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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Originally posted by Bill Strong

Racing Safety Equipment 101

Buying safety equipment is one of the most important purchases you make in motorsports. It may seem expensive but we are talking about your safety and good equipment will last 3-5 years. Different types of racing have different safety requirements, so before you buy check what the requirements are for your sanctioning body.

All helmets must be Snell SA rated. This means "Special Application" for racing. They have .120" thick shields, a fire resistant interior and are subjected to different crash tests than M rated "Motorcycle" helmets. Helmets come three ways: full-face, full-face without shield and open-face. Full-face helmets can have a small or large eyeport. Small eyeports are preferable in open cockpit racing to minimize the risk of flying objects getting through the shield to your face. Large eyeport helmets are preferred by sedan racers because they make it easier to see the gauges. Full-face helmets without shields have even better visibility and are much cooler, but do not completely protect your face. Open-face helmets offer the best visibility and comfort, but the least protection. Some helmets have vents, some don?t. More vents may keep you cooler, but they also provide more ways for fire to get in. Most helmets are fiberglass. The more expensive ones use special laminating processes or other materials like carbon fiber and kevlar to make them lighter ? causing less neck fatigue. Helmets are also made more expensive by aerodynamic engineering to prevent lift and buffeting in open-cockpit cars.
Correct helmet fit is critical. A helmet should be as snug as possible without giving you a headache. You can start with your hat size but that is just the beginning. With the helmet on, chin strap undone and neck held rigid, twist the helmet left and right to check for excessive play. Then, with the chin strap on, rock the helmet back then forward to see if it can roll off. Finally, watch a half-hour TV show with the helmet on. If it feels snug during these tests but doesn?t give you a headache, you have the right size.

The more layers of fire resistant material you are wearing, the better protected you are from fire. Most sanctioning bodies require either a single-layer suit with fire retardant underwear, a double-layer suit with underwear or a three-layer suit without underwear. There are some two-layer suits that do not need underwear, but they achieve this rating only by being extra heavy. A good three-layer suit is usually lighter than these heavy two-layer suits.
Most burns occur not from direct contact with flame, but from the heat. Because of this the space between the layers of a suit protect you just as much as the fabric does. This space acts as a cushion of cool air between your skin and the heat from the flame. It takes about six seconds for the temperature of a flame to transfer through a one-layer suit. A two-layer suit gives you about 14 seconds. A three-layer suit uses two cushions of air between three layers of fabric for 18-26 seconds of protection from the heat.
Features to look for in a suit include Nomex III or Nomex Delta C fabric, sewn together with Nomex or Kevlar thread, Nomex zippers, double-sewn ?serged? seams and knit panels for ventilation (but not too much because the knit fabric wears out quicker).

Gloves should be snug but comfortable when making a fist. Features to look for include two-layers of Nomex and Nomex under the palm. Some gloves are even sewn inside-out so the seams are on the outside. Although this is the most comfortable, it is the most expensive and the least durable. If you are racing a formula car you might want padding across the knuckles if they scrape the bodywork when you shift. You might also want a padded palm to prevent blisters from a vibrating wheel. Some gloves even have padding or extra leather around the thumb. The only drawback to all this protection is a loss of feel, but that is usually preferable to blisters!

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Discussion Starter · #2 ·

Racing shoes not only protect you from fire, but also help prevent you from tripping over yourself in the tiny footwells of formula cars. Racing shoes should feel like a slipper ? light, sleek and communicative. They come hi-top, mid-height, or lo-top. The hi-top offers the most fire protection, but can restrict ankle movement and fatigue your ankles and calves from working the pedals. An easy solution to this is to leave the top loose. A full Nomex interior is nice, but not too much padding as this will reduce sensitivity. Some shoes use a soft rubber sole. This gives great pedal feel, but fatigues your feet as the pedals dig in. Good shoes have a sole that is thin but stiff. Some even use a carbon fiber plate. This allows the sole to be extremely thin for maximum sensitivity, but also very stiff so pedal pressure is distributed across the entire foot. The sole should also roll up the back of the shoes and the right side of the right foot ? areas that wear the most. Some use a leather pad sewn on the right side instead of an extension of the glued rubber sole. This prevents it from peeling away under heavy use.

