Wondering what to put on your Christmas wish list? Maybe your spouse or kids are already asking what you want this year? This may be a great opportunity to obtain some goodies for next year’s track season.
Those who have participated in our events know I am a strong proponent of having fun SAFELY. Not surprisingly I have two wish lists … one that is purely safety focused, and the other being ideas for gadgets and stocking-stuffers. Lets start with the smaller items:
- Racing gloves. Fireproof, yes. But also important is that they absorb perspiration and improve your grip on the steering wheel. I strongly recommend getting a bright colour (mine are red on the back side) so your hand can be more easily seen when extended out the window to point another driver by.
- Digital tire gauge (Longacre or Intercomp are both good names).
- Polarized sun glasses (if you haven’t tried polarized glasses, they make a huge difference when the sun is close to the horizon).
- Rain driving glasses (again, polarized are best but with light yellow lenses for improved contrast and definition of the driving surface in rain and grey-sky days … try looking at Cabela’s or a local fishing shop).
- Tire temperature probe … these are great if you are trying to sort out suspension settings and tire pressures to get the best grip (again, Longacre and Intercomp make great gear).
- Wide convex center mirror (again check out Longacre for some great mirros that mount on the roll cage).
- Driving shoes … fire rated if possible, but most importantly driving shoes have a thin sole and transmit pedal feel to the driver. A good pair of driving shoes will make threshold braking easier, as well as heal-toe downshifting.
- Suspension improvements … lowering kits, beefy sway bars, Delrin or poly suspension bushings, 97-way adjustable coil-over kits. Or maybe just consider asking for the gift of some time on the alignment rack at your local shop to properly corner weight and align your car so it sticks better in the corners.
- Brake improvements … racing brake pads, ducting, two-piece rotors (for their lower rotating mass). By the way, and this is my opinion, unless you are having a problem with brake fade or brake loss, and have already tried racing brake pads and ducting air to the rotor and caliper without any improvement, big brake kits are generally unnecessary.
- Additional set of track wheels and sticky tires (maybe some Nitto NT01s, Toyo R888s, or even Hoosiers R6 slicks). Remember if you’re getting slicks, you can’t drive them in the rain so you’ll need to haul street tires to the track if weather is sketchy. Toyo R888s are a great cross-over tire that will stick pretty well in the dry but still channel some water if it rains.
- Lightweight aluminum floor jack, aluminum jack stands, digital torque wrench, and maybe even a battery-powered impact wrench … all great if you change your own tires.
SAFETY Equipment … lets start the safety items discussion with a link to great video about the evolution of safety in road course racing … http://safeisfast.com/sectio
Helmets: An SA-rated motorsport helmet is designed for multiple impacts and has a fire-proof Nomex liner. This is far superior to a motorcycle helmet in a rollover or a fire. Think about getting a tinted visor so you don’t need to remember your sunglasses, also helpful if you wear prescription eyewear. Helmets are an item you want to try on before purchasing if possible … so I recommend shopping locally (see below).
Roll Bar: There is an aftermarket bolt-in roll bar out there for just about every sportscar, many of which can be installed and later removed with barely a trace. I have a roll bar in my Porsche that mounts to the factory-reinforced seat belt mountings … no welding or drilling required.
Racing Harnesses: Proper racing harnesses have multiple benefits over the factory 3-point seat belts. From a safety perspective, they keep you from moving around the cabin in the event of a collision. But they can also improve your driving enjoyment by keeping you firmly positioned in your seat at all times. Think about how much effort you are spending holding yourself in position. Maybe you have been pushing your knee against the door or transmission tunnel just to keep yourself in position, or maybe even using the steering wheel to also hold your upper body in position. Probably you are not aware of how much effort and concentration this takes, and how much less focus you have on your driving as a result. Having your butt and shoulders firmly anchored will make it seem like things have slowed down and become much quieter … the result being that it is easier to concentrate on driving at speed.
Remember that to install 4-, 5- or 6-point harnesses, you also need a roll bar or roll cage to secure the belts to, and to protect your head and neck in the event of a rollover (now that you are held firmly upright). The belts must fit across your shoulders close to your neck (not around the seats) to work properly, and this may require installing racing seats with belt cut-outs. Anti-submarine belts (the 5th and sometimes 6th belt) are an important safety feature, but properly positioning the anti-subs belt require a hole through the bottom of the seat … so again maybe an investment in racing seats will be required. Admittedly, moving up to racing harnesses can be a major leap, but the benefits are quite significant.
HANS Device: HANS is an acronym for Head And Neck Support, and the HANS-branded design has become the standard in motorsport. There are other systems, such as the Hutchens Device, which does not require two shoulder belts but has been banned by NASCAR. All such devices are meant to prevent basal skull fractures in high-impact collisions. I find it interesting that almost every medical doctor I know that goes to the track has a HANS-brand device. But again, you need a roll bar and racing restraints and seats with shoulder belt cut-outs … so the HANS can be a bit ticket item.
Seats: I’m not sure how much pure safety benefit you would get from installing a racing seat without harnesses, roll bar and HANS device. However, anything that keeps your butt and torso firmly planted will significantly improve your driving experience. If you already have racing seats, you may want to consider moving up to a newer containment or halo-type seat. These offer much more protection for your head and neck in the event of a side-impact collision. But unfortunately, halo seats are not really suitable for a dual-purpose street/track car.
Fire Extinguisher: A 2 lb or 5lb ABC extinguisher can keep things contained until help arrives. Plus lots of fires start in the pits, not just on the track in view of the marshals. Make sure you get a secure mount and use BOLTS & fender washers to secure it to the car (not sheet metal screws that can pull out in a collision).
Fire Suit: I think the safety part is self-explanatory. I’ve owned a couple of fire suits … my experience has been that a lighter suits makes a huge difference to your driving experience. Lighter suits are much cooler while driving, and they dry quicker between sessions. You may have noticed I’m not an ‘off the rack’ person … custom-made suits are not much more expensive than off the rack, plus they can stitch your company logo on and make the suit a business expense. If you are going to be in Los Angeles over the winter, the Simpson Fire Suit Factory is 20 minutes from LAX … get yourself measured by the same people who make the suits. Own your own business? Have your compny logo stitched on the suit to make it a pre-tax promotional expense.
Fire Suppression System: AFFF (foam) systems are fairly inexpensive. The importance of a fire suppression system is that it can be activated by the driver before unbelting, and provides occupants additional time to get out of the vehicle. It also buys some time if the occupant is unable to get out of the vehicle due to injury, and has to wait for the safety crew to arrive and extinguish the fire. The bottle can be mounted in the truck, and valves electrically activated from the cabin, if you want to keep things neat and tidy on your street car.
Whatever safety equipment you might buy, please make sure it is good quality, and properly rated. Your safety is worth every penny.
Please consider buying local. If you are purchasing safety items that need to fit your body to be effective, you may want to consider using a local vendor where you can try stuff on for size, or where the vendor can measure you and help determine the best fit. Also consider that the cost of cross-border shipping, brokerage and currency exchange can quickly negate any price benefits of using an online merchant, and any return shipping will definitely make the savings of online shopping disappear in a hurry.
And if you are driving a European car that needs some tweaks over the winter, please remember our biggest sponsor this season was Eurasia Automotive.
Chief Cook and Bottle Washer at Track Junkies