A well-prepared car can handle...
A well-prepared car can handle impact to the fuel cell and hits to the drivers side.
Padded boards running beside the driver can keep his legs from hitting the rollcage during a crash.
Experts say drivers should...
Experts say drivers should not use safety belts that are more than two years old.
A simple safety addition is...
A simple safety addition is padding for the steering wheel.
The best investment is a quality...
The best investment is a quality helmet. Head and neck restraints, like the one modeled here by NASCAR Busch Series driver Ashton Lewis, are expensive but worth every penny.
The safety cage should be...
The safety cage should be inspected for cracks and other signs of weakness.
Race cars should be equipped...
Race cars should be equipped with a throttle stop to prevent the linkage from hanging up wide-open.
Your high school science teacher was right. Two bodies cannot occupy the same space at the same time. Thats especially true when one body is a Monte Carlo and the other is a Taurus.
Wrecks are part of racing, especially during the close competition found on circle tracks. Unless a driver is unusually giftedor very luckyhe probably has picked up more dents than trophies.
A driver will spend thousands of dollars and countless hours trying to find that demon tweak that will shave a tenth of a second off his lap times, while ignoring the fact hell spend as much timeif not moreon the wrecker as he will in Victory Lane.
Drivers have many ways to protect themselves in the inevitable crashes. Often, simple attention to detail and thinking about what happens in a crash can save bruised muscles and broken limbs, and get the driver and his car back in action sooner.
A lot of it is just envisioning what happens in a crash, says Rich Reichen-bach, who heads the crew that builds cars and trucks for Roush Racing. He concentrates on ways to make the Roush trucks less likely to have a failure that will result in a wreck, and to protect the driver when it does crash. Professional chassis builders working out of shops for owners like Roush or Roger Penske use the latest computer technology and shelves stacked with parts to build the best stock cars in racing. But as Reichenbach says, A lot of the things we do can be done at any level of racing.
Drivers building their own cars can learn from the experts on making even an entry-level Street Stock safer. Many times the difference between just building a car and building a safer car is spending more time and thought than money. Often, a bonus in building a car that is safer is increased reliability, faster lap times, and a car that is easier to race because the driver is more confident.
Here are some tipsfrom safety gear to safety wirefrom some of the experts:
Perhaps the most important item for driver safety is the restraint system. It is what keeps you tied to the car while all the rest of the safety gear does its work.
No one should race with belts more than two years old, says John Dambros, director of marketing for Simpson Safety Products.
Dambros says re-webbing beltsusing new fabric with old latches and mounting bracketsnormally runs $40 to $50 at Simpson. When the belts are returned to the owner, a tag is sewn on to indicate when they were renewed.
Dambros says special care should be taken to mount the belts securely, to the rollcages when possible, or with generous backing brackets on the floor. Grade 8 bolts are the minimum hardware, he says.
The same attention given to seatbelt mounting should be paid to mounting points for the seat itself. This is no place to scrimp on the quality of hardware.
Seatbelts will stretch under load. That helps absorb some of the impact of a crash. But that stretch also means that parts of the car a driver might not be able to touch when hes belted in place could be within reach during a crash. One trick is to measure the length of the belts when the driver is cinched in, then loosen them 10 percent to see what he can come in contact with. You might be surprised to discover what is suddenly within reach, and what should be changed to eliminate a hazard.
Oftentimes that means adding or extending rollbar padding, relocating parts that the driver can come in contact with in a crash, or changing components to eliminate sharp edges. While working inside the cockpit, look for any pieces with sharp edges that can cut the driver, a crewmember, or a rescue worker.
The Roush builders heavily pad the center of the steering wheel, because thats the most common point of impact in a crash. They also add aluminum boards beside the drivers legs to keep them from hitting the rollcage in a crash.
If a driver hits the cage with his leg, it is probably going to break, Reichenbach says. We run the boards down both sides of him, then pad them with high-density foam. It doesnt limit what he can do while driving, but keeps his legs from going side to side.
Next, look at the safety cage itself. It has to be strong to protect the driver in a crash, but does it offer a way for rescue workers to get an injured driver out without folding him up like a pretzel? Medical technicians often have to use a backboard to secure the driver in one position before removing him. They usually go through the roof rather than around the door bars. Is there enough room above the driver to let that happen?
The things that protect a driver can make rescuing him more difficult, says Jan Lee, training director for Metro West Ambulance, which provides medical squads for tracks around the Portland, Oregon, area. She encourages drivers and medical teams to work together on safety issues.
Just moving one bar a few inches can make the difference in extricating a driver without the risk of added injuries, Lee says.
The cage should be thoroughly checked before each race season to ensure there are no cracks or signs of weakness that could compromise it in an accident. It should get a complete checkup each time the car has been involved in a wreck. Because rollcages transfer the force of an accident over the entire structure, there can be damage at the rear of the cage from a healthy hit at the front, or buckling on the opposite side of the cage from a hit in the driver-side door.
Some tracks are pretty casual about driver safety gear, and most amateur drivers would rather spend their money on go-fast items than driving suits and the best helmets available. But it can be a foolish compromise.
