Racing Safety Equipment - Gear Up
Buying Safety Gear Could Be the Most Important Decision of Your Life
From the December, 2012 issue of Camaro Performers
By Steven Rupp
Photography by Henry Z. DeKuyper
Unlike all the other “fun” trinkets pertaining to your Camaro, safety gear is the one group of items you hope you’ll never get the chance to find out how well they work. Unfortunately, many people buy it like they purchase car insurance. That is to say they shop price on the faulty and dangerous assumption that they’ll never have to use it. We call it the “other guy” state of mind where people just figure that the bad turns in life always happen to someone else. Well, when things go sideways and you find yourself upside down and on fire, do you want to be wishing you spent a few extra bucks for a fire resistant helmet or a better driver suit? Just like insurance, you should shop like you’re gonna’ need it and that your life depends on it, because it will.
Now, shopping for safety gear can get a bit daunting, but there are several organizations that certify equipment to various standards. Your first task is to determine what sort of driving you’ll be doing. After all, autocross racing is going to require a different level of safety gear than open road racing, where speeds can exceed 140 mph. Road course gear will differ from drag racing gear requirements, and once you figure out where you’re going to pilot your Camaro, you’ll need to check with the specific sanctioning body to find out the minimum they require you to have on hand. If you’re going to engage in various types of events (let’s say, drag racing and autocross) make sure to buy gear that will pass tech at both, even if it ends up being overkill for one of them. After all, it isn’t possible to have gear that’s too safe.
When buying gear you’re going to come across SFI ratings. The SFI Foundation is a non-profit organization established to issue and administer standards for automotive and racing equipment. They were originally run by SEMA (in fact, “SFI” stood for “SEMA Foundation, Inc.”), but they are now completely independent. Participation in the program is voluntary, but since many race sanctioning bodies require SFI certification, most manufacturers play in their sandbox. You’ll find that safety gear comes in various levels of SFI ratings, so when you shop, try to make sure they are all of the same ratings. After all, having a driving suit that provides 10 seconds of protection and gloves that provide only 3 seconds, makes little sense. Both the SFI and Snell websites offer a ton of safety-related information, so be sure to check them out.
The helmet is Impact's SA2010 compliant 1320 model ($295) and features interchangeable sizing cheekpads, a fire-retardant Kevlar chinstrap and a 1?8-inch polycarbonate shield. Rated at SFI 3.2A/5 the G4 gloves ($109) offer protection along with good dexterity and grip. The Racer driving suit ($599) features a matte-finish Futura Nomex shell with a their ImpactMAX cool and comfortable fire-retardant liner, floating 360-degree sleeves, expandable lower back gusset, box quilting, inset front pockets, and a banded collar. .What is your life worth? Yeah, you could buy bargain-basement safety gear, but this high-quality gear loadout from Impact has a suggested retail price of just $1,108. The M/T Sprint shoes ($105) provide good pedal feel along with an SFI 3.2A/5 rating.
What is your life worth? Yeah, you could buy bargain-basement safety gear, but this high-quality gear loadout from Impact has a suggested retail price of just $1,108.
- The helmet is Impact's SA2010 compliant 1320 model ($295) and features interchangeable sizing cheekpads, a fire-retardant Kevlar chinstrap and a 1?8-inch polycarbonate shield.
- Rated at SFI 3.2A/5 the G4 gloves ($109) offer protection along with good dexterity and grip.
- The Racer driving suit ($599) features a matte-finish Futura Nomex shell with a their ImpactMAX cool and comfortable fire-retardant liner, floating 360-degree sleeves, expandable lower back gusset, box quilting, inset front pockets, and a banded collar.
- The M/T Sprint shoes ($105) provide good pedal feel along with an SFI 3.2A/5 rating.
where you race, chances are you'll be required to have a helmet. But which type? Nothing sucks more than failing tech and sitting on the sideline because you bought a helmet that doesn't have the right certification. Also, some organizations are fine with an open-face helmet, while others require a full-face. Again, if you're going to run in a variety of events, then go full-face, since nobody is going to fail you at tech for not having an open-face helmet. Helmets are comprised of several components: the hard outer shell is the main defense against impact. Inside of that, there's an energy-absorbing material (EAM), often referred to as the liner. This liner also helps absorb impact energy and reduce trauma to the head. Lastly, there's padding, which is only there for comfort and sizing, since it doesn't absorb any impact energy. All helmets will have some sort of chinstrap to keep it in place, and full-face helmets will have a clear face shield. We shed a tear whenever we see someone driving on track with their face shield up. It's there for a reason, so please keep it down. Carbon-fiber helmets are fairly common today and can easily set you back over a grand, but their light weight really ratchets up the comfort level. Also, various helmets are shaped differently, and therefore, fit quite a bit differently, so make sure you try them on before buying.
certify helmets: SFI and Snell. We've found that most organizations call out for the Snell rating. The three designations are SA, M, and K. The K designation is for karting, so just toss that one out. The M is mostly for motorcycling, while the SA designation is for competitive auto racing. The main difference between M and SA is that the SA is tested for flammability, while the M is not. After all, when you crash on a motorcycle, you're typically tossed away from the vehicle and any resulting fire. Some autocross groups, like SCCA Solo, will let you slide by with an M rated helmet, but resist the urge to save some cash. Buy an SA-rated brain bucket. Remember, buy it like you'll need it. There will also be a date code listed. They run in five-year increments (2000, 2005, 2010). The rules typically state that you need to run the current year (2010) or the prior year (2005), so now that the SA2010 helmets are out, the SA2000 helmets will no longer pass tech for many higher speed events. So, if you see a smoking deal on an SA2005 helmet, consider the fact that in a few years, when the new SA2015 standard goes into effect, it will be put on the "no-fly" list. With that in mind, it might make better financial sense to buy the latest and greatest SA2010 standard. Lastly, if you see an H in the rating (e.g., SAH2010), then the helmet is certified as head-restraint ready (think HANS device).
, the next most common piece of gear is gloves. In addition to providing more grip on the wheel, they keep your hands, which we're all very fond of, protected from damage in case things go from bad to worse. Gloves, just like driver suits and shoes, are SFI rated to various standards. As a rule of thumb, the higher the rating (i.e., the more protection), the greater the cost. These Impact gloves carry an SFI rating of 3.3/5, which means they will protect you from a second-degree burn for a minimum of 10 seconds. (See chart elsewhere in this article.)