|Dressing up like a real racecar driver is one of the best parts of a LeMons weekend—it's a rare opportunity for some clown in a Gremlin to look more or less like Michael Schumacher. It also has the attractive side benefit of giving said clown a little bit of protection in the event of a crash or fire. |
Not much, but a little--which is why you should do everything you can to choose the best stuff you can afford, and to make it work as it should.
Several key bits of racewear are required for every driver:
• Fire-resistant driving suit, gloves, and shoes
• Fire-resistant underwear (where applicable)
• Racing-grade neck support (more on this later)
With a lot of this stuff, registered entrants can get LeMons-rate pricing at our safety store to help keep costs down. But most importantly, you'll realize the logic of good protective gear the first time you see a Datsun Honey Bee burst into flames just a few feet from your driver's-side window.
Each piece of gear has specific standards it needs to meet to pass tech. Many of these same standards are enforced by other auto-racing groups, so you ought to be able to get lots of use out of your investment. For more details on our requirements, read on….
Overwhelmed by all this tech stuff? Check out our illustrated guide: How NOT to Fail LeMons Safety Tech. For a printable PDF version of the guide, click here.
helmets & neck gear
|In addition to your sporty-looking driver suit, your helmet is what really makes you look like a race car driver. And that illusion is a big part of the LeMons experience! |
Though people may be skeptical of your intelligence after you signed up for this thing, we still think your head is an important piece of hardware. So, we've got a few basic helmet requirements you'll need to observe.
Full-face standard-style helmets are mandatory for all LeMons races. This means no Dale-Earnhardt half-helmets, Dale Earnhardt-tribute hybrid helmets, or any helmet that makes people say, "Dang, that helmet makes you look like Dale Earnhardt." Get a normal full-face helmet with a functioning visor, for Pete's sake. As an additional bonus to the improved safety of a full-face design, your teammates will no longer be able to see the look of terror on your face as you brake way too late for turn one.
We also require a helmet/neck support. There are several different types on the market, and the bare minimum we allow is an SFI-certified foam racing collar. We say "bare minimum" because these offer minimal protection in many types of impacts--if you can afford something better, get it and use it! One device can often be paid for and shared by the whole team.
So what's better? Currently, legit head-and-neck protection devices are sold under brand names such as HANS, NecksGen, Isaac, Simpson, Hutchens, and more. These more advanced devices are extremely highly recommended over the foam-collar minimum. Any legit head-and-neck device with SFI or FIA certification will pass LeMons tech; most non-certified devices won't, so ask in advance if there's any doubt. See the LeMons safety store for examples of acceptable devices.
Like fire-resistant clothing, helmets are rated by a third-party organization—this time, the ratings are handled by the Snell Foundation. Snell has two major helmet categories for motorized activities, "SA" and "M," which differentiate between automobile and motorcycle applications.
For LeMons, all helmets must have a Snell SA rating.
This is an important distinction—while M-certified helmets look more or less the same as SA helmets, they are built to a different protection standard in terms of both impact and fire resistance. You may have the nicest motorcycle helmet money can buy—that's great, but it won't fly at LeMons.
In addition to dividing helmets by type, Snell also updates its certifications every five years. The certification year appears right after the certification type—currently, we accept SA2005 and SA2010 helmets only.
During tech inspection, our staff will be looking for the Snell rating on your helmet. Though some helmets have a Snell sticker on the outside shell, the one they'll be looking for is the one inside—all Snell-rated helmets will have one. In most cases, the helmet's inside padding will need to be pulled back to expose the sticker. If you can't find it, chances are our tech guys won't be able to find it either—no sticker, no approval, and no racing.
For special LeMons deals on helmets and neck supports, go here.
suits and other fire gear
|Naturally, not all driver-safety gear is created equal. If you put "fire-resistant clothes" into Google, you'll get everything from Chernobyl-grade spacesuits to turkey-shaped oven mitts with Happy Thanksgiving on the back. But when you're shopping for racing-specific gear, you're really only talking about stuff that's been purpose-built for automobile competition use. Nothing else suits the needs of the sport, and nothing else meets the insurance requirements that everyone has to adhere to. The certifications we accept are SFI 3.2A/1 through /20, and FIA 8856-2000. Suits with other SFI or FIA numbers aren't made for in-car racing, and won't pass tech.|
Most fire-resistant garb is made up a primary FR material (Proban and Nomex being the most common), along with some cotton or other prosaic stuff in small areas. Generally speaking, Proban is cheaper than Nomex—the former is a specially treated organic material, the latter a purpose-built synthetic. Conventional wisdom states that Proban isn't as durable as Nomex, though some Proban manufacturers disagree. In any case, the ratings that both have to meet are the same--all FR suits are tested and rated based on how well they work, not how they're made.
Though LeMons doesn't have any restrictions on what fireproof material you choose, we—and most other race groups—do require that all gear carry a current, valid certification tag or embroidery patch from SFI or FIA. (Most US racing events rely on SFI guidelines; FIA certs are more often seen in international competition.) Either one works for us—if your suit has the current and proper SFI or FIA certification and is in overall sound shape, you can race in the LeMons.
Where we draw the line is at equipment that's non-certified (a lot of go-kart stuff, military-spec suits. crew suits, and firefighting gear isn't SFI- or FIA-rated); or that's missing the required FIA or SFI tag/embroidery (used suits that you find online often don't have any tags); or suits with expired/sub-par SFI or FIA ratings. So if you're buying new stuff, don't remove any of the tags; if you're buying used, make sure they're correct and still intact. Gloves and shoes should have SFI or FIA tags as well.
When it comes to your driver suit you've got a few additional options. There are tiers within the SFI certification that describe how long the suit will shield you from a fire. The higher the SFI rating, the higher your chances are of hopping out of your smoldering hooptie without getting burned. Our FIA suit requirements are a little simpler—we need to see an 8856-2000 rating.
The different SFI ratings can be a little tricky to read. They start at 3.2A/1, and run all the way up to 3.2A/20. Vendors will often shorten these ratings to "SFI-1" or "SFI-20," but that's just shorthand for the complete rating.
The "3.2A" is the SFI's current basic certification for suits—it's the only SFI rating we accept, so just make sure the rating on the suit you're considering starts with 3.2A.
The number at the end of the rating describes how many seconds a suit can stay in a fire before its wearer gets cooked. With that in mind, a 3.2A/1 suit only gives a couple of seconds of protection at most—that's not a lot of time to escape a burning car. Though we accept 3.2A/1 suits (primarily because of their affordability), we do require users of these suits to wear a layer of fireproof underwear beneath the suit. The underwear requirement also applies to suits with the slightly better 3.2A/3 rating.
3.2A/5 and higher suits are the only LeMons suits that can be worn without fireproof undies. In addition to their higher fire rating, 3.2A/5 suits often use a multi-layer design—in effect, the underwear we require for lower-rated suits is built in to the 3.2A/5. Of course, if you then add fireproof underwear to a 3.2A/5 or higher suit, that increases fire resistance even more—while doing this is not required, it is highly recommended.
Again, for suits, the required FIA certification is 8856-2000.
Other recommended extras are fire-resistant socks and a fire-resistant balaclava (head sock). Also, when you're thinking about what to wear either under your driver suit or just lounging around in the pits, we also highly recommend that you stay away from any synthetic materials that are prone to melting—nylon, polyester, and synthetic fleece are among the materials to avoid on race weekend.
For LeMons-approved suits and other gear, go here.