We insist that all helmets at our events be certified by the Snell Memorial Foundation, known for short as Snell? Snell is the only body that actually tests helmets against a recognized standard and then continues to pull samples anonymously and retest regularly during production. A DOT mark (signifying US Department of Transportation), for instance, means only that the manufacturer thinks the helmet meets DOT specs, but no testing is done or claimed and any if any test were conducted that resulted in failure, there would be no repercussions. The only reliable helmets available are those that are Snell certified. If you would like to know more about Snell specs and certification tests, go to the Snell website.
While we accept both SA and M rated helmets, we strongly recommend the use of SA rated helmets. The major difference between the M and SA helmets for 2005 is the fact that SA helmets use a Nomex or other fire retardant liner and inner materials. Since we are strapped into our vehicles in our sport, and may even have fuel lines running through the cockpit, the SA grade helmets seem to be an obvious choice, but you are the only one who really knows your budget, car and helmet use(s).
Footwear for drivers (and passengers) must be non-melting because it would be a real bummer if the floor of the car got hot and your shoes melted onto your feet, let alone if a real fire broke out. Leather works fine to meet this, but does shrink a bit when heated. Nomex and leather can be combined to give you a lot more mobility. A driving shoe should give you great feel for the pedals and still be able to stand up to some heat, if needed. Commercial driving boots are generally made of suede outers with Nomex lining and a man-made sole that will not support combustion and the whole boot meets SFI spec 3/3.5 and is so tagged. They should be replaced when either the outer leather shell or the inner Nomex liner becomes worn.
The purposes of gloves are to hold on to the steering wheel and to get you into and out of the car. We strongly recommend gloves that are certified and taggedd to meet SFI spec 3/3.5, which generally means that they are at least 2 – layer Nomex gloves with leather palms. Gloves should be replaced when they become abraded or worn. A new product, Carbon X, has recently appeared that may replace Nomex. Simpson and Bell are both using Carbon X as helmet liner material for their SA grade helmets. The only problem with Carbon X is that it comes in black only and can not be colored. We encourage drivers to wear gloves that contrast with their cars, so that point bys and other signals are most noticeable, which could be a problem with black gloves and a dark car. We discourage the use of Mechanix type gloves as we have personally proven that these melt when exposed to high heat, such as welding or cutting, which can be a real bummer.
We require Driver’s Suits in our fastest run group, the Blue group, but not in the first 3 groups, why, and why not? Should Drivers in other groups consider suits? If so, what is a “Driver’s Suit” and what does that mean and why should you buy one?
This is a collection of complex questions. Let’s break these up and look at them one at a time. Why do we demand suits in Blue? The Blue Group cars are the most heavily built and prepared cars and generally are driven the hardest. Many of these cars have oil or gas passing through the cockpit. For these reasons and more we ask the Blue Group drivers and passengers to wear suits. At the other end of the spectrum, we have folks in Yellow driving lightly prepared street cars, which we all drive daily with no suits (well maybe pin-striped or such, but not Nomex). So when and or why does one need a Driver’s Suit? If you are running anything nasty through the cockpit, like hot oil to an Accusump or maybe fuel, the kind of stuff that would be really unpleasant to have spray on you or worse yet find some reason to ignite, you might want to wear a suit.
Some of the best references on this topic are our favorite race groups, which operate at the race level, such as SCCA, FIA, NHRA and such. SCCA requirements are the most relevant for our group. SCCA requires Driver’s Suits specified as SFI 3.2/A5 as a minimum for all drivers in their competitive road races. SCCA sanctioned autocrosses do not require suits. Look around a bit and you will find conversions from SFI to FIA ratings for suit protection levels.
Driver’s Suits have traditionally been made of Nomex, or treated cotton, for many years. A new fabric, CarbonX, has recently been released that may improve on Nomex. Unfortunately, it is currently only available in black. CarbonX is universally accepted as very comfortable against the skin for underwear and recommended for such use by several sources. As a suit fabric though, either in combination with Nomex or separately, no significant difference has been shown between Nomex and CarbonX. Protective underwear, of either Nomex or CarbonX, will raise any given suit protection at least one level, and can do so quite comfortably. The treated cotton fabrics work very well, but tend to loose their effectiveness after washing, so while they are inexpensive to purchase initially, they don’t last very long. Although most Driver’s Suits are one piece jump-suit style, Pyrotect makes a 2 – piece suit that makes removal of the top on a hot day a lot easier on your back.
OTEC strongly suggests that if you are investing in more horsepower and performance for your car, you should consider investing a portion of those funds into additional safety equipment to take care of yourself and your passengers. Going fast is fun, surviving an issue is great.
So where can you buy Driver’s Suits? Pyrotect provides measuring directions on their website so that you can measure yourself and order by web or FAX, or they have a shop in Oakland that you can walk in to and get measured in person for a custom suit. Pyrotect also has stock suits available. Wine Country Motorsports, based at Infineon (Sears Point) has many standard suits in stock and can help you select one to fit you and your budget. Many suppliers such as Simpson, Impact Racing, OMP and several others make great products to help you out.
OTEC encourages you to look at your approach to our sport and then make your decision on a suit. If you are working on your car and building it to go faster, you should definitely consider a Driver’s Suit to go with that added speed and Nomex or CarbonX underwear. If you have questions about Driver’s Suits, or any other safety equipment for that matter, please feel free to contact your favorite OTEC member and talk to them about your questions.