Friday, January 21, 2011

Safety Gear for Track Days

Far too often we focus on performance improvements for our cars and overlook key areas like coaching and even more importantly safety gear that we wear while driving on track. Our Balanced Approach lays out a simple upgrade path for you and your Lotus that helps rectify our often slanted view on faster lap times. This post will be focused on things that you should consider wearing before venturing out on track. Dave Thilenius - 2010 Continental Tire Champion - preaches that you should prepare yourself as though you will crash. He sagely reminds us that cars break and drivers make mistakes - so be ready!

What are the basics that you should consider? Here are the items that I feel should be a requisite for all:
  1. Closed faced Helmet
  2. Racing Suit
  3. Racing Shoes
  4. HANs device or similar
  5. Racing gloves
  6. Optional: Fireproof undergarments & earplugs
I am guilty as most, when I started doing track days with the BMWCCA
in the mid 90s, I simply followed the club's requirements which were a Helmet (Snell rated) and long sleeved shirt and pants made out of cotton. Over the years I added driving shoes and gloves to my attire. But not much more.

Four years ago I began upgrading my gear significantly after attending a Safety Seminar put on by Stand21 and CORE. Stand21 is a 40 year old company that focuses on driver safety gear from head to toe. They work with safety experts in the industry and academia to develop some of the best products. At this seminar, they brought in a professor from Wayne State Univ. to discuss various aspects of safety. I soaked up the info from this seminar like a sponge. Many of you have likely watched our safety seminar video and know that we take track safety very seriously.

I was thoroughly impressed with Stand21's approach and their service focus and decide to upgrade my gear. Their products are approved to the highest standards, FIA, SFI & SNELL. I also learned that they are one of the only companies licensed to produce HANs devices. Their focus on issues like Heat Stress was also important to me as we have serious heat in the summer here in Southern California that makes driving on track a true test of endurance!
From Stand21's Website:
Inside a racing car:
- Temperature can exceed 70°C (158°F)
- Humidity often reaches 60%
- Air flows are very limited
- A driver can expend as much as 400 calories per

I made a decision to begin buying their products, one by one, as my budget allowed. So each year, for the last 3, I have purchased their products. Another key reason I chose them is their custom sizing for their gear. I am short so usually have a hard time finding clothes that fit off the rack. They measured me and built gear that fit perfect - now I just need to stop indulging myself with too much of my lovely wife's cooking!
Here is the Stand21 gear I now own and use:
  1. IVOS Helmet
  2. HANs device 20deg Med - a good compromise for both Elise & Atom
  3. ST3000 suit - custom for my non-average build!
  4. Outside Seam gloves - an Ayrton Senna innovation
  5. HSC Fireproof Underwear - top, bottom, socks & balaclava
  6. Le Mans II Boots
The LeMans II boots are my latest addition. They offer a very narrow toe and a thin - yet stiff - sole. These are key features as the Lotus & Ariel pedal boxes are very tight! The stiff sole is something many driving shoes lack and it is an important feature to reduce foot fatigue. They will customize the boots to your needs as well.

Fire safety is a key area that many trackday enthusiasts overlook. Race cars are required to have plumbed in fire suppression systems for a reason - cars catch fire when run on track! Sometimes they can also explode, as one Exige S did at a Lotus Challenge event last year. The explosion shattered the rear glass as it engulfed the driver. He had an open face helmet and luckily only suffered some singed facial hair. I prefer full faced helmets for this reason (among others). He was wearing a fireproof suit as well. So please make sure you are clothed from head to toe with gear that will protect you!

I watched Boris Said extract himself from his race car at an ALMS race as shown in this picture - he was glad to be wearing a Stand21 suit. It takes more time to extricate yourself from a caged car with racing seat and harness than you may imagine. Our cars are especially small so it makes this a serious challenge. A fire can spread very quickly. Wear fireproof clothing to buy you extra time for these critical moments!

I list earplugs in my required list for a reason. I suffer from tinnitus - which is constant ringing in my ears. Loud cars, motorcycles and music have done me in, so don't suffer the same fate. Use ear plugs to muffle the sound while on track - especially if you have one of those loud pipes! There are some very good ear plugs that still allow you to hear the important noises while reducing dB levels. So don't forget ear safety!

There are many companies that produce good safety gear for all budgets. I chose Stand21 because of their focus, quality and approach with custom fitments. I would like to admonish each of you to invest in the proper gear so that you are fully prepared. Yes, buy safety gear for yourself BEFORE you spend money on Sector111 parts. Driving cars on track is a true joy - just be ready in case it breaks or you make a mistake.