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 offer a version of these Kevlar heat sleeves like you see her
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 one may look ungainly, but it can keep you from hooking your th
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 Bull City Race Cars. Notice the bar above the driver’s sill tha
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.
Checking your belts regularly for nicks or fraying frequently is a good idea, a cut as sma
7. Nick Free
A nick or cut in a set of 3-inch-wide seatbelts that is as small as 1/8-inch reduces the integrity of the belt by 40 percent or more. That's a drastic decrease in the strength of a major safety component, so regularly check your belts to make sure they are free of nicks, cuts or fraying sections. Especially make note to check around the buckles and adjusters--basically anywhere the webbing touches steel. As a general rule, any time you have been in a wreck hard enough to require a wrecker to tow your car back to the pits, you should replace your belts because they've probably been stretched. And just like a nicked belt, a belt that has been stretched has lost a significant portion of its strength. There you go--two great pieces of advice even though we only counted it as one. Just making sure you get your money's worth this issue.
A driveshaft safety hoop can keep a steel driveshaft from becoming a deadly weapon if the
8. Through the Hoop
If, for some reason, your rule book doesn't require you to have a driveshaft safety hoop, go the extra mile and install one anyway. A broken U-joint means that harmless looking driveshaft instantly turns into a giant flailing piece of steel that's still spinning at several thousand rpm. A steel driveshaft that has broken loose can cut through sheetmetal like butter, so what do you think it will do to flesh and bone? They've also been known to stab into the track surface and turn the car into some insane pole-vaulting machine. A simple driveshaft hoop can help eliminate all of this.
Gray or otherwise light colored paint makes it easier to spot cracks forming in welds on y
9. Paint it Gray
This one is pretty old-school but it will make your life easier. Over time, cracks will eventually form in the welds at the most stressed points in your chassis. And you'd better believe those cracks need to be spotted and repaired before they lead to serious failures in your chassis. But it's awfully hard to spot cracks in the welds on a chassis that is painted a dark color or never properly cleaned. The reason that all those old stock cars you see are painted dove gray is because cracked welds show up nice and easy against it. Generally, lighter colors work better than darker colors, but no crack is going to be visible if it's hidden behind a layer of grease and crud. So, paint it light and keep it clean.
10. To See or Not to See
This one may be a little too zen, but it's hard logic to argue with: The best way not to get hurt in an accident is to not get into an accident. Obvious, yes? Good vision usually equals better driving, so make an effort to make sure you can see well enough from the cockpit. If your visor is all scratched up and foggy, replace it. Also make sure you have plenty of tear-offs installed every time you go out on the track. If you race asphalt, you may also want to consider painting a "visor" on your windshield. At certain tracks at certain times of year, the setting sun can make it very difficult to see. Painting the top 1/3 of your windshield black will help alleviate this problem. You aren't looking up into the stands anyway; just make sure you leave plenty to allow yourself a good view of the track.
11. Clean and Fresh
Keeping your firesuit clean is about more than not smelling funky in the pits, it can actually make you safer. Your firesuit is flame-retardant, but any grease or oils you get on it aren't. Any foreign contaminants that have somehow found their way onto your expensive suit need to be properly removed in order for the suit to perform as well as it can. Different manufacturers have different recommendations for cleaning their firesuits, so consult with them to determine the best method for keeping your racing duds fresh and clean. Since most quality racing suits use materials that are inherently flame-retardant, washing them properly won't damage their ability to protect you. You may need to hand wash it or even cough up the dough for a trip to the dry cleaners, either way always follow the manufacturer's cleaning suggestions. There are also cleaners available from safety companies that are designed to get the oils out of firesuits without fading the fabrics.
A fuel cell isn’t invincible. Protect it within a well constructed steel cage to keep it f
12. Caged Up
A quality fuel cell is a great safety device to help reduce the risk of leaking fuel and fires. But the fuel cell isn't impregnable and should also be properly protected. Don't just strap in the fuel cell with the only priority to make sure it doesn't simply fall out. The fuel cell should be surrounded by a cage of 1-inch square tubing. The tubing should run around the perimeter across at least the front and back sides and across the bottom. This will protect the cell in the event you run over debris or get hit from the rear. A cage like this will also help provide good rigidity to keep the cell from getting crushed if you back into a wall. See Circle Track's Oct. '11 issue for a step by step guide to protecting your fuel cell.
