Racing Safety Equipment - Gear Up

Buying Safety Gear Could Be the Most Important Decision of Your Life

Another common piece of safety gear is shoes. Your Camaro is controlled with your hands and feet, so like gloves, it's imp ortant to have shoes that are comfortable and provide good pedal feel. Unlike the sneakers you wear around town, driving shoes have thin soles for better feel. These shoes from Impact have an aggressive sole design for precise pedal control in addition to a fire-retardant inner lining. Like the gloves, they are rated to SFI 3.3/5.

Camp 1212 04 Racing Safety Equipment Impact Shoes 2/11

Like helmets, driving suits are big-ticket items. Again, people tend to price shop instead of buying based on comfort and protection. There was a time when racers just wore jeans and a cotton T-shirt (if they were really serious, it would be a long-sleeve shirt). Today, safety is taken a bit more seriously, and thanks to the aftermarket, you can be safe without having to take out a second on the house. A common specification is SFI 3.2A, which tests a suit's fire-retardant capabilities. This spec rates the garment's ability to provide Thermal Protective Performance (TPP) to both radiant heat and direct flame. This data is then converted to the time it takes before a second-degree, or skin-blistering, burn occurs. The SFI Spec 3.2A also tests thread heat resistance, zipper heat resistance, and multiple-layer thermal-shrinkage resistance. They also perform an after-flame test. Here, a direct flame is applied to the fabric and then removed. The time it takes the fabric to self-extinguish is measured and this after-flame time must be 2.0 seconds or less for it to pass. The cuff material must also pass the same test. Many people think that the SFI ratings represent the number of fabric layers in the suit, but due to the wide range of materials used by manufacturers today, it's possible for driver suits with various numbers of layers to have the same SFI rating. However, because most burns are caused by heat transfer rather than direct flame, using multiple layers of fabric provides greater insulation due to the air gaps. This is also why you don't want a fire suit that fits too snugly.

Camp 1212 05 Racing Safety Equipment Impact Driving Suit 3/11

Multiple layers of fabric help keep the heat source from the skin longer because they create air gaps, and air is a poor conductor of heat energy. One way to get extra air gaps is to wear racing underwear. These should be worn with every driver suit, but especially single layer suits since it will double the minimum protection time. According to Kelli Willmore of Impact, "Nomex undergarments are always recommended and can add 10 to 20 seconds of additional fire protection. Wearing them with a suit also adds a cooling effect as well, and many of our racers prefer to go this route. As the body sweats it creates a sort of air-conditioning effect. We've have heard this time and time again from our racers."

Camp 1212 06 Racing Safety Equipment Nomex Undergarment 4/11

Take care of your gear. You spent good money on equipment so don't go wearing your suit or gloves while working on your car in the paddock or pits. Not only could you end up looking grungy, but letting grease, fuel, oil, or other fluids soak into the fabric isn't a great idea since this can support flames and lower the gear's protective ability. Even fluids that don't burn are hazardous since they produce steam when exposed to heat. When cleaning your gear, follow the manufacturer's instructions and discard a suit if it's ever involved in even a small fire. What we have found to work the best when washing a suit is a detergent that is as close to neutral PH balance (such as Woolite) using cold or warm water. The suit can be tumbled dry on low heat for about 15 minutes to remove excess moisture and then hung up to dry the remainder of the way. "When washing and drying it is important to wash the suit right side out with everything all zipped up and Velcro'd up so the Velcro and zipper don't snag the material," relayed Kelli.

Camp 1212 07 Racing Safety Equipment Washing Instructions 5/11

It's fairly common to want to dress up your driving suit with some patches to highlight races you've been in or to support sponsors, but it's imperative you do it the right way. As Kelli explained, "We recommend that the patches are made from a fire-resistant material (such as Nomex). If the racer is in need of sponsor branding, the most ideal scenario is to have the embroidery done by the factory during the assembly process to ensure the suit stays within SFI or FIA specification. Impact embroiders only the outer layer, ensuring the integrity of the suit is maintained. The addition of embroidery after the suit is assembled could reduce the TPP and decrease the suit's ability to protect from heat transfer. The FIA's specification specifically states the embroidery is not to penetrate both layers of the suit. We (Impact) have added patches onto crew and driver's suits using the original material and thread used in the manufacturing of the suit. It's never recommended to embroider a suit after assembly and penetrate that inner layer. That's a big "no-no" and would render the suit unusable in FIA-sanctioned events."

Camp 1212 08 Racing Safety Equipment Patches 6/11

If you're really serious about safety, then you need to consider a head and neck restraint system like a HANS device. These work by coupling the motions of the head and neck to the torso. This coupling transfers the load that would have been taken by the head and neck areas and transfers them to the helmet tethers and yoke, which is secured by the shoulder belts. This means that the g-forces are distributed over a larger area that includes the chest and shoulders. Some racers think that the HANS device restricts the neck motion too much and makes it hard to look around. This isn't the case if the tethers are properly adjusted. In short, a properly fitted HANS device, along with a helmet equipped with the proper anchor points, will drastically lower the chance that you'll wind up severely injured, or worse, in a bad accident at the track. People often mistakenly think that seemingly exotic equipment like this isn't needed unless you're going very fast, but the truth is that how fast you go isn't always relevant, instead, the critical factor is how quickly you stop.

Camp 1212 09 Racing Safety Equipment Hans Device 7/11

Even more important than the SFI Rating, in terms of safety, is the piece of equipment’s TPP value. The TPP, or Thermal Protective Performance, is a measurement of that garment’s ability to provide protection to both radiant heat and direct flame. The higher the TPP value the longer you can hold out before second-degree burns occur. Given this, you can have two garments with the same SFI rating, but different thermal performance. For example, two driver suits could each have an SFI rating of 3.2A/5, but one could have a TPP value of 19 (10 seconds) and the other could have a value of 25 (13 seconds). Just know that if a garment has a certain SFI rating, then you have at least the minimum amount of time to get clear of the danger. According to Kelli, “Depending on what the racer wants and needs, we can fabricate a heavier suit with more layers as long as we have submitted that layer to SFI and it has passed the required testing. We research and design our suits to exceed the TPP test, however, we also keep the weight and breathability in mind as driver fatigue is often a safety concern in hot and humid climates.The first step to getting the racers to use safety products is to make sure they are actually comfortable in their safety products.”

SFI Rating TPP Value Time to 2nd Degree Burn
3.2A/1 6 3 Seconds
3.2A/3 14 7 Seconds
3.2A/5 19 10 Seconds
3.2A/10 38 19 Seconds
3.2A/15 60 30 Seconds
3.2A/20 80 40 Seconds

The key differences between SA and M Rated Helmets

  • SA standard requires flammability test while the M standard does not.
  • SA standard has rollbar impact test while M standard does not.
  • SA standard allows narrower visual field than M standard (Some SA helmets aren’t street legal).


Impact Racing
Brownsburg, IN
SFI Foundation Inc.
Poway, CA 92064
Snell Memorial Foundation
North Highlands, CA 95660


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