Whenever a driver straps himself into the cockpit of a race car, the link between him and several hundred horsepower is the accelerator pedal, which, of course, is controlled by the driver's right foot. Take away the driver's feel for the pedal, via the foot, or make the foot uncomfortable, and you've impeded the driver's ability to go fast and make sound judgments on the track. The same goes for the accelerator pedal's close neighbors, the brake pedal and clutch pedal. A driver simply must have a good feel for the pedals in front of him. That is the essence of the need to select proper footwear for auto racing, as the foot's feel for the pedal can't be over-emphasized. Don't believe it? Try racing while wearing thick-soled hiking boots, then put on a pair of properly-designed racing shoes. The difference may surprise you.
With a variety of shoes on the market, racers today have more choices than ever. However, there are many considerations whenever you make that choice. Below you'll find a few tips for making the selection process simpler.
A good racing shoe will have...
A good racing shoe will have a sole that's rigid enough to offer support and thin enough for the driver to feel the pedals.
Although many factors go into selecting racing apparel, safety should be of primary concern. Be sure to look for a shoe that is SFI rated, meaning it has met minimum standards set for its flame-retardant abilities. "Really, the biggest features are design, comfort, and protection," says Scott DeBoyace of Team Simpson Racing. "It's evolved to where design and appearance are as important as comfort and protection. Of course, you want it to be a fire-retardant shoe. As far as safety features, that's your biggest concern, that it's flame retardant."
Consider The Driving Style
The proper feel for the pedal should also be near the top of your list when selecting racing shoes. The best advice is to develop a preference by trying different types of shoes. Some shoes are softer, often with a thinner, more flexible sole, more along the lines of a moccasin, while other racing shoes are stiffer. The key here is to choose a shoe that best suits your driving style. For example, a smooth driver, one who is easing in and out of the throttle, probably will be more comfortable wearing the softer, more flexible shoe. A driver who is more apt to stab the throttle and brake will require a stiffer sole and shoe.
For manufacturers, the challenge is to find a balance between the types of driving styles when making their shoes. Chad Liberto, motorsports manager for Sparco, says his company responds by building a thin, stiff sole, one that offers comfort for both styles.
"The feel for the driver has to be there," says Liberto. "If you build a very thick sole, the driver will get in the car and say the shoe might feel great, but he can't tell what he's doing on the pedals because he's not getting a good feel through his foot. Then at some point you get too thin and there's too much feel and not enough pressure."
John Dambros of Impact Racing says that since a driver's feet have to perform in a confined area, the ability to maneuver and handle heat are prime considerations. "Look at how the sole is designed," Dambros says. "It should not only help dissipate heat in the cockpit but also make sure it grips the pedals and doesn't slip and slide over whatever type of pedals you have in your race car. Then look at the materials and how it's constructed. You want to make sure the seams are solid."
Also keep in mind that racing shoes must stand up to conditions outside of the car. Spending a day at a racetrack, especially an asphalt track, is much like spending the day at an amusement park. There's lots of walking and lots of hard, hot surfaces. Racing shoes must be comfortable and they must be durable. For a Cup or Busch driver, wearing out a pair of shoes in a weekend or two may represent a minor inconvenience. For a weekend racer having to buy several pairs of shoes to get through a season of short-track racing, it may be a major expense.
Racing shoes are offered in...
Racing shoes are offered in three basic heights and with laces or straps.It's important to seal off the tops of the shoes to protect against heat or fire.
"People are looking for them to last," says Bob Mantell of G-Force. "With the realities of how you use them, the average racer doesn't climb out of the car and take his driving shoes off immediately. They put them on sometime in the afternoon and they wear them until the end of the night. You want to try to balance the comfort, arch support, things like that. If your feet hurt the next day, you're not going to be happy about being at the racetrack the second day."
G-Force shoes are now designed to be more "feet friendly" while standing in them, according to Mantell. "But at the same time, we've kept our eye on the need for the sole to be pliable enough and thin enough to still give you the pedal feel. Most people want a shoe that fits as tight as they can get it without being uncomfortable, so there's not any extra shoe around the pedal area."
Racing shoes are available in three basic styles: low-top, mid-top, and high-top. Again, the choice here is a matter of personal preference.
Once you've decided on a particular style and make of shoe, taking into consideration the aforementioned factors, simple fit and comfort are primary concerns.
Dambros offers practical advice: "The shoe should feel comfortable when you put it on," he says. "It can be a little snug and you know it's going to loosen up a little bit. A driving shoe shouldn't be uncomfortable, but you want it snug enough to do the job. You don't want a shoe that's too big; it's not going to help you when going from one pedal to another if your foot's moving and your shoe isn't."