One of the most dangerous situations a
driver can put himself in is to be the wick in an
explosive situation. A severe burn can be life
threatening or career ending.
Before each season, inspect your firesuit.
Look for anything that would cause it to be less
Oil or grease on the suit is a lightning rod for fire.
The suit should be washed and clean. Does the firesuit
have tears in the fabric? Tears or patches repaired
without Nomex or similar thread will burn quickly,
leaving you exposed. Some types of suit fabric can lose
their flame-retardant characteristics after many
washings; Nomex isnt one of them. Check with the
manufacturer for washing or dry cleaning instructions.
A firesuit doesnt have to be new, but
it should be in good condition. Check it carefully. If
it doesnt seem to be good enough, then thumbtack it to
a wall in the shop as a trophy. Get a new one with
two-layers if at all possible. The additional cost is
worth the added protection.
Hands and feet often suffer first in a
fire. You dont have much choice where you put them
when getting out of a burning car. Get SFI-rated gloves,
socks, and shoes for added fire safety.
Your helmet is another piece of equipment
needing fire protection. Yours should have a Snell
Foundation rating, for instance an SA-95. If yours has
an M-95, that is for motorcycles. Remember, the interior
lining is not a fire-retardant fabric.
Now that you are satisfied with your fire
protection gear, lets look at some potential sources
of driver burns. The fuel tank is at the top of the
list. Too often, many of us race with a plastic fuel
cell. Even on short tracks, whether your rules require
it or not, there should be a steel can with the tank
inside. This fuel cell should also have a rollover vent.
See where the fuel line runs through your
car. It should not be in the cockpit area. If it is, it
should be run inside a secured, larger metal tube.
Another source of driver burns is often
found in a Street Stock with an automatic transmission
with an oil cooler hanging around in the cockpit area.
Many times these cooler lines are made of rubber fuel
line and are under only a small amount of pressure, but
Ive seen them cut and pulled off. A hot liquid (250+
degrees F) can do as much damage as a burning one. All
such cooler lines need to have metal separating them
from the driver.
Chassis And Engine Safety
Take a long look at your seat belts. They
should be clean and not weathered. Look closely at
places where belts come through the seat. There should
not be any wear or abrasion marks in this area. Check
the hardware mounting points for looseness. While you
are there, take a good look at your seat mounting. This
would be a good time to upgrade seat mountings. Use
fender washers and Grade 5 bolts. A Grade 5 bolt has
three marks on the head. Bolts with no marks are soft
and should not be used. Follow the belt manufacturers
mounting instructions to the letter.
Starting at the front, take a close look
at the radiator hoses because old hoses may be weak.
When replacing a hose, always ask for the premium hose.
They cost more but they will be worth it when you come
in from a feature win with an overheated motor and open
the hood. Often, pressure builds after the engine is
shut down. A blown hose is like an out-of-control steam
cleaner and can burn off a few layers of skin.
Also check the engine-cooling fan. Look
for cracks or bent blades. If you have a steel hub,
stainless steel blade, flex fan remove it from the car.
Fatigue can cause the blades to crack and become
shrapnel. Steel and aluminum race car fans, as well as
plastic flex fans that give little trouble are
Take a close look at the ball joints,
tie-rod ends, and suspension mountings. Rod ends can be
bent, causing front-end settings to be off the mark.
Wear on ball joints is difficult to detect with a load
on them. It is necessary to remove one of the ball
joints so the spring is not loading the suspension. A
lot of energy is stored in the spring so do this very
carefully, making sure the spring cannot jump out. If
you have weight jacks, you should be able to loosen the
spring this way. Feel for vertical slack. Too much wear
and the joint can separate into two pieces. This could
cause you to crash. Your parts store should have a
specification for allowable wear on your specific joint.
Ducking underneath the race car, check
the driveshaft. A large dent or other visible damage can
cause it to vibrate, which can cause other parts to
fail. Be sure you have a driveshaft loop in place. This
will keep you from having that rising feeling if the
front U-joint gives up and the driveshaft digs into the
track. Dont forget the rear U-joint clamps. I have had
them loosen up several times.
Check your wheels, particularly if you
are using OEM wheels, for cracks and damaged lug holes.
If a wheel has ever been run with loose lugs, the holes
have been damaged. Even if your track doesnt require
it, use 1-inch lug nuts. Each week, put your race car on
jackstands and crawl under it with a handful of
wrenches. Put a wrench on every bolt and nut you can
find. While doing this you will see bent or cracked
parts before they fail and cost you a race or cause a
A word about jackstands: Always use them,
at the shop and at the track. You dont want to be
remembered as jack flat.
Check your personal safety equipment. * Firesuit. Is
it OK? Clean? Gloves, shoes, socks?
* Helmet. Does it have the correct
Check the race car.
* Fuel cell. Is it in a metal can
with a rollover vent?
* Fuel lines in the cockpit area. Are
they doubly enclosed?
* Transmission oil cooler lines. Are
they separated from the driver by metal?
* Seat belts. Are belts worn, frayed
or weathered? Are the mountings secure? What date
were they manufactured?
* Radiator hoses. New? High quality?
* Engine cooling fan. Correct type
and good condition?
* Suspension and steering parts.
Inspect for wear and condition.
* Under the car. Check U-joints and
clamps. Check driveshaft for damage.
* Check the wheels. Look for cracks
and bad lug holes. Use 1-inch lug nuts.
* Use jackstands.