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Friday, August 31, 2012

Stock Car Safety Checklist

If auto racing was not dangerous, anyone could do it....and you and I probably would not bother.

The mindset of a race car driver is he/she is indestructible or the bad accident will always happen to another driver. There is nothing wrong with that thought process. Slinging a 3000 pound car, at 90 m.p.h., into a turn, with 20 other wolves gunning for your piece of real estate, is not for the mild mannered and meek! Unfortunately, the reality of our sport is injuries and fatal accidents do occur on race tracks every week. While it is impossible to prevent the inevitable, race car drivers can take many steps to reduce this risk, before getting on the track.
With the 2012 race season in full swing, many drivers will purchase, replace or upgrade their personal safety equipment. Typically, this equipment is sought out once the everything else is just about track ready, so the obvious place to start the safety checklist would be the race car.
Climb into the cockpit and inspect for sharp edges. Very nasty wounds can occur when body parts contact sharp pieces of metal, especially during impact. Usually, a grinder, body hammer and 10 minutes of your time will correct any potential problems.
While in the seat, put your helmet on and have a crew member measure the clearance between your head and the top of the roll cage. If your helmet is above, at or near the top of the halo bars, then, you are essentially the roll cage. Consider lowering the seat, contacting your chassis builder or put your fabrication skills to work by extending the height of the roll cage.
Also while in the seat, with seat belts fastened, extend your arms, legs and head to all points of the cockpit, then add 8 inches to all points. Any roll cage tubes which you could come into contact, should be padded. There is 2 types of padding available, standard and premium. The standard is definitely better than a bare tube, the downside of the standard padding is it will melt and drip when exposed to fire. The premium padding, will actually feel very hard, but it is more effective at cushioning impacts. The premium padding also has some resistance to melting if exposed to flame. Longacre Racing Products makes an excellent door bar pad. Install a few snap rivets and you can cover all the door bars in one shot.
The shifter can be a potential problem spot. At the least, zip tie some padding around the gear shift and consider a fire resistant boot, as that is a common area for flame to enter the cockpit in the event of a blown engine or transmission.
Another easy inspection and fix, is the firewall. Pop rivet or weld sheet metal over any holes on the firewall. Many racers use GE clear silicone to seal seams or grometts that wiring or cables pass through. Keep in mind, most silicones will not accept paints.
Inspect or install 1 or more drive shaft hoops. Some horrible injuries have been administered by broken driveshafts entering the cockpit.
If you use an on board fire extinguishing system, check the gauge to verify it has a full charge. If you are using a standard fire extinguisher, consider a full system. With the system, you can route a nozzle to the engine, fuel cell and driver and just 1 pull will activate. The main bottle can be mounted behind the drivers seat or other areas of the race car which may need some additional weight for chassis tuning.
Check the seat mounting. There are a number of methods for correctly mounting the racing seat. The incorrect method is bolting the seat to the floor pan. Most late model chassis builders have engineered their mounting points into the chassis. Street Stock type cars want to make sure their seat is mounted to the roll cage structure. Use at least 2 attachment points, the first at the bottom of the seat and the second point at the seat back. It is now becoming common to attach the seat at the lower back as well. Bolt the seat to the structure with multiple, rounded, Grade 8 hardware and use some sort of locking on the nuts to make sure they do not loosen. Large, thick washers will help prevent the bolts from pulling through the aluminum seat.
Finally, inspect your harness system. All SFI approved systems are dated and many sanctioning bodies mandate 2 years max for a usable lifespan. If you notice any fraying of the belts, replace. Complete new harness systems can be purchased for around $70.

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