Safety equipment manufacturers are more than willing to dispense advice for drivers and crews in the market for safety products.
John Crow of Crow Enterprises in Anaheim, California, told us it is important to examine the current rules for driving gear in the series or track where teams compete. “Sanctioning bodies are constantly changing rules, and keeping up on them for safety equipment is not always as exciting as a new tire compound or spec muffler,” he said. “Take the time and find out what you need to pass tech, then start shopping around.”
David Dack of ATL Racing Fuel Cells in Ramsey, New Jersey, advised buying the best fuel cell the customer can afford, and to request one that carries the FIA FT# Certification label.
According to Kelli Willmore of Impact By Mastercraft Safety in Santee, California, the single most important aspect of purchasing any safety product is confidence in the brand and manufacturer.
“Well-known and longtime name brand safety companies will have a proven track record,” she said, “and the systems and processes in place to ensure that the same helmet layup that was tested and passed the required Snell Foundation standards is also the same helmet that is being produced and shipped to the consumer.”
Added Kevin McConnell of Stand 21, Huntington Beach, California: “The price should be the last consideration, as all that equipment at half the price will be much less durable, in addition to being much less efficient and less safe.”
For drag racing, “where accidents are numerous and of great violence, including very nasty fires, most teams prefer to invest in more expensive but truly performing equipment, rather than accepting offers of sponsoring from poor quality products manufacturers,” McConnell said.
As for helmets, McConnell said fitment must be optimized. “For us, the FIA and Snell standards are the only guarantee of a good level of protection. It is also best to choose a relatively lightweight helmet to prevent neck stress.
“Regarding suits, while fire is still their greatest risk, especially on alcohol fueled cars, heat stress is also critically important, especially for older gentleman drivers who are often overweight, and who are not in the physical condition comparable to professional drivers,” he continued. “Hence, they should purchase garments not based on fashion trends, but on performance. First, they want to assure for themselves that the garments in question meet an adequate certification level, such as SFI-3/2-A-5 or FIA-8856-2000— adequate for most tracks’ racing if worn with corresponding undergarments.
“Then, they should select garments offering a system of body ventilation and perspiration evaporation—breathable underwear combined with multiple layer suit—that really works. Claims of ‘breathable fabric,’ the true guarantee of some protection against heat stress, must be put to the test at the retailer level by blowing with sealed lips through the layers, against a sealed palm. No air circulation? Keep shopping. Also, fire retardant gloves, socks and shoes are critical,” he said.
Debbie Bishop of Simpson Performance Products in Mooresville, North Carolina, said drivers should take full control of their safety. “There is no one ‘silver bullet’ for a safe cockpit; you need an integrated system of seat, apparel, helmet, driver restraints, and more,” she said. “Buy from people you trust, those with a leading reputation in the safety industry—the same brands professional drivers use. When you need your safety gear, it may be a life or death situation, so don’t skimp on anything.”
Drivers and crews should educate themselves on what’s available and view their safety purchases as a complete system, making sure they are buying the correct equipment for their specific needs or racing application, according to Kyle Kietzmann of Bell Racing USA, Champaign, Illinois. “There is a tendency for some racers and teams to try and save money when it comes to safety, and [instead] utilize resources in areas that improve their performance on track,” he said. “We all understand the desire to be fast and win, but racers need to keep in mind the importance of doing so safely. After all, the majority of participants in the sport of racing still have to go to work on Monday morning, and their job is the primary source of revenue for their racing budget.”
Moving into vehicle safety equipment, we asked manufacturers whether they could offer any special instructions for installing and/or using these products.
Crow said, “We strongly recommend that if you purchase any head-and-neck device, you take time at the shop and fit your belts properly. Ninety-nine percent of the time the shoulder harnesses will need to be adjusted—something you don’t want to be doing at the track in a rush.”
ATL recommends following the sanctioning bodies’ rulebook and/or consulting a reputable chassis builder for installation assistance, Dack told us. The company also offers videos related to cell installation on its website: www.atlracing.com.
“The wearing of HANS devices requires a correct installation of the shoulder belts anchoring angles,” McConnell of Stand 21 said. “Racers complaining that their HANS devices fail to retain the belts over the devices’ legs need to reconsider the attachment points of the shoulder belts. We really emphasize the anchoring of shoulder belts, as we too often see cars, even among major manufacturers, with straps that are far too long, which in addition to failure to properly retain the HANS, stand a high risk of the driver’s torso being ejected during a severe crash.
“Always pay great attention to your equipment, inquire about their validity, return them to the manufacturer for inspection after an important racing incident, and do not hesitate to ask his advice if in doubt,” he added. “Never modify the equipment for any reason whatsoever. In such a case, certification is automatically lost and—much worse—the product may have become dangerous—even if the changes are minimal.”
Finally, when traveling to different race events, “we still see many racing harness sets improperly installed,” added Patrick Utt of RaceQuip, Riverview, Florida. “What we see most is shoulder harnesses attached too high or too low, or belts that are not threaded through the fasteners correctly. Auto racing safety equipment manufacturers, in conjunction with SFI, have come up with a standardized set of installation instructions for race car seat belt installation. These uniform best practice instructions are simple to follow and are provided with the belts by most manufacturers, or are available online.”