The Essential Guide to Racing Gear

The Essential Guide to Racing Gear

In its early stages, motorsports was probably the most dangerous sport to compete in. The mortality rate in Formula 1 races was extremely high, averaging a loss of two drivers per year. One of the most important safety improvements was the introduction of the 6 point harness system as well as the introduction of emergency safety drills to exit the cockpit. 

With the rapid advancements in technology and engineering, Formula 1 cars are now faster than ever and increased speeds pose increased risks to the drivers behind the wheel. While Formula 1 served as the pioneer in safety gear, it soon became obvious that the protection offered by the safety gear is primordial in all racing disciplines. Today we'll take a look at the gear bag of the professional and amateur driver and how it helps protect them during races. 

These are the pieces of gear typically used in professional racing: 

  • Helmet
  • HANS
  • Racing suit¬†
  • Underwear¬†
  • Gloves¬†
  • Shoes¬†

Racing helmets

Potentially one of the most important pieces of equipment, modern racing helmets have undergone an incredible evolution in their design and safety. A century ago, the first helmets used in motor racing were made out of a simple cloth that was simply used to protect the driver's head against dirt (the cars were not going faster than 80 km/h at the time. It was in 1957 when the first mass produced helmet by BELL Racing entered the racing world and that sparked an evolution in its development and design. DuPont's discovery of Nomex in the 60s also contributed to helmets becoming significantly safer. Nowadays, racing helmets are made out of lightweight materials, the high-end ones often being made out of carbon fiber and fireproof materials. So while helmets help protect from debris and impact, they also have many benefits for open-cockpit cars such as advanced aerodynamics, visor tearoffs, air vents, sunshades and much more. Helmets have come an incredibly long way from their humble beginnings and they are an absolute essential for every racer. 

 

HANS / FHR Systems

Perhaps the most underestimated invention that boosted racing safety is the HANS. Standing for Head and Neck Support, the HANS is a simple but lifesaving device that is worn on top of driver's shoulders. HANS was developed by biomechanical engineer Dr. Robert Huddard after witnessing fatal accidents that all seemed to have the same cause, basilar skull fracture. This U-shaped device sits on your shoulders and its legs rest on your chest. It then connects to your helmet's HANS clips via straps. The HANS keeps the drivers safe in case of an impact by preventing hyperextension and hyperflexion of the neck, allowing it to remain within its normal range of motion. This simple invention was initially met with some resistance from drivers in the beginning but it soon became mandatory and has since prevented countless injuries and possible fatalities. 

Racing suit

Up until 1979, racing suits that were used in racing were made out of cotton. This comfortable material might be good for everyday wear but when you're going at speed of 300 km/h and face the danger of fire at every turn, it is clear that it's not the right choice. In 1966, NASCAR driver Bill Simpson together with NASA astronaut Pete Conrad developed a new type of fabric that offered incredible fire retardant properties. The fabric was called Nomex. Even though this development took place in 1966, it was not until 1979 that it was widely used in motorsports (particularly F1). DuPont was the first to make suits out of this fabric and in the 70s they also began incorporating Kevlar into their construction. Nowadays, racing suits are rigorously tested and go through an incredible testing process. Safety standards are higher than ever and modern racing suits don't feel heavier than a cotton suit. Yet, they offer incredible protection and have a rating of over 20 seconds of fire retardation. 

Underwear

Following in the footsteps of the racing suits, modern racing underwear is also made of fireproof and fire retardant materials that will keep you safe in the unfortunate event of a fire. Some people think that this long sleeved underwear is the last thing you need inside a hot racing car cockpit. It is important to note that despite the underwear using fire retardant material, they actually keep you cooler during races. This is done by using moisture wicking materials that basically take the sweat off your skin and move it to the outer layer of the underwear. Cooler temperatures mean more comfort for the driver, leading to better focus and performance during the race. So there is really no excuse not to wear your racing underwear, which is now lighter, safer and more comfortable than it has ever been. 

Gloves

Racing gloves are also made out of fireproof and fire retardant materials as it serves as a layer of protection between you and the outside world. Besides the protective properties, racing gloves also contribute to a better performance for the driver. This is achieved by using materials that increase the grip on the steering wheel. Racing gloves also have longer cuffs that are usually elastic, to help them cover the wrists and protect the hands/arms in case of a fire. 

 

Shoes

Following in the same path as the other pieces of gear, the purpose of a racing shoe is dual; fire protection and performance enhancement. Racing shoes are specially designed to help the driver input their commands on the pedals with high precision. These shoes often feature a thin outer sole that keeps the pedal feedback as high as possible and also a heel sole pad that helps drivers keep their feet on the car's floor by increasing traction. Nowadays, the shoes are made out of different materials such as suede, leather and woven fabrics. However, all of these materials are reinforced with fire retardant Nomex for fire safety purposes. 

 

 

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