Helmets, Seat Belts, and Clothing
February 13, 2012 at 11:04 #7355
Well, protecting that space between your ears is a big task for a helmet. A helmets main job is to protect the brain and head, and it is the last line of defence in an impact. Besides impact protection, a helmet must also offer us fire protection in our Oval racing. Helmets not designed for Motorsport do not offer us sufficient safety in Oval racing.
Most promotions require us to meet certified safety ratings. Snell for example is one of them. The Snell Memorial Foundation is an independent rating organisation that sets a standard for helmet safety.
Helmet construction and materials used, do vary between manufacturers, but most utilise the same principles. A helmet has a hard shell to dissipate as much energy as possible. The second layer is the liner, which is a thick layer of energy absorbing material. For multiple impacts, liners that restore to its original shape are vital. Finally, the interior liner is the part that contacts the driver, and it is also where the fire retardant material is found. I hope it’s never needed, but please remember that the effectiveness of this material is seriously reduced by the presence of grease and dirt on it.
Close faced helmets, the norm nowadays, offer the most protection from fire and impact. Most importantly, all Motorsport helmets on the market today are designed to withstand only one hard impact. Therefore, if yours has taken a hard hit, its effectiveness is greatly been diminished and it is time to get a new one. For that reason, do not buy a second hand one.
The use of seat belts is obvious; they keep you in your seat whilst the other safety systems on your car absorb any impact. Luckily, choosing seat belts is not very difficult. The most important elements of belts are quality in construction, ease of use, and of course the price.
Do not however, be fooled by price alone. There is a big difference in seat belt materials, including how the hardware is made and the quality of the webbing. If a seat belt kit is really inexpensive, you may be looking at webbing that is not top quality. Webbing is also designed to stretch a certain amount and act like a shock absorber in a crash. Most makers design their webbing and stitching to stretch the right amount. Too much stretch or too little and the belt will fail.
The most important thing is to be comfortable with your belts. You want belts that are easy to get out of and can be loosened and tightened easily with your gloves on. Keep a close eye on your belts, Keep them clean, and do not forget that belts do not come with a lifetime working life. Belts should ideally be replaced every two years. If you buy a car that already has belts in it, unless you are absolutely sure of them, replace them. Do not even think of racing your car, because you do not know what has happened to them in their lifetime, or where they have been.
Think about it, your body is going behind those belts, take care of it.
Some may sit in their seat and take it for granted, but today’s racing seats are made to absorb the energy of a crash and keep it away from your body. The quality and thickness of metal, and indeed the thickness of padding used in seat construction always determine its effectiveness. The better the materials used, the higher the seats cost.
Basically, seat selection breaks down to a racers budget, but consideration to the speed of his formula should also be thought of. Economy seats work well in some of the slower Quarter mile Oval formulas, but for anything faster, you should use a stronger seat with more padding.
Look for more padding in critical areas, such as the seats bottom and rib support area and avoid any with air gaps. Make sure the seat actually fits you and that the seat belt holes are at the correct height for your body. Make sure also that your head is supported along with your ribs, shoulders and thighs.
Above all, remember that a seat has to fit YOUR BODY just as your helmet has to fit your head. Seat mounting points should also rank high in your thoughts, do not use adjustable frames, or even weld those types up. Wherever possible, make up a box frame for the seat fixing, usually 1″ sq tube or invest in those plates that we use nowadays from the seat makers. Pay attention to the floor area where your seat fixes. Any rust or signs of cracking within a 6″radius of the mountings and you are risking your seat breaking away in the ‘Big One’.
Seats are designed to flex under heavy stress, and obviously, a lightweight driver would not create the same forces of inertia a heavier driver would, so make sure the strength of your seat is appropriate to your weight, and whether a seat has to be replaced or not is all upon the severity of any crash. A normal racing ‘coming together crash’ may just bend your seat slightly and it can be eased back into place, but any big one and, well you probably walked away without breaking anything, the seat did its job–now think about a new one.
The very thought of writing about this makes me wary, but we should all think deeply on the subject. Really the only ones we should consider are fireproof. Your suit is the last line of defence to emerging from a fiery accident, and thankfully, suit makers have taken great strides in protecting drivers at all levels of our sport. Fireproofs are available in one and two-piece suits. One-piece fits from neck to ankles whilst two piece are trousers and a jacket. The two-piece overlaps where the jacket and bottoms meet, but the possibility for fire to sneak in does exist. So really, one piece is considered to be safer for you because they do not have a gap in protection.
The two most common materials used in suits are Nomex and Proban. Generally, Nomex costs more but will last longer if cared for properly. Proban, whilst lower in price, usually needs to be replaced sooner than Nomex.
Proban is made from cotton and treated with chemicals to make it fire retardant. Over a period of time, washing reduces the effectiveness of Proban. Nomex is the best for protecting you from fire.
Most fireproofs have between one and five layers, and I do not know obviously, but guess most of you use 2 or 3 layer suits.
Now here is the worst part. In a recent study, in a raging petrol car fire, a suit with only one layer offered about 3 seconds of protection before second degree burns would occur, while a suit with five layers offered up to 40 seconds.
Driving gloves serve multiple tasks in our sport. The most important is fire protection. Nomex gloves are relatively cheap nowadays. Providing a solid, predictable grip on the steering wheel is another, and this is usually achieved with rubber or leather. Whatever you use, get one that fits correctly.
Luckily, on our Ovals today, you are all pretty clued up on fire hazards on your cars. However, please do not ever take it for granted, anything Petrol, check it not once but as many times as you can until you are satisfied it is OK.
The late ‘Pop C’
You must be logged in to reply to this topic.