What Safety Equipment do you Pack for the Track?
We love bringing our cars to the track to set a few hot laps. Amidst brake bleeding and checking fluid levels, a factor that is often overlooked is track safety equipment of the kind worn by the driver. Checking out one of the local track day events in Malaysia revealed that a majority of folks dressed in different attires. On display among the racing suits and full-sleeved shirts were also drivers sporting shorts, t-shirts and jeans. Very few were wearing a proper racing suit while many were missing the basic safety equipment such as gloves, FIA approved helmets or balaclavas which led me to wonder what sort of safety equipment might be vital considering the relatively high risk of track days where most are pushing their machines to the limit.
Only about half of the drivers I saw on track had gloves of any kind. The gloves worn ranged from brands such as OMP or Sparco and also included gloves meant for non-motoring applications; think diving gloves, gardening gloves and so on. Despite being relatively underemphasized, a proper grip on the steering wheel is essential which is why sometimes Alcantara is used for steering wheel grip material as it provides necessary friction even when the driver has sweaty palms. A small outlay into a proper set of gloves would go a long way to ensure that a slippery steering wheel doesn’t end up causing tragic consequences especially when cornering at 150 kmh.
The most important investment for tracking is a good helmet from a trustworthy brand such as Arai or Simpson certified with the SA rated level of protection. The SA rating is designated for auto racing applications while the alternative M rating is meant for motorcycling. The SA rated helmets incorporate a layer of flame retardant material (a test of fire resistance is also required) and are tested for resistance to multiple impacts such as roll cage impact in a crash. A quality helmet not only provides protection against impact in any crash situation but also fire protection while remaining light enough to not cause neck fatigue over long periods of driving. Some helmets also incorporate ventilation ducting to cool the driver and anti-glare visors to help the driver see better when driving into the sun. Most drivers at the track days I’ve attended tend to use cheap $50.00 helmets which are clearly inadequate. As the saying goes, the value of your helmet speaks volumes about how much you value what’s underneath.
Fire protection garments such as balaclava and racing suits are not strictly necessary for most track days but would definitely provide good fire resistance protection should a fire break out after a crash. I currently use a balaclava by Alpine Stars which is light and comfortable to wear. As fire incidents are fairly low, I hardly see any people donning such fire garments much less fit fire suppression systems in their cars or even carry the most basic of fire extinguishers. Sadly, I’ve known of cases where a car might have been saved if a fire extinguisher had been installed within arm’s reach.
A HANS (Head and Neck Support) device is also used in auto racing and karting to give protection to the drivers head and neck should an impact take place. Even if there is no direct contact by the driver to the object of impact, the force delivered from the crash could cause significant injuries even at speeds as low as 35 mph. This is especially of concern in open wheel racing cars and karts where the risk of flipping over is ever present. Neck injuries can be potentially crippling which is why many competitive racers and regular track junkies don the HANS device.
I hope that reading this article will lead to our community of track junkies and racers to think twice about the safety aspect the next time they consider going out on track and possibly sacrifice a performance mod for the sake of that all-important driver mod. Come to think of it, all we really look forward to is enjoying the thrill of driving our S2000 on track again and again. In that light, don’t you think a little investment in safety will reward you in the long run?
Photos courtesy of JulieU and spets