Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Rookie Stripe: Fourteen Facts about NASCAR Fire Suits


Credit: Logan Stewart for Skirts and Scuffs
Technology has always been a hot topic in racing. No doubt, what our favorite drivers wear from race to race certainly consumes us as well. Fire suits are the norm in modern racing, just as a basketball player would wear a jersey or a professional skier would wear a race suit. But fire suits haven’t always been around in NASCAR.

Denim blue jeans, a ubiquitous American classic and the original miners’ wear, were the durable uniform choice in NASCAR’s early days. According to NASCAR.com, drivers and crew alike often paired jeans with T-shirts affiliated with an automotive manufacturer or brand, and eventually started using rudimentary cooling liners made of netting.

With time, the science of racing apparel naturally progressed, too, and fire suits have been just one of the drastic improvements on the circuit designed to combat flames. With the copious amounts of gasoline at any race, fires can erupt not only during crashes, but virtually anywhere on a NASCAR track, including pit road.

Fire suits today are uniforms, but safety is their priority and function. Here are 14 facts about fire suits:

1. Glenn "Fireball" Roberts, a beloved racing legend who won 33 races, was in a fiery crash in the 1964 World 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway that left him with severe burns. He survived the crash but died of complications six weeks after the accident. Fireball Roberts’ death was one of the major catalysts that led to the development of more fire-resistant uniforms in racing.

2. In the 1960s, some drivers dipped their clothing into baking soda to make it more fire resistant.

3. Modern fire suits are made of Nomex® or Proban® fire-retardant materials. According to Nomex’s website, Nomex fiber protects auto racing teams through its inherent heat- and flame-resistant properties and durability.

Credit: Debbie Ross for Skirts and Scuffs

What's the difference?

Nomex: Nomex, developed by DuPont, is a permanently fire-retardant fiber that's woven or knitted into fabric. It remains fire-retardant over time.

Proban: Proban is used mostly in single-layer economy uniforms. It's a cotton-based material which has been chemically treated so that it is fire retardant. However, washing it decreases the fire protection.
         
4. Helmet lining, gloves, socks, and shoes are also made of Nomex materials.

5. Fire suits not only protect from fire, heat and burns, but allow cooler air to enter the suit and expel air heated by the body, also known as air transfer.

6. Pit crew members also wear fire suits. Each individual’s fire suit is custom-tailored, often has his or her name on the back and is professionally cleaned after each use.

7. Special undergarments are worn underneath fire suits.

8. In the United States, the SFI Foundation issues and administers standards for the quality assurance of specialty performance and racing equipment, including NASCAR fire suits. Its racing suit specification 3.2A tests a material’s fire retardant capabilities and ability to provide thermal protective performance (known as TPP) against flame and heat. The test and a mathematical calculation determine a number value which determines the suit’s TPP value. Logically, the higher the TPP value, the better the rating of the fire suit and its properties.

9. NASCAR mandates that drivers and any crew member handling fuel to wear a one-piece fire suit at a minimum of SFI 3.2A/5. Pit crew members who go over the wall must wear a suit with an SFI rating of 3.2A/1 or better.
Credit: http://sfifoundation.com/
10. A gasoline fire can burn between 1,800 and 2,100 degrees Fahrenheit.

11. Beginning in the 1980s, fire suits also became a place to put sponsor logos. Like the colorful stock car paint schemes, fire suits today come in a vivid array of colors and are carefully designed to incorporate a number of logos.

12. Fire suits can be heavy. Nomex averages about 14 to 16 ounces per square yard. Depending on the size of the driver it takes around three yards of material to make a Sprint Cup fire suit. Sponsor logo and embroidery adds weight as well.

13. Some NASCAR media members wear fire suits, and there are reasons why.

14. A custom-made fire protection suit that meets all NASCAR specifications can cost between $900-$2,000, depending on style, logos and other embroidery. Remember when we said NASCAR is expensive?

On April 21, 2015 a scary fire on pit road erupted during the ToyotaCare 250 NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Richmond International Raceway when Brendan Gaughan’s No. 62 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet had a full-scale fireball near the left rear corner of the car. Gaughan had just pitted after a caution on Lap 108 of the 250-lap race when the gas man and rear tire changer were caught in the flames. They managed to escape the inferno and were treated at a local hospital, but their fire suits undoubtedly helped save them from more serious injury or maybe even saved their lives, just like dozens of competitors before them.

More about fire suits:
SFI Foundation suit specifications
Watch a Nomex Fire Retardant Suit Demonstration
Simpson Racing: Anatomy of a Custom Fire Suit

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