Head-and-neck restraint devices...
Head-and-neck restraint devices such as the Safety Solutions model (shown) are taking racing safety to the next step. A device should be considered for your racing effort, regardless of the level.
In a recent issue, we drove home the point about safety apparel for the driver. Now that your driver is wearing the right gear, it's time to make sure the restraints are in proper order to keep him or her firmly in place. In the past, many have given restraints little thought until a catastrophic accident occurs and the restraints did not perform as expected. Often, the restraints did the job for which they were designed, but age or improper use could have affected the outcome.
Safety belts could be considered one of the best replacement candidates in the driver's compartment. It is important to remember that these belts have an effective life span and are subject to faster deterioration than many other safety elements.
It is widely accepted that the safety belts need to be replaced no more than two years after the date of manufacture. "We suggest replacing the belts yearly," says Kevin Larkins of Speedway Motors. "You definitely need to inspect them after you have a situation like a wreck. If you need to replace them, then go ahead and do it. Make sure that the belt wasn't compromised by being torn."
There is also a quest for better materials in making safety belts. The primary materials are nylon and polyester, and Bob Postell of G-Force Racing Gear says they are continuing to use the nylon belts in their inventory. Testing has shown nylon to be sufficient for the sport, consistently meeting SFI safety standards testing. "The military has access to all the testing data and they are still using nylon restraints. Nylon does stretch a little more, about 16 to 20 percent with a 2,500-pound load. We're still looking at polyester. It retains much better, but it's putting a higher g-load on the body," says Postell.
Simpson vice president Doug Doolen says the company has found polyester to have a lower propensity to absorb water (such as sweat) and chemicals. New designs like the Simpson Platinum Series try to stop the whip effect, catching the driver in impact sooner and easing neck tension.
The material debate may be secondary to belt efficiency. In a motorsports application, proper mounting and installation are critical aspects to guarantee a part will do the job expected. Improper angles, insufficient mounting, or altered hardware may complicate the situation.
Quality belts have a "born-on" date listed on a tag, which is generally sewn into a shoulder belt. The tag shows the important date of manufacture with a punch-out showing the month and year. This is where the tech inspector is looking for his information.
There are some tracks and sanctions that specify belts can be as much as five years old before mandatory replacement. For the best possible results, replacements need to be more frequent.
"We know from the data that it's best to replace the belts more often than that," says Bob Stroud of Stroud Safety. "This is no conspiracy to sell belts. This is all about driver protection."
Another factor in belt efficiency is the elements, which have a direct effect on the life of the unit. "Ultraviolet light like sunlight is an enemy of the belts," adds Stroud. "If you don't think so, turn them over and look at the color. The sunny-side up is faded. You can take a set of belts, leave them in the sun for seven days, and you'll find there is a 40- to 50-percent loss in protection."
A new idea that could further enhance driver safety has come to stock car racing from open wheel racers. Drivers there utilize arm restraints for obvious reason. The idea is slowly catching on for others.
"The biggest thing I've noticed about arm restraints is that people wear them wrong," says Larkins, a racer himself. "Some wear them above the elbow; they're designed to be worn on the forearms."
Helmets do their best to protect the head from impact. Recently, there has been a step that essentially merges the helmet with the restraints to create the "head-and-neck restraint."
These devices have actually existed for more than 10 years and have been seen in other forms of racing. Oval track racing has caught up to this innovation, and some major series now mandate a head-and-neck device to be worn. In principle, the helmet is mounted to a restraint that allows the driver's head to move in conjunction with the body, reducing whip and cutting down lateral movement.
The Safety Solutions (formerly Hutchens) device and the HANS system require an alteration to the helmet. D-rings must be attached to the helmet for the systems to be used. Attaching D-rings to the helmets must be done carefully and below the test line used in determining Snell safety standards (HANS requires the helmet be submitted while the Safety Solutions device has helmet drilling instructions). A new system, called the SRS-1, marketed by G-Force is a complete unit. "We don't offer it with a retrofit," says Postell. "The other helmet manufacturers don't want the liability, and I don't blame them."
The system is composed of a cable assembly fixed to mounting points on the helmet supports that is connected to a strap and Nomex cape with a reaction rod inside the cape. The strap is made of a patented material called "tailored elongation restraint material." This material is designed to restrain the neck and head in a certain position before the work of the reaction rod comes into play. The rod, made of a high-strength composite material, slides up the back under the belts and limits the movement of the head and neck.
"The idea is to hold the helmet and keep it from rotating," says Postell. "This lets the neck go in a natural line and reduces the neck strain loads." The SRS-1 system allows the driver easier egress when needing to quickly exit the car. "Once you undo the belts, you can get out," adds Postell.
The systems mentioned are highly recommended. There are others on the market, but drivers are advised to watch claims and supporting data to determine if the product will work for the need.
Often Overlooked: Window Nets
Racers have the opportunity to take their safety to the next level with a simple part, but few do it. The window net, which is an inexpensive investment, is seldom seen unless mandated.
The nets themselves will meet SFI standards (spec 27.1), but there is no set standard for the mounting kits. Cars are so different that a standard has not been developed that will suit all needs.
G-Force window nets are made of polyester material and come in ribbon and mesh styles. "Some drivers prefer the mesh because it's easier to see through," says Postell. "The nets definitely play a role in making the driver safer." At a recent dirt Late Model event, there were five cars in a field of over 70 that used a window net.
Common sense needs to be the determining factor in a driver's choice of safety gear. While you cannot create a situation that is absolutely safe, you can certainly take steps to cut down the risks. The responsibility does not rest with the racetrack or the sanction, but with the driver. You won't violate the rules if you replace belts before the suggested time: You will violate them by doing it after the belts have served their purpose. It all comes down to a safe environment; you should want nothing less.
All belts are sold with a...
All belts are sold with a date tag that lists the month and year of manufacture. It's the item tech inspectors will check. For your own good, use this information wisely. Replace the belts every two years. Once a year would be even better.
While it's not a restraint...
While it's not a restraint in the typical sense, it does serve to soften the blow. Padding a steering wheel is another protection against driver impact and it's an inexpensive measure.
G-Force Racing Gear's SRS-1...
G-Force Racing Gear's SRS-1 system is sold mounted to the helmet, which eliminates the mistakes of do-it-yourself alterations. Special materials serve to keep the neck in line and reduce strains.
The window net is becoming...
The window net is becoming a rare sight in the pit area unless mandated by the rules. Window nets are inexpensive. If you don't run a window net because it obscures sight, you're looking out of the wrong window.