I have always tried to follow the philosophy of "safety first"
on the racetrack. There are a variety of hazards in motorsports
to protect yourself from. One of those is FIRE. Fire is not only
the most dangerous hazard to a racer but one of the simplest to
protect herself from. Protecting yourself from fire requires knowledge
to make informed decisions about what or what not to wear.
The basic functions of fireproof clothing is to insulate the skin
from the intense heat of a fire and to maintain the material's basic
integrity and after that, it must allow for movement and be tolerable
The very first fireproof clothing was made out of cotton and treated
with Borax and the second suits to come along, were cotton treated
with Proban. Unfortunately, through washing, they lost their fire
resistance. Proban is still widely used today and racers must be
careful on how they clean their clothing even though the chemical
used today tests much better than when it was first developed. It
still may lose its' fire resistance without warning if you are using
the washing machine to clean with.
In the early 60s, fire resistant fibers were developed. Dupont
showcased Nomex and then Kevlar, which soon was followed by Celanese's
PBI fibers. These are fibers that are woven into fire-resistant
fabrics and then sold to the manufacturers.
Filament Nomex or Nomex I was the "new" fabric to be
used for fireproof clothing but it had a tendency to shrink and
crack in a fire in just a few seconds. So Dupont developed Nomex
III, which was combination of 95% Nomex and 5% Kevlar.
PBI fibers are, by far, the best fire wise but lack strength, so
these fibers are interwoven with Kevlar. It is far superior to Nomex
III but is very expensive and your only color choice is, light brown.
Just recently, several developers have been creating a new fire
resistant fiber from carbon, CarbonX by Chapman Thermal Products
and a similar fiber by Carbon Cloth Technologies. It will be exciting
to see what level this new fiber can take fire safety to.
Ratings for fireproof clothing are done by two different standards.
One is the SFI Foundation and the other is used by firefighters
and the military and is called TPI or Thermal Protective Performance.
Keep in mind while looking at this chart, that your skin blisters
at 130 degrees and gasoline burns at 1800+ degrees Fahrenheit. It
is also recommended that a racer wear nothing below an SFI rating
of 5 and that requires, not just a firesuit, but layers of clothing
including racing underwear, socks, gloves, shoes, headsock &
| Seconds you have
until you start to blister
| SFI 3.2A/1
| 3 sec.
| SFI 3.2A/3
| 7 sec.
| SFI 3.2A/5
| 9.5 sec.
| SFI 3.2A/15
| 30 sec.
Now that you are armed with the basic knowledge of fireproof materials,
the next step is to discuss how you put that knowledge to use. Layers,
layers & more layers should be your motto. When you want to
protect yourself from the elements, you wear layers.
Not only can you assure the safety of a driving suit by the SFI
rating but the more layers the suit has, the better the protection.
And underneath that triple layer driving suit should be another
layer of long underpants & shirt.
Since racing has long been a "man's" world, the availability
of long underpants/shirts for racing women has been limited to small,
medium and large, in men's sizes. The other dilemma that I have
had over the years has been underwear and bras. After doing a lot
of questioning, the best I could come up with, in the past, has
been cotton underwear and sportsbras and even these are never 100%
But, as of December 2000, Lady Eagle Wear, (formerly Lady D Safetywear
& division of Design 500) is offering safetywear specifically
made for women by a woman. Kathleen Standley, who has worked with
Design 500 since 1988, began developing a line of undergarments
for racing women after a supplier suggested that there was a need
in the racing world. Lady Eagle Wear offers "Undercover",
a line that includes long underwear, sports bras, panties &
bicycle shorts. They also offer driving suits for a woman's figure.
Now that you have your triple layer firesuit, panties, bra, long
underpants & shirt, you need to add the layers of socks. I usually
wear 2 pairs with my racing shoes, since if there is an engine fire,
my feet will probably be the first to be exposed.
Next are your gloves and last, but not least is the headsock &
helmet. Make sure your helmet has a Snell rating and not an M rating.
M is for motorcycle and the inside lining is not made with Kevlar
and is not fireproof.
If you are dressed properly, you are ready to go racing!
Arming yourself with even the basics of any subject will give you
more control over what happens to you, especially in the area of
keeping yourself safe, so remember
.As you "suit up"
to race, every body part you have is worth more money than you will
ever have to spend to protect it.