Let’s be forthright and honest … getting on a racetrack and pushing your limits and the limits of your vehicle has some inherent risks. A minimum level of safety equipment is a reasonable start, but as your driving level increases and you start to push harder, your risk level also increases. Not surprisingly, there is lots of equipment available to make your experience safer.
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 we 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. If you own a late model Porsche 911, for example, there are several roll bars available that attach to the factory-reinforced seat belt mountings … no welding or drilling required. To be effective, roll bars must be constructed of tubing diameter and thickness that will support the weight of the vehicle on impact, triangulated fore-and-aft as well as side-to-side so they do not fold over when called upon to protect, and attached to a reinforced mounting point (this can be either a point reinforced by the manufacturer of the vehicle, or reinforced as part of the installation). For more information on roll bars and roll cages, please refer to the ASN Canada FIA regulations for roll bars and roll cages found here www.asncanada.com/ASN_Solosport/ASN_Canada_FIA_App-C&D_RollCage.pdf.
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). A simple harness bar is not sufficient, and use of 4-, 5-, or 6-point harnesses without rollover protection is not permitted in our events. 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 an investment in racing seats may 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 universally-approved standard in motorsport. There are other systems, such as the Hutchens Device, which does not require two shoulder belts but has not been universally-approved by sanctioning bodies (the Hutchens Device has been banned by NASCAR, for example). 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. Head and neck restraints are mandatory when using fixed, multi-point racing seat belts.
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, so lets talk about getting the right suit. 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. Not all of us are ‘off the rack’ people … custom-made suits are not much more expensive than off the rack. If you are going to be in Los Angeles, the Simpson Fire Suit Factory is 20 minutes from LAX … why not get yourself measured by the same people who make the suits? Own your own business? The factory can stitch your company logo on the suit, with Nomex thread of course, making your fire suit a pre-tax promotional expense for the business.
As part of a fire suit, you will need gloves. Gloves are also important in 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.
Lastly, please keep your fire suit clean. I can’t count the number of times I’ve seen people walking around a paddock in an oil- and grease-stained fire suit. What good is wearing an oil-soaked rag going to do you in a fire?
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 remotely (such as in the trunk or back seat area), and valves electrically or mechanically activated from the cabin, if you want to keep things neat and tidy on your street car. Remember … AFFF systems are water-based and will freeze in the winter so please remember to store the bottle inside at the end of the season.
Whatever safety equipment you might buy, please make sure it is good quality, and properly rated. Your safety is worth every penny.
Please also 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.
If you have questions about safety equipment, please feel free to contact us. We are not engineers and cannot sign off on the design of any particular device, however we’d be happy to help you with the decision process.