There are many accessories to be aware of. Nomex underwear is usually required if you are not wearing a 3-layer suit. You might want Nomex underwear anyway if you are using exotic fuels or have fuel lines running through the cockpit. It is nice to have for those cooler track days, and can also be used to absorb sweat to keep your suit clean. Head socks (balaclavas) are usually required if you have a beard or mustache. Nomex socks are required. Its nice to have two or three pairs to get you through a weekend. Most open-cockpit racers use arm-restraints to keep arms inside the car in case of a rollover. A helmet support is a must. This loose-fitting neck brace prevents the helmet from over-extending and breaking your neck in an accident. Formula car drivers need the horseshoe U-shaped collar to allow you to tuck your head down. Sedan racers can use the 360? type. Make sure it's Nomex. It is nice for the horseshoe collars to have tapered ends, and ?memory foam? is also a plus. For your helmet you might want a spare or tinted shield, a spare shield pivot kit and wrench, tearoffs and a FogCity fogshield. FogCity is a specially treated plastic liner that sticks to the inside of the shield making it like a double pane window preventing it from fogging up ? forever. Nothing else on the market is as reliable. Lastly, an equipment bag is nice. Look for one with multiple compartments to separate the clean from the dirty. One compartment should be big enough for your helmet and you might want it to be small enough to work as a carry-on at the airport.
Now not everyone has the budget to buy all of this stuff. How do you decide how much protection you need? An accountant once told me that deciding what to claim on your taxes wasn?t so much about right or wrong, but about what you were comfortable with (he doesn?t do my taxes anymore). This is the way it is with safety equipment. Once you have met the minimum requirements, you have to decide what your comfort level is - how much protection you need to feel comfortable in the car. The way I see it, proper equipment will allow me to KEEP RACING as long as possible. Racers may not fear death, but what about an injury that relegates you to the grandstands? Not a pleasant thought. In any case, have these things sorted out BEFORE you get to the race track, so these thoughts don?t occur when you are in the car!
Gregg Markarian - Manager, OMP USA

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Discussion Starter · #3 ·

Snell rated "SA" (Sports Application) professional helmets provide extreme impact resistance and higher fire protection than Snell "M" (Motorcycle) rated helmets. Closed helmets may reduce the possibility of spinal column injuries in head-on collisions. (The "chin protector" will strike the sternum (breastbone) and limit the head's forward movement.) For this reason, BELL MotorSports does not recommend open faced helmets and strongly urge you to use a professional contoured (not round or U shaped) neck collar while driving. The Jim Downing helmet restraint system should be considered. (Also proper helmet head rest and seat back re-inforcement)

BELL ULTRA & PRO and Bieffe SA helmets use carbon fiber and kevlar composites for strength and weight reduction. Fiberglass SA economy helmets, being heavier, are not particularly suitable for high speed competition. (The lighter the weight the less chance for injury plus reduced fatigue while cornering, allowing increased concentration) The choice of a premium series helmet is mandatory for serious racers. SA helmets generally have smaller eyeports as eyes remain focused straight ahead during competition and large, motorcycle eyeports are a distraction, allowing excess light entry, causing eye strain. Competition cars with windshields may use closed face helmets with shield in the open position in hot weather or to prevent fogging ? on impact the shield usually will close to prevent flying debris or fire entry. All SA helmets have a 1/8 inch thick polycarbonate shield in case of flying debris, provision for tear offs and offer clear, light, or dark tinted visors. (Fog free feature is optional) Clear or tinted permanent FOG CITY shield liners are recommended. Horizontal polarized/blue-blocking sunglasses are recommended for all daytime competition to prevent glare and eye strain. Helmet bags offer shield protection and eliminate odor absorption by the helmet liner from used clothing in equipment bags. To avoid liner odors clean with the suds only from a mixture of warm water and woolite, using a soft cloth.


Any BELL ULTRA & PRO or Bieffe SA helmet may be used. Aerodynamic features are suggested to minimize lift and buffeting. (Fuelling II, Dominator, F1-GP) Karters may use Snell K rated helmets. Drag racers requiring a lifeline system should contact NHRA ? rules are too vague for us to offer a system at this time.

