Steve Coccaro, RJS Racing Equipment and George Klass, SFI Safety Inspector Discuss Safety Terminolog
“I’m sure that everyone has considered that there is an element of danger involved with drag racing. Despite the fact that thousands of cars race down the track every year, there are crashes now and then. In the vast majority of those situations, the driver walks away unhurt, other than maybe his wallet.” states George Klas
s, Licensed SFI Inspector.
“It wasn’t always like that. In the early days of drag racing (the 1950’s), getting hurt (or worse) was not just a possibility, it was a probability and happening way too often. For all practical purposes, safety rules did not exist. Roll bars were few and far between in the early days, even on dragsters. Roll “cages”, nowhere to be found. And the roll bars that we had were of marginal material (sometimes made from muffler tubing) and rarely correctly attached or even braced. I’ve seen many cars with roll bars in those days where the top of the roll bar hoop was only shoulder high, leaving the head and neck completely exposed in the event of a roll-over.”
“I was hooked on drag racing before I could drive a car. But this time, since I was spending the whole day down there, I spent some time looking at all the other race cars in the pits. The dragsters (some of which were using nitromethane fuel) were mostly a Model-A or Model T frame, an engine and a seat. Only about half of them had roll bars, which consisted of a roll bar hoop and with no forward or rear braces. Even on dragsters in the early 1950’s, roll bars were not required. You could lean on the hoop and it would lean with you. The dragsters (and only the dragsters) were required to have seat belts. Of course, the only seat belts were the WWII aircraft belts, available at the local Army-Navy salvage stores. You could pick up the pilot goggles there too, if you had a roadster or an open car. You could also scrounge around in the back of the store and maybe find a seat from a WWII fighter plane, but they were kind of expensive ($10.00) so most of the dragster guys just made their own seats, some of which looked like they were built out of lawn chairs or bar stools. The driver’s uniform was the usual T-shirt and jeans. A helmet was required for the dragster drivers, but I have seen guys go down the track with their hair blowing in the wind. If there was a helmet “rating” system, nobody knew about it, and almost any type of helmet would do. The early drag racing rulebooks use to say that “football helmets were not permitted”, which kind of tells you those guys were using them at the time.”
“Naturally, guys got hurt. I also went to a lot of funerals back then for drag racing friends. Growing up around drag racing in the ‘50’s and ‘60’s, I saw a lot of crashes, but over time, the sanctioning bodies (NHRA, IHRA, AHRA, etc.) created rules and regulations designed to minimize the dangers. In 1963, SEMA was created, (which at that time, stood for Speed Equipment Manufacturing Association). And from that organization, the SFI Foundation was formed, with that group being responsible for testing various safety related equipment and components.”
“Virtually every single advancement in safety related to drag racing (and other motor sports) was because of some dead or maimed race car driver. Someone needed to die or be horribly disfigured before a new safety related regulation was created. And to some extent, that is still the requirement today. The rules organizations don’t just come up with this stuff out of thin air.”
“But here we are today, 60 years after my first pass down a drag strip. All the old timers that I know (that are still around) would be willing to say, “drag racing today is safer than it’s ever been”. This is a true statement, but we could have said the same thing back in 1960, too. Drag racing in the early ‘60’s was defiantly safer than in the 1950’s, and so on up until today. I’m a still a licensed SFI Tech Inspector and I’m amazed at guys being able to walk away from what looks like a life threatening crash, with hardly a scratch. But I still see and hear about guys getting hurt, not because of the lack of available safety equipment, but because of the availability of safety equipment they were not using.”
“The sanctioning body rules and regulations and the SFI specifications for the vehicles themselves is a whole book in itself. I know that there are some racers out there that look at these as just away to separate the racer from his money, or to run up charges on his Amex card. It may seem like that, but it’s not. All the rules and regulations and the SFI specs are there to keep the driver alive or out of the burn ward. You may be able to get away with fooling the tech inspector at your local track by using a helmet that is out of date, but what are you really doing? At some point you have to ask yourself, “How much is my head worth?” You may be able to con your way through the tech line with the wrong gloves, or a driver suit designed for a 10:00 second car, when yours is running in the 8’s, but again, “How much is your life worth if the car bursts into flame?” How much would you be willing to pay now, if you could have your hands and fingers back, or if you did not have to go through the unbelievable pain of skin grafts? I suspect that cost would not be much of a consideration.”
“Speaking for myself, fire has always been my number one fear in a drag car. The days of being able to go down the track in a T-shirt are (or should be) long gone, regardless of your speed and ET. I’m too old to drag race but if I still did it, I would be wearing the most expensive and highest rated driver’s suit available, regardless of what the specs required for the class. One thing to always keep in mind, the NHRA and IHRA rules and regulations for driver safety systems, and the SFI Specs, are the MINIMUM requirements. There is NO RULE that states that you can’t protect yourself with additional safety related equipment.”
‘When I used to be inspecting drag cars at NHRA or IHRA tracks for the old Fun Ford Weekend Race Series, fire was one of the biggest issues of concern for me. I could never let you go down the track with that rubber hose instead of the required steel-braided fuel line.”
