No one plans to crash their car, but the worst can happen. Luckily, there are ways to protect yourself if it ever does. From the casual beginner to the more committed track junkie, there are many things, from cheap to expensive, that can make the difference between life and death.
The most common safety item is a helmet; all track days will require one. While an open face helmet might be more comfortable, a full face, automotive helmet will provide the most protection in an accident. Unlike motorcycle helmets, helmets intended for auto racing use fire resistant fabrics and are designed for car specific collisions; be sure to get one with a Snell rating. My Zamp helmet is SA2010 rated and has served me very well.
Most beginners will go to the track in street clothes, and this is fine if you wear the right fabrics. Avoid synthetic materials like polyester as they melt when exposed to fire; cotton and wool burn slowly and will offer some protection. Long pants, long sleeves, long socks, and closed-toe shoes are highly recommended even if they are not required.
When stepping up to the next level, a great cheap option is a used flight suit. A surplus military flight suit is made of fire resistant fabric and can easily be put on over the clothes your wore to the track. I have been using one for a couple years now, and it has worked out great. Obviously, after this, there are endless options for dedicated race suits that offer even more protection.
Gloves serve two purposes: they help you grip the wheel, and they protect your hands. A good set of gloves will provide a firm and comfortable grip, session after session. A thinner glove offers less protection, but it will be more comfortable and natural. I love my RJS Racing gloves because I can barely tell they’re there.
Most car people already have a pair of shoes that they prefer to use when driving their car; I used a pair of Vans. A pair of actual driving shoes not only help you feel the pedals better, but they will also protect you from fire (see a theme here?). Again, I went to RJS Racing; my shoes are light and offer great feel. Bring normal shoes to walk around in as racing shoes will wear out quickly during regular walking.
It’s difficult to concentrate on driving while struggling against the g-forces of a turn. A good race seat will make track driving more comfortable and safer; they are also lighter than a factory seat. I have a Kirkey aluminium seat with added head protectors; the seat wraps around my body like a glove offering great support and protection. I can also easily switch back to the factory seat for daily driving (I highly recommend this).
Once a race seat is installed, the option to wear a 5-point harness is available. A harness holds you tightly in the seat and offers added protection in crashes. I have an RJS Racing 5 point harness for the driver and a Schroth Rallye harness for the passenger (with a stock seat); I store the harnesses behind the seats to use the factory belts on the street.
This is usually the sign that you are very serious about tracking your car. A roll bar adds protection in a rollover, provides a mounting point for harnesses, and stiffens the chassis. While some weight is added, it is well worth it (plus it helps with weight distribution). I have a bolt-in roll bar from Kirk Racing and really like it.
A fire extinguisher can be the difference between a bit of fire damage and a total loss. I have a small extinguisher attached to my roll bar, and I pray I never have to use it. Make sure your extinguisher is a BC style for flammable liquids and electrical fires.
There’s more to track days than just driving really fast; it’s also a car meet. I love walking around the pits to look at other peoples cars and talk to the owners. Get a couple automotive shirts to wear around; they could be a good conversation starter.
My Safety Gear
- Zamp Helmet $150
- Wool Socks $5
- Used Flight Suit $25
- RJS Racing Gloves $40
- RJS Racing Shoes $70
- Kirkey Race Seat $250
- RJS Racing 5 Point Harness $90
- Schroth Rallye $190
- Kirk Bolt-In Roll Bar $500
- BC Fire Extinguisher $10
- Assorted Shirts $5-$15
I have yet to see any serious accidents at the track, but it only has to happen once. Covered in fire resistant clothing from head to toe, strapped into an aluminum race seat, and surrounded by a roll bar, I feel pretty safe. It makes a big psychological difference on the track, and I can’t recommend it enough. So suit up and stay safe.