SEDANS, PRODUCTION CARS: (any enclosed car with wind protection)

Any BELL or Bieffe SA helmet may be used, however we recommend lightweight construction, full face and vented models. (Vortex, M2 Pro, M3, Predator) Forced air helmets with fan/filter kits are recommended where size/weight is not a factor for hot climates, endurance, rallys and long duration races. Fiberglass SA helmets (Sport II, M2) may be used for lower speed events. (Drivers schools, short track, over 10 second bracket drag racing,

Solo 1) Ralliests requiring communication with co-drivers prefer either the SR Pro or Integral. Prescription glasses that wrap around the ears may require use of the larger eyeport in the M2 Pro or M2 fiberglass helmets. Bracket racers may use M rated helmets. (Racestar, Star 1, M1)


BELL XFM, Bieffe F1 or F1-GP are unvented lightweight composite helmets suitable for all forms of racing. (Sprint, Baja, tractor pull, etc.) Sprint drivers and other higher speed competition cars where the helmet is exposed to the air stream prefer the F1-GP for its aerodynamic features.

When choosing a suit, always give proper consideration to safety, comfort and price. For most types of racing we recommend a one piece suit with a minimum of two layers and underwear for protection against fire and hot liquids. (Autocrossers should wear 100% cotton or wool only ? Karters heavy gauge nylon with skid pads) Even if running in a destruction derby 1 layer Proban suits, even with underwear, offer little more than a false sense of security. Jacket and pants, while convenient, don?t afford near the protection of a one piece suit ? if used jacket should be tucked into the pants during competition to prevent fire getting underneath. (Keep in mind in an accident, or trying to exit the car afterwards, the jacket is prone to pull out) No standard (fixed arm or unvented) suit allows you to drive with maximum concentration, or fully enjoy our sport. I strongly suggest you consider a vented suit if running in the daytime and purchase only suits with knit arm attachment, knit collars and waist expansion panels for comfort. For Fuel Drag cars and Bonneville competitors custom made SFI-15 & 20 rated suits are available.

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Discussion Starter · #4 ·

For ready-made suits, the most important size is the chest, waist (beer belly), and trunk. To measure trunk, hold the tape exactly on the seam juncture of the inside of the pant leg and crotch. Stand in an upright position (with belly relaxed and a normal breath of air in the lungs), and measure from the crotch (halfway back) to the "V" in the collar bone (E1 & E2 on measurement chart) Make exact measurements. Your height and weight are next. (We will add a minimum of two inches on chest and waist size for a correct fit) To spare you the cost of a custom fitted suit, all of our better, vented suits come in both short and tall sizes. Arm and leg length may be shortened, if necessary, by any local alteration shop. Remember: A tight fitting suit may look good, but it's useless for competition. A bulkier fit is more comfortable for driving because the extra space allows easier movement and keeps you cooler longer, especially in a fire.

Only vented suits can keep you cooler. (NASA PRO series suits up to 24 degrees) A one degree rise in core body temperature will drastically reduce concentration. A two degree rise will tenfold error rates. This loss of concentration accounts for many errors and accidents late in a race during normal ambient temperatures. Don't consider a "fixed-arm" (unvented) style of sweat suit construction if you race under the sun or in temperatures above 75 degrees. Vented suits cool four ways: evaporation, air exchange, wind chill factor (which keeps maximum body surface temperatures below ambient temperature), and by eliminating humidity rise. Knit venting on arm attachment and leg/waist also allows maximum freedom of movement.