A little speech usually did the trick and got their attention.”
Here are the NHRA rules for the drivers for the Pro Mod class, and I suspect that IHRA rules for the class are the same:
DRIVER RESTRAINT SYSTEM
A minimum 6-point, 3-inch driver restraint system, meeting SFI Spec 16.1 or 16.5 mandatory. And the belts must be updated at 2-year intervals from date of manufacturer (not from the date that you purchased the belts). See General Regulations 10:5.
For all cars, a full-face Snell SA2005 or SA2010 helmet and face shield mandatory (goggles prohibited). Eject Helmet Removal System (Part number SDR 890-01-30) mandatory and must be installed per manufacturer instructions. A Stand 21 Lid Lifter head sock meeting SFI Spec 3.3 may be used in lieu of the Eject Helmet Removal System. See General Regulations 10:7.
HEAD AND NECK RESTRAINT DEVICE/SYSTEM
A head and neck restraint device/system meeting SFI Spec 38.1 is mandatory. See General Regulations 10:8.
Driver’s suit meeting SFI Spec 3.2A/20, SFI Spec 3.3/20 gloves, and SFI Spec 3.3/20 boots mandatory for supercharged and turbocharged entries. Driver’s suit meeting SFI Spec 3.2A/15, SFI Spec 3.3/15 gloves, and SFI Spec 3.3/15 boots mandatory for nitrous-assisted entries. An SFI 3.3 head sock or SFI 3.3 skirted helmet is required on all cars. See General Regulations 10:10.
“If you are married or have a family, people depend on you to be here. If you are single, there are girlfriends boyfriends that may depend on you to be here, Please take care of yourself. “says George Klass.
“I’m going to discuss testing and T.P.P. (THERMAL PROTECTIVE PERFORMANCE) ratings and what classification you need to be safer. Let face it drag racing is a dangerous sport. The biggest fear on just about every drivers mind is fire.” states Steve Coccaro, GM at RJS Racing Equipment
“There are many different types of fire resistant fabrics available FR Cotton, Aramid, Nomex and Kevlar Nomex blend just to mention a few of the most commonly used fabrics. The materials used are not as important as the combination of materials used. Let me explain this a little further in depth. For instance to reach an S.F.I. rating of 3.2A/5 commonly called a dual or triple layer combination of materials. A 6x6 inch square of the combination of materials is put into a T.P.P. test machine. The T.P.P. machine uses 9 quartz heat lamps and 2 Benson burners to create heat are used. Both thermal and radiant. The test equation (stoll curve) The Stoll curve represents the energy required to a 2nd burn from the heat passing through the material. The actual exposure time to a 2nd degree burn may be LESS due to the heat retained in the fabric after the heat source is taken away. Cal/cm2 (CALORIES PER CENTIMETER SQUARED) W-sec/cm2 (EXPOSURE PER SECOND PER CENTIMETER SQUARED). The time it takes to intersect the Stoll curve indicates the Thermal Protection performance of the fabric(s).”
“In this case of the 3.2A/5 the T.P.P. rating is a 19. Time to second degree burn 10 seconds. All combinations of materials used on an S.F.I. suit, jacket or pants must pass this test to achieve the 3.2A/5 rating. The difference in materials is based on the manufactures preference for appearance, comfort, durability and cost as all of the combinations had to reach a T.P.P. rating of 19. Some combinations might achieve a higher rating but all have reached the minimum T.P.P. rating of 19 or 10 seconds of protection before 2nd degree burns are possible.”
“So now think of this. A car traveling at 55 mph takes 6 seconds to stop in perfect conditions.
The average bracket car that will require a 3.2A/5 suit has an elapsed time of 9.99 or quicker in the 1/4 mile.”
“Best of the worst case scenario you’re going 150 mph your engine blows up car catches on fire you have
to think fast. After the panic of the engine explosion you pull the chute, hit the brakes and 15 seconds later you’re stopped. The fire rescue crew is already next to your car putting out the fire .15 to 19 seconds in a fire with suit rated for 10 seconds. The math doesn’t work. We at RJS Safety believe in order to better protect yourself that there is a need to update the required 3.2/A ratings by the sanctioning bodies to keep up with the advancing technology that make today's cars faster”.
“The average bracket cars starts at about $15,000.00 and can reach upwards of $75,000.00 .Take now into consideration you bought a truck to tow the race cars a trailer to put the car in $400.00 + in tires $150.00 in race fuel you get the picture. The point I am trying to make is buy the suit that will protect you best. Not by what some sanctioning body has as a minimum requirement!! That’s right minimum you can’t run 9.99 or faster with anything less than a 3.2A/5 you can run a 10, 15 or 20 suit but nothing less. Now think about this for a second. You will buy a better crank for your motor than you need, a bigger fuel pump than most fuel system companies suggest. But the minimum rated fire suit and just enough safety equipment to get through Tech for that race.” says Steve Coccaro.
RJS Safety Equipment
Licensed SFI Inspector.
G.M. RJS Safety Equipment
SFI technical staff
SFI web site