Driver-suit protection for stock car racing should be a minimum of three layers, says John Bennett, president of Indianapolis-based Hinchman Racing Uniforms.
Nomex isnt magic, Bennett says. It will protect you from flames, but not from heat. The more layers of protection you have, the better off you will be when you need it.
I explain it by comparing it to foil around a baked potato. After an hour in the oven, the foil looks the same, but the potato has changed quite a bit. For that reason, he recommends a two-layer suit plus underwear. The bottom line is if youre in a single-layer suit or a double-layer without underwear, and youre in a fire for more than just a few seconds, youre going to sustain burns.
Bennett says suits made of Nomex or other flame-resistant material require little more care than washing or dry cleaning. Some discount suitsthe $99 specialslose their effectiveness with age and each washing.
The best helmets available for auto racing are certified by the Snell Foundation (look for the sticker inside it) and carry an SA designation. A Snell M helmet is designed for motorcycle racing and is not lined with fire-resistant material, as required by the SA rating. The difference is only important if you need it.
Go for the lightest helmet you can get, Reichenbach says. Neck injuries are a real problem in the sport, and a lighter helmet is easier on those.
Reichenbach advocates the new HANS (Head and Neck System) restraint devices showing up on some drivers. The system tethers the helmet to a shoulder padtype device to limit head movement in a crash. But the price tagwhich can top $2,000is probably more than what most amateur drivers are willing to spend.
Airplane mechanics joke that the only bolts you should safety-wire are the ones you dont want to fall off. That isnt a bad policy for race car builders, either.
Even bolts that are properly tightened can vibrate loose. The best way to be sure that doesnt happen is to safety-wire them in place. That is especially true for fas-teners on parts that heat and cool a lot. All oil-drain, transmission, and third-member filler and drain plugs should be safety-wired, if for no other reason than to prevent a leak that could cost you an engine or transmission.
Also use safety wire on brake mounting bolts and any other fastener that isnt retained by a lock nut.
We safety wire any part that can cause us to DNF, Reichenbach says. That includes suspension components and all nuts and bolts that arent retained by other methods.
Some racers drill the outer lip of the coolant-system pressure cap and safety-wire that in place. That attention to detail can prevent an inexperienced crewmember from opening the cap before the engine cools and being burned.
When replacing coolant hoses, consider double-clamping themusing two clamps side by side. The twin clamps give an extra measure of protection against leakage or blowing off worn fittings.
Every race car should be equipped with some form of throttle stop to prevent the linkage from going over center and hanging up wide-open. Roush uses stops on both primary and secondary linkages. Stops dont have to be as high-tech and complicated as on a Winston Cup car, but they should be examined as part of every prerace check to be sure they havent been compromised. Every throttle should have redundant springsnot one spring inside another going to a common mounting point, but two separate springs so the backup will close the throttle if the first one fails.
We run two springs pulling directly off the carb, Reichenbach says. Each one pulls in a different direction. We attach them directly to the bellcrank. Crews also need to check the linkage to be sure it cant bind on anything. If you have to run stock motor mounts, install a bracket or cable that will keep the engine from rocking and binding the linkage.
Its a good idea to put a throttle stop on the floor, too. It doesnt matter that the throttle plates are wide-openthe driver will just push the gas pedal harder. Its what drivers do. A stop under the pedal prevents all that force from being transferred to the carb and distorting something there.
The Roush chassis builder feels strongly about the dangers of poorly designed fuel systems.
The fact that some guys still run with stock gas tanks really scares me, he says. The least they should do is get rid of the rubber fuel lines and replace them with Aeroquip fittings and lines. And every part of the fuel system should be relocated between the framerails.
We run our lines through the frame to protect them. Anything that runs through the cockpit we run through a metal tube, in addition to the steel-covered line.
Reichenbach suggests drivers ask someone not involved with their car to look it over for potential problems.
It can be kind of hard having someone else criticize the car you built, but a new set of eyes often can spot things people who built the car will overlook, he says. Practice Pays
Kevin Duffy says drivers have to practice what to do when they are under stress so their bodies and minds react properly, automatically.
Duffy, a consultant with FinishLine Racing School in Edgewater, Florida, is a driving instructor and team consultant in the Daytona area. He points out how the little things drivers do can unknowingly add unnecessary risk to auto racing.
For example, a driver usually gets out of the car at the end of the race by first taking off his gloves, then the helmet, then the belts. A team member usually drops the window net and takes the steering wheel off for him.
But if you are in a wreck and can smell gasoline or feel the heat, thats the wrong way to get out of the car, Duffy says. You need to keep your helmet and gloves on until you are out of danger, and remember to drop the net and pull the wheel.
He maintains that every time a driver gets out of a car, he should do it just like in an emergency exit so his brain is conditioned to the sequence. That way, in an emergency, the driver reacts properly without thinking.
And he should practice getting out on the passenger side, too, just in case he ends up parked drivers side against the wall, he says. And think about how he might get out if hes upside down and hanging from his harness.