Properly fitted gloves need to be snug with your hands positioned as though you were gripping the steering wheel. With fingers straightened, the glove should feel tight, the individual finger seams need not come completely to the palm, and the area between the thumb and first finger may be webbed. (Driver's gloves should only be comfortable and fit correctly when gripping the wheel.) Wheel feel is important ? multi layer leather palm/finger gloves restrict feel and offer little fire protection. Higher grip force is required to compress leather in the finger joints and can lead to fatigue in long races. We consider hand safety to be of the utmost importance. You must be able to use your hands to exit a burning vehicle. We suggest using at a minimum SFI-5 two-layer gloves. PRO series gloves use kevlar in the palm and seamless kevlar liners. An elastic retention band is used at the wrist to prevent "stripping" and the elastic knuckle protector also keeps the glove from developing "folds" in the palm area which can cause blisters. These construction techniques are time consuming, but offer lighter weight, greater feel (wheel feedback), less gripping force, comfort and extreme protection. (leather "wear" patch in palm/thumb area is designed to fall off in a fire) - and almost a TPP of 15!

Our PRO Series FIREWEAR knit is significantly cooler than Nomex. Nomex will defeat most of the advantages of vented driving suits, as, being fiberglass, will not absorb and transmit moisture. FIREWEAR knit headsocks absorb sweat and reduce "salt burn" caused by perspiration running into the eyes during competition A single eyeport should be used, except for drag racing, as twin eye holes might shift partially blocking vision. One layer is usually sufficient with prfoperly designed SFI-5 suits and an SA rated closed face helmet. Nomex socks are a must ? I personally wear 100% cotton socks underneath having seen what can happen when melted nomex is attached to the skin. I recommend Jockey shorts for support and our FIREWEAR knit underwear (wet during hot weather) under any suit. The top may be rinsed between sessions or changed. The SFI Foundation states FIREWEAR underwear may be soaked in water prior to use. Besides cooling, it will increase fire safety. (We do not recommend soaking Nomex underwear.)

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Discussion Starter · #5 ·
When standing shoes should fit tightly, with no excess toe room (you lose a half size when sitting). There should be no protruding sole to catch under pedals. They are meant to wear while driving only, not for comfort while walking around the pits or style. (We recommend using slip-on, soft sole loafers between race sessions) Safety and pedal feel are prime considerations. Width should not be cramped, or else loss of feeling (tingling) will occur from blood flow restriction. PYROTECT racing shoes are the standard of the industry and afford ankle high protection. (Never wear a low top shoe ? if your ankle is burned no amount of healing will restore your ability to walk) Because leather transfers heat quickly PRO series shoes are available in formula (soft sole) or production (composite sole) styles. Hand made (limited availability) with nomex outer, insulite foam heat barrier and kevlar linings, they feature laceless, velcro closures (10 seconds on/off) and adjustable heel straps. Like PRO series gloves, leather is used only in wear areas and designed to fall off in a fire. They provide maximum pedal feel, comfort and safety. (Up to twice the burn protection SFI-5 requires).


Recommended for Drivers, Crew, Workers and Spectators.
Exposure to race engine noise will result in Tinnitus, a constant ringing in the ears and lowered ability to understand speech later in life. Tinnitus is irreversible and there is no known cure. Hearing aids will not help. Speech becomes garbled and incomprehensible. This loss is cumulative with time and exposure and decibel rating.

5 point harnesses are designed for upright sitting positions where the sub belt restricts upward movement of the body during roll-overs. 6 point belts keep lay down position drivers from submarining out from under their restraints in a forward collision. Individual shoulder straps, properly mounted, minimize side to side movement of the driver. "Y" type harnesses are not recommended as they may cause injury by applying side pressure to the spine in an accident. All belts should be kept to a minimum length possible ? webbing stretches under impact. 3" wide webbing (except for sub straps) is recommended for all systems. Sternum straps are not advised. In an emergency exit safety personnel - and you ? may forget an additional release is required. (We recommend our PRO H pads if you wish additional side to side support) Pull up or down lap belts with wrap ends are standard, snap ends/eyebolts or bolt plates are optional. Refer to your race sanctioning bodies rule book for proper mounting angles, hardware and installation requirements.

Our new PRO Series harness systems offer reversible course/fine lap adjusters, velcro locking small latch assembly, 12" long HD foam lap pad, shoulder adjust pull tabs and release tabs. These will fit any competition car ? formula, sprint or sedan ? and offer additional protection to the abdomen plus extreme ease of adjustment. European gold PRO cam and PRO English style 6 point formula car systems are available.

