Did you know that you get roughly twice as much fire protection from an SFI-5 rated suit versus an SFI-1 rated suit?

Did you also know that there's about a $200 spread between a single-layer and double-layer suit?

Now let me ask you this: How many square inches of skin graft can you buy for $200?

Think about that for a minute. By spending a little extra money on a good quality suit you can save yourself a ton of money in medical bills if, God forbid, you experience a flash fire.

While nobody ever wants to talk about it, ours is a dangerous sport; fires can and do happen and a good firesuit is your first line of defense. There are essentially three types of suits; single-layer, double-layer, and triple-layer. In addition you have one-, two-, and even three-piece suits. Our opinion here at Circle Track is that drivers need to be wearing one-piece suits, crewmen can choose from any of the three multi-pieces depending upon their race day duty.

What Do All Those Ratings Mean?

The quality of any fire-retardant material can be determined by looking closely at two measuring factors: LOI which stands for Limiting Oxygen Index, and TPP or Thermal Protective Performance. LOI is the most commonly used measurement for flame retardancy and refers to the amount of oxygen needed in the atmosphere to support combustion. If a fiber or fabric has an LOI of 25, that means that at least 25 percent oxygen needs to be present for the fabric to burn. Consequently, a higher rating equals more fire protection. You won't often see LOI in race suit literature, but it's an important factor in good fire protection.

TPP on the other hand refers to the garment's ability to provide thermal protection when exposed to both direct flame and radiant heat while taking into account the length of time before a person is subject to second-degree burns. While that's a mouthful, TPP is the second most important number you need to know when firesuit shopping. The TPP rating is derived from a mathematical calculation performed with the results of a sophisticated test procedure that utilizes two different heat sources, sensors, and the fabric to be tested. The TPP rating is divided in half to determine the number of seconds until the human tissue reaches a second degree burn. For example, if a particular fabric has a TPP rating of 35, it takes 17.5 seconds until a second-degree burn occurs in a flashover situation.

The only way to increase a TPP rating is through adding multiple layers. However, as you increase layers, suits get bulkier; and bulk doesn't equal comfort. Your goal in selecting a firesuit should be the balance of comfort with maximum protection.

Mom always told you to wear clean undies, now we know why. A great way to increase the TPP without jumping up to a three-layer drag racing suit is to wear fire-retardant underwear beneath your suit. If you're budget doesn't allow for FR underwear, even a cotton sweatshirt adds some protection.

Now, some suit manufacturers will promote the TPP rating of their suits alongside the SFI rating. Check out the chart on this page to determine which rating fits your particular needs.

OK, now here's a great question to ask yourself after looking at that chart. How fast can the safety crew at your local track get you out of a burning car? If they can do it in 3 seconds, go ahead and buy that $99 single-layer special and drop me a note telling me your home track because I want to race there.

Which SFI Rating Should I Choose?

Safety manufacturers who advertise in Circle Track produce products that carry SFI ratings. A typical rating looks like this: SFI 3.2A/5 where 3.2A is the foundation's standard for firesuits and 5 is the rating. The higher that rating number, the better the protection. In this example, the number 5 is the most important number you will see, especially if the manufacturer doesn't release TPP numbers. Most sanctioning bodies and tracks will require you to have a firesuit with a minimum SFI-rating in order to compete. However, that does not mean that you should buy only their minimum.

How Do I Measure For a Suit?

A properly fitted racing suit not only provides protection against injury, it's a vital component to maximize your performance behind the wheel. If a race suit doesn't fit properly and is uncomfortable, your performance could be adversely affected. Accurate measurement of the driver is critical to ensure that the racing suit fits properly and is comfortable throughout a long night of racing.

Drivers come in all shapes and sizes so racing suit manufacturers offer a wide variety of standard sizes as well as custom "MTO" (made-to-order) racing suits. Most drivers can find a standard sized suit that will meet their performance and fit requirements, while other drivers are harder to fit and will require a custom suit.

Getting the proper measurement for standard racing suits require a few basic measurements of the driver. Standard racing suit measurements include the chest, waist, inseam, neck, height, and weight. Custom MTO race suits require additional measurements such as sleeve length, center back length, natural waist circumference, rise, thigh, hip, collar bone-to-crotch inseam (and bra size for female racers). Getting accurate measurements is critical to getting a racing suit that is comfortable and fits you properly.

There are a few important guidelines to follow to get an accurate measurement for your new racing suit. First and foremost, do not measure by yourself. Be sure to use a cloth measuring tape, commonly called a seamstress or tailor's tape measure. It is recommended that you take all measurements over well-fitting fireproof underwear or snug-fitting clothing. Do not take measurements over baggy or loose fitting clothing as you will not get accurate measurements. Be careful to not pull the tape too snug or too loose for the best accuracy. Finally, do not adjust measurements or make estimates or allowances in any way and be sure to take each measurement several times to ensure they are accurate.

It's important to note that some racing suit manufacturers use common sizing that we are familiar with in the United States (Small through XX-Large) while many others utilize Euro sizing (Euro 48 through 60) that are less familiar to most racers. Typically, the Euro sized racing suits are offered in an athletic cut that makes accurate measurement even more critical. There are also several more sizes available in Euro sizing range which provides the opportunity for a better fit. Unfortunately, many stocky drivers may find the athletic cut of Euro sized products to be too snug of a fit.