Around The Track: Current News
Drag Illustrated, June Safety First Article, April 18, 2011
Occupant Safety Systems
Modern day racing safety is a science. Extremely intelligent people spend their entire lives studying even the smallest detail of the reaction of the human body exposed to extreme loads, fire and impacts at every level of racing. In this article, we address Occupant Safety Systems.
Drag racers are subjected to extreme dangers. As a result, they have become attuned to the importance of high quality safety equipment and working with manufacturers they can trust. Unfortunately, the details of the systems that are designed and perfected by the top echelon of the safety industry are slow to make their way through the ranks to the weekend racer with responsibilities outside of racing.
The most important concept to remember is that your racecar safety and safety equipment must control your body motion in a crash and then protect it from fire situations. Just like a chain, your safety equipment is only as strong as its weakest link
It has been my experience that drag racers become numb to the speeds they run at. NHRA Pro Stocks run over 200 mph. NASCAR Cup cars only run at 180-190 mph. The Indy 500 pole speed this year was just over 220 mph. No where near the 330 mph of a Fuel Funny car or Top Fuel Dragster.
So what is the occupant system? It is everything that surrounds and protects the driver. It begins with a strong set of 7 point polyester seat belts and a strong, tight fitting seat with shoulder support and a full head surrounds. The head and neck restraint finishes the system by controlling the amount of load that the neck is exposed to during an impact. Polyester webbing material has less elongation with normally higher strength than nylon. Simply put, you will move less because the material stretches less. You must follow proper mounting instructions for the belts to work correctly. Both Simpson and Safety Solutions belts are made from only polyester webbing and we offer diagrams to make seat belt installation easier, as well as trackside and telephone support.
The seat system used should wrap around the driver as snug as possible. A foam insert is a great idea for getting your driver as tight as possible in the race car. The foam is also used in energy absorption during the crash. What the driver will notice in the first run is how little they move around as they move down the track and how much more consistent they are in the seat. This consistency also pays off in better reaction times on the tree.
The seat system should also include strong shoulders and a well made headrest and roll bar padding on every bar not padded by the headrest. The head is the most vital part of your body and it should be protected as such. For door style cars, we make custom Driver Head Nets. When attached to the end of the head cage, the nets contain the driver and help to feed them back into the seat system during an impact. Our Kevlar nets are fire resistant and easy to drop out of the way for a quick exit or when servicing the race car.
Personal Safety Gear
NHRA has mandated the use of an SFI 38.1 certified Head Restraint for the 2012 season in classes that run over 175mph. With an SFI 38.1 head and neck restraint like the Safety Solutions Hybrid that John Force uses or the R3 used by many Pro Stock & Pro Mod racers, head motion is controlled by the restraint. Current Safety Solutions head and neck restraints can reduce Neck Tension forces to near 0 pounds of force in a 70 G, 30 degree frontal impact. This is absolutely incredible realizing that Dale Earnhardt died in a crash that measured only 42 G’s. Some racers use a yoke style device but we find that ease of use when entering and exiting the car, the reduced load on the body and the impressive results of the Hybrid device make it the preferred SFI 38.1 certified head restraint in drag racing.
The benefits of the head and neck restraint can also be seen in every pass in a drag car when the parachutes are pulled or under hard breaking, the restraint keeps the occupant’s head up. Funny Car drivers report “clearer vision” when using the Hybrid restraint, even through tire shake.
The Safety Solutions R3 and Hybrid series of restraints range from $595 for the Rage series to $995 and $1095 for the carbon fiber models. With the ultimate head and neck restraint, the Hybrid X, is offered at $1195. All models are offered with quick releases standard and optional sliding tether systems to allow more side to side movement. Sportsman drivers and bracket racers can see more from side to side with our latest EZ Slide tether systems.
In October 2010, Simpson began selling Snell 2010 certified helmets but the certification process began long before October. The entire Simpson helmet line has been redesigned with the new standards, increased comfort, better aerodynamics and fit in mind. Most Simpson helmets are manufactured in the USA at our Texas headquarters. Snell 2010 certification required the use of graduated head form drop masses. This means the drop masses in the impact testing are dependent on head form circumference and provide more “real world” data in measuring what kind of impact a particular head size would be likely to encounter on impact. As stated earlier in this article, your head and neck are the most delicate area of your body. Protect them with a good Snell 2010 certified helmet and an SFI 38.1 Head Restraint system.
Simpson manufactures firesuits for many of the world’s top racing professionals and sportsman racers. Driver suits are available in SFI ratings from SFI.1 up to
SFI. 15 and 20, as required in professional drag racing. We recommend firesuits with an
SFI 3.2A/5 rating for ALL crew members. Simpson manufactures both one and two piece crew suits. Our suits comply with all SFI standards and are manufactured using genuine DuPont™ Nomex® at our suit factory in Harbor City, CA. We always recommend fire retardant undergarments to ensure maximum protection. Both Nomex® and CarbonX® are excellent performing fabrics for your undergarments.
Good safety equipment is never something you want to skimp on. Make it a priority. Since 1959, Simpson Performance Products has been the leading manufacturer of safety equipment for the motorsports industry. The Simpson safety umbrella is extensive and includes helmets, firesuits, restraint systems, parachutes, shoes and gloves for the racing industry. We believe in putting safety first and are dedicated to elevating the standards of racing safety through continuous development, refinement and testing. The one thing that remains constant is Simpson’s commitment to racer safety.
Trevor Ashline: Simpson Performance Products, Inc.
www.teamsimpson.com & www.safetysolutionsracing.com
After receiving his mechanical engineering degree from Rochester Institute of Technology, Trevor Ashline began his career in the automotive industry in Detroit where he worked for 9 yrs. as a Restraint Engineer/Program Manager for restraint companies, such as Takata, Allied Signal and Autoliv. Ashline headed up Autoliv’s Racing Safety Program from 2000 – 2001 which was instrumental in the investigation following the accident that killed NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt. After relocating to the Carolinas in 2002, Ashline started Safety Solutions and developed the first of many head restraints and other components for racing safety systems. Ashline is a sought after industry expert and has written numerous industry papers including SAE Paper 2008-01-2969: Occupant Compartment Updates for Side to Side Vibration in a Fuel Funny Car. In 2010, Safety Solutions was acquired by Simpson Performance Products and Trevor Ashline joined Simpson, a leading U.S. brand in racing safety since 1959.