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Discussion Starter · #6 ·
So that everyone basically understands safety burn ratings, here are some facts:
SFI-1= 13 seconds, SFI-5 =19 seconds, TPP, the Industry standard.
EXAMPLE: A brand new SFI-1,one layer proban (or nomex) suit without underwear might have a TPP, under ideal conditions of 13 seconds. (In reality, due to wear, impurities, etc., closer to 9.5.) ALARM, that is the awareness of heat, would occur in 3.1 seconds. PAIN would occur in 3.4 seconds, and actual BURN would start at 6.5 seconds - under ideal conditions. Cut those times in half for a worn suit, or one with oil residue stains. (Underwear would add some additional safety margin) These are the same standards used for the Fire Fighting Industry, and the Military. (Military pilots and firefighters are all required to wear fire retardant underwear) The difference is, a jet pilot can hit the ejection seat, and a fireman can retreat. A race driver cannot: he must first bring his car to a stop, unbuckle, then clear the window net or cowling. (Note that even at 50 mph., all time is used just to bring the car to a stop.)

This is not to scare you, these facts are so you can make a sound judgement on the level of safety you will feel comfortable with. Do you have an on-board fire system? Is it of sufficient capacity? Is the engine in front or behind you? Fuel cell? All steel lines? No holes in the firewall? What is the relative danger of the course you are on - i.e., 1/4 mile oval with banking, or road race with all concrete barrier walls and no run off areas? Top speed? Based on all of the foregoing, my suit would be an SFI-5 with Firewear underwear and 100% cotton Tee shirt. (On days above 75 degrees, I would also soak the Firewear underwear in cold water for added comfort/protection.) That's for road or oval track - for drag I would be in an SFI-15, if I was burning any race fuel, otherwise SFI-5. (Except Stock cars.)

It goes without saying, a closed face SA rated helmet is a must. Long hair, moustache, or beard require a balaclava (headsock). For closed cars (windshield) the visor may be worn open for air flow. (On impact it will usually close to protect against flying glass and flames - or may be closed manually.) Here, I will also mention the use of a contoured collar (not 360 degrees round), can more than double the protection against neck injury. But, let's get to the other considerations - hands and feet. Many sanctioning bodies allow leather for shoes and gloves. Leather transfers heat almost instantly, and shrinks with sufficient force to crush foot/hand bones. Any man made plastic or rubber will burn, or worse, melt and can imbed into the skin, requiring skin grafting. You must use your hands and feet in a fire, yet, they have TPP ratings of less than your drivers suit. Any scar tissue on your ankles or hands will severely limit use. Nomex socks are a must, and I don't mean dirty or worn thin. I personally would not think of driving with a plastic, leather or rubber shoe. The same goes for gloves. With the advent of fire resistant materials, and now Kevlar, no one need settle for inferior materials and take unnecessary fire risk.

A word of caution for all drivers, crew, workers - even spectators. Only 100% cotton or wool garments should be worn. Polyester, blends and acrylics melt, and when next to skin will require skin grafting. It is not a pretty sight. 50/50 Tee shirts and acrylic socks are the worst offenders. Also, check jackets and sweatshirts.

I honestly believe our PRO Series gloves, shoes and collars offer as much as double the actual protection of any other brand available today. While Kevlar is expensive, we use it whenever possible in our products in lieu of leather. We try to use leather only as an applique for wear, and it is designed so that upon being subjected to fire, it will fall off due to the shear action on the thread caused by shrinkage. Our PRO Series shoes are constructed of nomex outer, an insulating silica foam heat barrier, and kevlar liner, and while TPP rated a "5" - approach 15. The man made "sole" of our shoes is laminated to a leather outer sole, and the inside construction is multiple layers of insulite, kevlar and nomex for extreme protection. These construction techniques are time consuming, but offer lighter weight, greater feel, comfort and extreme protection. Remember Bell's old advertisement, "If you have a $10 head, wear a $10 helmet"? Remember "Safety equipment is like a chain - it is only as good as its weakest link." Why have a firesuit that protects you if your going to have a broken neck or loose your hands or feet in a fire?

Bob Booth

For additional, information or suggestions call: BELL Motorsports' Racer Hotline 510-536-2355

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