13. Speak Clearly
Communication isn't just the key to a good marriage, it can also help your racing program and keep you safer. If they're allowed by the rules, invest in a quality radio system and appoint a spotter at the racetrack. Having a good spotter on your team isn't just to provide a competitive advantage. His or her primary responsibility isn't to watch you but to keep an eye on events ahead. If trouble happens the spotter can warn you in time so you won't get caught up in a wreck that's not of your making. And if being able to communicate via radio with your spotter can help you achieve better finishes, then that's just a bonus, right?
Lots of things necessary for working on a race car--welding, cleaning with strong solvents
14. Buy a Fan
Life in the shop can be hazardous. We assume you already know the big stuff about wearing eye protection when welding, and not wearing loose clothing when working with a saw or other power tools, but have you considered improving your safety by simply turning on a fan? Racers are often forced to breathe air that isn't exactly as fresh as a mountain meadow. There are harsh fumes from cleaners and solvents, carbon monoxide from running the race engine in your shop, and fumes from welding. We're not saying that this stuff is going to kill you tomorrow, but it can't be as healthy as fresh, clean air, right? So consider using an inexpensive fan to increase ventilation inside your race shop. A large exhaust fan is probably ideal, but anything that helps pull in at least a little fresh air is a good idea.
15. Pack Your Drawers
Nobody likes wearing a bulky race suit. And modern technology has done wonders for providing great fire protection while limiting the amount of layers necessary in the suit. But there is no getting around the fact that more layers of protection between your skin and a fire means more insulation from burning heat. One easy way to add to your protection factor is to replace your standard underclothes with Nomex "underwear." A cotton T-shirt may be comfortable, but it will do nothing to protect you when the chips are down. But you can wear purpose-made racing underwear to provide an extra level of thermal protection without increasing the bulk of your racing suit. This includes an undershirt, shorts, or long johns and even socks. Of course, outfitting yourself in Nomex is a bit more expensive than your standard Fruit of the Looms, but it can definitely be worth it.
If your pit area isn’t well lit, there is no excuse not to bring your own lights. It will
16. Light It Up
If your pits aren't well lit, working on your car can be a pain. Trying to strain to see what you are working on is not only annoying, but it can also be tiring and a distraction from what you really need to be concentrating on. It may be more stuff you have to haul back and forth, but if your pits aren't lit well enough for you to see comfortably, consider bringing some work lights to place strategically around your pit area. You may also need a generator to power your lights, but many racers use one already for charging the car battery between heats.
17. Check Your Crush Panels
Crush panels do more than keep grit out of the driver's compartment. They are also useful for keeping radiant heat from the engine from cooking the driver's feet and legs, and they also help block carbon monoxide and other exhaust gasses from the driver's compartment. Over time as a race car gets dinged up, the crush panels usually just get bent back into what resembles their original shape and riveted back into place. Take a moment to reseal any gaps that have formed with some silicone or by making new crush panels. This can help create a cleaner, safer environment for the driver to work.
18. No Leaks
You've already spent good money on a quality fuel cell, but what type of fuel line are you running from the cell to your race engine? Standard rubber fuel line may be fine for the family car, but it's too easily punctured to be trusted in a racing environment. Use a quality braided line that does a good job protecting the inner liner from abrasions, punctures, and cuts. Or, consider running the fuel line inside metal tubing. This is especially critical if the fuel line is routed through the cockpit.
It’s hard to work on a race car without needing to weld something. Having a good welder on
19. Learn to Weld
Every time you turn around, something around a race car needs to be welded. So take a moment to honestly appraise your welding skills. Are you confident in your welds, or do you often think, "I hope I've got the settings right," before sticking wire to metal? You can test your welding skills by welding up a few sticks of scrap steel and then taking a hammer to try to knock it back apart. A quality weld should have enough heat to penetrate into both pieces of metal without blowing holes though it. One thing no racer can afford is welds on either the rollcage or any other component inside the cockpit breaking in the event of a hard hit. If you aren't sure your welding is as good as it could be, there is no shame in getting a refresher. A quality welder is a critical member on any race team. Most local community colleges have a class you can take in the evenings, or just spend some time working with someone who is a better welder than you are and see what you can learn.
20. Double Up
Any number of factors can cause your engine to run hotter than normal, and that equals extra pressure in your cooling system. A blown radiator hose equals (besides an embarrassing cloud of steam) water being sprayed onto the track right in front of your rear tires. You can provide an extra bit of security by double clamping your radiator lines. Installing an extra hose clamp on both ends of the lines is cheap and easy, and it can keep you from having to explain how a radiator hose caused you to back into the wall. So there you have it, 20 safety tips that you may not not have previously thought about. Take them to heart, be safe and don't forget to get yourself a head and neck restraint like Simpson's Hybrid Pro.