Mark Houlahan
Tech Editor, Mustang Monthly
December 14, 2009
Photos By: Patrick Hill, The Manufacturer

Driving Safety Equipment Guide
Driver Safety

Taking our cars to their limits in a controlled environment is some of the best fun we can all have with our clothes on. From drag racing to autocross and other high-performance driving events (HPDE), heading through the apex of a turn at your limits or blasting through the traps at the end of the quarter with your foot buried into the back of the engine will put a grin on your face that simply can't be wiped off, no matter how hard you try. Spending a weekend at the track is a great way to build your bench-racing story collection too, with tales of besting your previous track times, blowing the doors off of another racer, and other great moments.

Having the proper safety equipment during performance driving is just as important as having the right tires or a properly operating brake system. We're not just talking about seatbelts here, although that's a good start. No, we're talking about fire safety, helmets, supportive seating, and more.

Having the right safety gear not only means you have a better chance of surviving any sort of unfortunate track mishap, but for many HPDE sanctioning bodies, a minimum safety requirement is listed in its rules or on its website, some of which is even vehicle body-style specific.

We hope the following information not only prepares you for future driving events and track days, but informs you of just how important it can be to have the proper safety equipment on you and your Ford.

It's All In The Numbers
You've probably heard of the SFI Foundation, or at the least, heard the term bantered about when it comes to engine dampers, flywheels, and other high-rpm parts. SFI is a non-profit organization that issues standards for performance equipment. SFI standards are used by manufacturers and are often adopted by sanctioning bodies, thus our earlier recommendation to check with your event organizers to see what rules they are using and what safety equipment is required. Just about any piece of safety equipment you can think of (suits, gloves, helmets, belts, and so on) carries an SFI certification.

For driving suits, the SFI classification is 3.2A, which is SFI's rating for how long a selected suit or jacket/pants will protect the wearer from second-degree burns in a fire between 1,800 and 2,100 degrees Fahrenheit. The test is calculated in calories per unit area per time of exposure, which determines the Thermal Protection Performance (TPP) of the material. Simply take the TPP number of any suit you are considering and divide the number by two to get the approximate time of protection before second-degree burns occur. For example, if a 3.2A/5 suit has a TPP of 24, you have approximately 12 seconds of protection. That doesn't sound like much, but it's a lot better than a 3.2A/1 single-layer suit with a TPP of 6, which is just 3 seconds of protection. Now think about the worst-case scenario you might be in-upside down and on fire. Wouldn't you want to spend the money on a multi-layer suit?

Another foundation you might have heard mentioned in the past is Snell. The Snell Memorial Foundation was formed in 1957. The Snell foundation tests and develops standards for racing helmets. Helmets that meet Snell standards offer the highest safety factor you can get, higher than those set by the DOT and other federal agencies. Currently the Snell rating is SA-2005, which is its latest test for impact resistance, penetration by projectiles, fire resistance, and more.

If a buddy loans you an old SA-95 helmet, more than likely the track officials won't let you use it. The M-2005 rating is for motorcycle use, and while some sanctioning bodies/track locations allow the M-rated helmet, you're really better off having the safety of the SA-2005 helmet, especially for the fire-retardant properties.