ways you can stay a little safer at the track and in your shop. Some of these you might think are pretty obvious, but we bet there's at least a few that you aren't doing now. None require a lot of time or money, so there's no excuse not to add at least a few to your own habits. There, now you can't say nobody's looking out for you.
Lots of safety manufacturers...
Lots of safety manufacturers offer a version of these Kevlar heat sleeves like you see here from Mechanix Wear.
1. Heat Sleeves
There's a reason they call it the "heat of the moment." And that applies to racing when you need to work on something and get it done quickly while everything is still hot. Maybe it's as simple as a loose plug wire. Or it can be making a suspension adjustment and working a little too close to the exhaust. Either way, a race car is an easy place to get a bad burn. Regardless, the work has to get done, so the best option is to use a pair of heat sleeves. Woven from Kevlar or some other flame-proof and heat-resistant fabric, heat sleeves are essentially socks that are worn over the forearms. They can provide good protection in case you bump up against a hot header tube, and that means you can also concentrate on your work and get it done properly instead of worrying about injuring yourself. Heat sleeves normally run around $25 for a pair, are washable so they can last a while and are available from most of the same places you buy your usual safety gear.
2. Solid Jackstands
The usual safety trope is to remind you to always use jackstands whenever you have to climb underneath the car. And that's a good one, but we're going to take it a step further. At the racetrack you may be working in a pit area that is graded dirt or old asphalt. In this situation, it isn't good enough to use a standard set of jackstands. If the ground is soft, one leg of the jackstand can dig into the dirt--or even asphalt--and become unlevel. In the worst case scenario, it leans enough to let the car fall off the jackstand. Instead, use jackstands with a solid bottom. This can be as simple as a piece of sheetmetal you have welded to the bottom of a standard set of jackstands. Or you can buy a set fabricated specifically for dirt racing. The idea is that the solid bottom vastly increases the area of contact between the jackstand and the ground. Stability is improved and your safety is greater when you are underneath the car.
A steering wheel like this...
A steering wheel like this one may look ungainly, but it can keep you from hooking your thumbs inside the steering wheel and getting one or both broken in the event of a wreck.
3. Safer Steering
If your car takes a hard broadside lick against the wall or another car at the right angle, it can bang the wheel which gets transmitted back up the steering shaft and results in a hard, and often unexpected, twist of the steering wheel. This is how more driver's thumbs have been broken than we can count. (We can't count too high, but it's still a lot). The easy solution is to hold the steering wheel so that your thumbs stay on the outside of the wheel instead of wrapping around the inside. But this method of holding the steering wheel can seem unnatural at first and distracting when you are trying to concentrate on what's going on around you. Another answer is to use a solid, dish-type steering wheel. This keeps your thumbs from getting caught in the spokes of the wheel if it twists unexpectedly from contact at the wheels. We've also seen racers rivet or zip-tie a thin piece of lexan to the wheel which achieves the same result.
4. Get Out Now
Sure, you've gotten into and out of your race car hundreds of times, maybe even thousands. But how often have you had to do it under duress?
It's kind of like the old joke about how fire extinguishers are little more than expensive ballast. Every race car has one but no racer ever uses it. If there is a fire he or she is too busy getting out to think about using the fire control system. And that's a good idea. The question is, how quickly can you get out of your car when the chips are down? Every so often spend a little time practicing getting out of your car all by yourself as quickly as possible. If you need to do it after a wreck, you probably won't have your crew to help you. Start with all your safety equipment on, your belts buckled up tight, and the steering wheel in place. If you are normally plugged into a radio, do that too. Now, work on getting out quickly and safely. Drivers often find they will get their head-and-neck restraint system caught on something when trying to get out too quickly. That's the last thing you want to discover happens to you if for some reason your car is on fire and you are trying to get to safety.
5. Lead Solid
Almost every stock car uses lead ballast to make minimum weight because lead is dense and it doesn't take much of it to make a lot of weight. That density also creates a lot of momentum if your car comes to a hard stop. Lead weight should always be bolted to a solid portion of the frame or rollcage. Use good, beefy bolts, and bolt through a plate as well as through the lead. Don't simply weld the head of the bolt to the frame and call it a day. Several manufacturers also make brackets that bolt around a piece of rollbar tubing and will hold lead securely in place. As a general rule, make sure your lead is mounted more securely than you think it will ever need to be. This is the best way to ensure it doesn't become a heavy projectile ripping through your race car.
This is a chassis built by...
This is a chassis built by Bull City Race Cars. Notice the bar above the driver’s sill that closes up the window opening enough that a tire or some other large object can’t get through.
6. Little Windows
Window nets are good for keeping your arms inside the race car, but they shouldn't be counted on to keep everything that's on the outside from getting to the inside. Everybody likes a nice, big window opening so that it's easy to get into and out of the car. But sometimes a window opening can be too large. The next time you have a wheel and tire off of your race car, try to see if you can get it through the window opening with the net down. If you can, then the window opening is too big. Lowering the halo bar of the rollcage isn't practical for this, but you can weld in another bar above the top door bar to decrease the size of the opening. Hopefully, you will never have another race car try to climb through the window and get inside your car, but with a smaller window opening (as long as you can still get in and out) is always helpful.