Selecting the Perfect Racing Suit
When racing season is approaching, the time is right to examine the best ways to find the best racing suit. The suit is equally important for the first time drivers and for the professional ones alike.
So what qualities and features does the right suit have?
The most important things to consider here are comfort, safety, budget, and style. Strike the perfect balance between these and you will live to race another day.
Experts from Impact Racing and Simpson Racing helped us select six key components to keep in mind when choosing the racing suit:
1. Safety Ratings
Racing is a sport not for the faint of hearts - speed, control, agility, and frequent fire danger are the reasons why racing suits have to pass safety ratings. Safety ratings are slightly different for SFI (United States) or FIA (International).
NHRA and NASCAR both use the SFI Foundation's ratings to determine the protection against fire using specification 3.2A test. The garment has to provide thermal protective performance (TPP) against open flames and subsequent heat. During tests to determine TPP capabilities, the materials are exposed to two different sources of heat. Mathematical formula is then used to derive the number of TPP. Finally, this value is then divided in half to determine in how many second the driver will get a second degree burn.
The best suits have the highest garment ratings. There is a Thermal Protective Performance Chart online, if you want to understand it better.
Your sanctioning body's rules usually spell out what TPP is required for their racing. The most common rating required is the SFI 3.2A/5, but some alcohol or nitro drag racing circuits require SFI 3.2A/15 or SFI 3.2A/20 specifications.
2. Racing Suit Materials
The material of your suit is directly related to the SFI ratings. Driver's budget is another main factor. The most common materials for racing suits are treated cotton and Nomex. Treated cotton suits are usually more affordable, but they have one major drawback - the chemicals begin to lose their benefits and protection with every wear and cleaning. This is why cotton suits have a shorter lifespan than suits from other materials.
Nomex is flame resistant and this quality does not change with time. When exposed to fire, Nomex will not melt of combust. Not only that, it actually becomes harder and adds another layer of protection for you. These suits are passing the highest SFI standards. You know you will be safe in this type of suit.
There are some other materials for racing suits - gabardine, proban, and Cordura. You have to determine your own needs and the requirements of your governing body before deciding on what is right for you.
Cordura is not fire resistant, but it protects against cuts and abrasions, so it works great for karting. Some new racers are not experienced yet and buy Cordura karting suits for circle or drag racing because of the better price, only to find out that their suits will not pass the tech and will not meet the SFI specs.
The suit has to fit you perfectly. It is important not only because of your comfort, but also for safety reasons. Make sure to take plenty of correct measurement of height, weight, chest, waist, hips, and possibly others. Just like with the garment ratings, there is a Standard Firesuit Sizing chart to take a look at.
You want to make sure that your suit is not too tight and there is space for a layer of air between it and your body. This air insulates and gives you extra protection in case of fire. If you are racing during summer, this air layer will help you stay cool. Some companies, like Impact Racing, include a layer of quilting in their suits to create air pockets to help with air circulation.
Make sure you are aware of differences in each brand's sizing before buying the suits. Those manufacturer variations might seem insignificant, but can make a huge difference in the long run.
4. Single or Multi-layer Suits
This comes down to safety vs. comfort. The more layers your suit has, the more protection it offers. Two or three layers will give you more time to get out of fire safely because of double or triple heat and flame protection. One layer suits will not give you as much time, but will be very comfortable.
The type of racing you do often dictates what suits you will need. There are some suits that are very light and breathable multi-layer suits, but they will be more expensive. Consider your budget and your safety requirements before making this decision.
Always believe that it's better to be safe than sorry.
5. One Piece or Two Pieces
One piece suites are not only safer, but are sometimes required for that reason. All NASCAR drivers have to wear one piece suit, even more - the fuelers also have to wear them. If there is a gap between the jacket and the pants, as is very common with two piece suit, you are exposing yourself to direct fire in case of an accident.
Drag racers can use two piece suits as long as they meet the 3.2A/5 specifications. NASCAR crew who don't work with fuel can also wear them. Racers like the two piece suits because of increased comfort and mobility.
6. The Right Undergarments
The undergarments are more important than you might think. Avoid wearing compression-style athletic undergarments you would wear playing football and basketball. These pieces are often petroleum-based or synthetic to take away the moisture fast and to cool you. But think of what these materials do during fire? Yes, they melt and drip in high heat or flames. This goes for nylon, elastane, and polyester too. Even the U.S. Armed Forces banned these kinds of materials in the conflict zones, as the painful dripping was a problem in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Simpson Racing and Impact Racing both suggest acquiring and wearing Nomex undergarments to feel good and to add another level of protection from heat. This becomes even more of necessity if you have a one layer suit.
Make sure you never forget that the choice of suit will not only add confidence and invite success, but will literally save your life.