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SCORE Journal - The Official Publication of SCORE Off-Road Racing

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SAFELY SITUATED Industry Leaders Discuss the latest Safety trends and issues they see in off-road motorsports By Dan Sanchez Off-road motorsports often lead the way to innovations and products that make a variety of vehicle components stronger and more durable. But aside from suspension and tire technology, safety experts are also using off-road motorsports as ways to improve the gear that keeps racers and their crews safer. Head shaking terrain, catching big air, hydration, and many other factors are what today’s SCORE racers have to deal with. Fortunately, safety product manufacturers are introducing new technologies and materials that are changing the sport, and continually improving on the ways and techniques to keep off-road racer safer than ever before. Various industry experts share some of the latest technologies, trends, as well as some of the mistakes they witness while attending off-road racing events. Their input will hopefully improve the ways racers approach safety and leave nothing to chance, ensuring all racers and pit crew members can improve their chances of avoiding serious injuries, as well as being fit enough to win races. Robbie Pierce, owner of Jimco and safety equipment distributor and retailer, discusses some of the latest trends and safety issues he’s investigated and continues to introduce into off-road motorsports HELMETS “The newest technologies in helmet design have completely changed how we build helmets,” says Kietzman. “We are building more flexible shells and higher density liners and are now using carbon materials with resin and compression molding to create strong outer shells. On the inside, multi piece liners now control the impact forces that we need to manage. For the racer, this translates to a stronger and lighter shell, with the overall helmet that can manage greater energy and is more resistant to penetration.” With lighter weight being one of the advantages of new helmet designs, Kietzman gave an example of their NASCAR helmet (Bell RS7) and redesigned it to reduce weight. “We worked with Penske Racing and they asked us if there was a way to reduce the weight,” said Kietzman. “We looked at the components and were able to redesign the helmet which was 3.75 pounds, and reduced the weight to 2.75 pounds. This offers many advantages, especially in reducing fatigue over longer distances.” Helmet designs are also trending to be more adaptive for communication, hydration and more according to Kietzman. “Racing helmets are a hub for many different components. There are ear cups, communication equipment, hydration, fresh air and more being added to them. So it’s more important for drivers to have the helmet custom-fitted to be more comfortable,” says Kietzman. “On the higher-end, we can create a custom head scan and design the helmet around the driver’s head contours to maximize fitment and comfort. On other levels, we are using new fire retardant materials inside the helmet that wick away and absorb moisture. Internal airflow design also maximizes cooling and evaporation for the driver. We have also experimented with mounting a small camera in the helmet at eye level to replicate what the driver sees. The next step is to add biometric sensors to provide data on the driver.” When it comes to off-road specific helmets, Bell is coming out with a new model that will feature an integrated communication and hydration system, like the MagLock Air and FluidLogic, as well as provide the option for multiple forced-air options. “Custom-fit and the capability of custom scans will translate into the off-road for those that want it,” said Kietzman. “These will be lighter and smaller and offer greater performance and safety advantages.” HYDRATION “Hydration is essential in long-distance off-road motorsports, as it keeps the driver-focused while lowering the heart-rate. The problem is when to drink. After working with doctors from a variety of universities and athletic institutions, it’s been proven that adequate hydration is best achieved with regular fluid delivery. Racers like Ricky Johnson have put this to the test, and driven in SCORE Baja 1000 using this method. Utilizing the FluidLogic® hands-free hydration system that he can pre-program from his mobile device,” says Jaeger. The FluidLogic® works in conjunction with the MagLock Air air-hose connection system where the water line is routed through the air hose, into the helmet, and comes out through the company’s AquaCom, a silicone mouthpiece that slips over the microphone of the driver’s communication system in the helmet. “Ricky, for example, takes a pre-calculated amount of water every five minutes. The idea is to get ahead of hydration and thirst to take control of it,” says Jaeger. “This results in more focused drivers who don’t have to take their hands off the steering wheel or handlebars to take a drink. Drinking in regular intervals also allows the body to absorb fluids and drivers don’t have to stop and urinate as frequently.” According to Jaeger, the FluidLogic® system can be programmed through a mobile device, and through a proprietary high-pressure pump and computer processor to deliver a precise dose of water at a predetermined time. “The system includes a lighted push-button for the steering wheel that illuminates when it is time for a drink. Drivers simply push the button, take a drink, and keep doing this throughout the race,” says Jaeger. “Check valves throughout the system keep the water and pressure constant, so when the driver disconnects from the coaxial Maglock Air for a driver change, no water seeps out or air gets into the system.” FIRE SUITS & ACCESSORIES “Racers are wanting more comfort, so fire suits are becoming lighter and more breathable. Many racers, however, skip wearing fire-rated garments under their suits, or wear garments that can melt to the skin in a fire,” says O’Connor. “We cannot stress the importance of wearing fire-rated garments, like underwear, socks, and balaclavas. While it may only add seconds of protection, time is everything during a fire. Nowhere is this truer than in desert racing where help isn’t always nearby. If egress is compromised and the vehicle is on fire, that time can be the difference between walking away and a catastrophe.” Impact Racing also manufactures a variety of racing shoes, helmets, gloves, and safety harnesses. One of the other safety trends O’Connor sees is that racers often get used to an old set of gloves or shoes that they feel are lucky, or are very comfortable. “The problem is that sometimes the gear may have issues that compromise safety,” he says. “So it’s always a good idea to change them out after they get worn. We are seeing racers take all the proper gear to inspection, then put on compromised gear for the race. One way to ensure racers are wearing the proper gear during the event would be to do post tech inspections. I don’t see that happening soon, but racers should always want to have maximum protection when competing, anyway.” In races that involve driver changes, the concern for proper harness attachment and alignment in the vehicle is one which O’Connor, as well as other safety industry manufacturers, are quick to point out. “Racing harnesses aren’t always installed properly, and/or are in poor condition,” says O’Connor. “It’s something safety crews might catch during an inspection, but teams should understand the proper way to route and fasten the belts to the vehicle. Also, like any part of the vehicle, teams should inspect all safety equipment between races as part of their prep routine to help ensure they have the greatest amount of protection they can get.” “High-tech materials are becoming more affordable for grass-roots racers and enthusiasts,” says Utt. “We’re beginning to see more availability of carbon fiber, better fire retardant products, lighter fabrics, and generally better materials that we can offer to our customers. Lighter is always better, especially in helmets, and in October we’ll see the SNELL SA2020 Spec come into play. Every five years the SNELL Foundation increases standards for helmets and this makes them better. For the racer or enthusiast with a helmet, it’s a good time to upgrade when the new SNELL specifications come out. For the most part, helmets with normal wear and tear should be changed every five to eight years.” When it comes to fire suits and driver protection, Utt is a proponent of everyone also wearing fire-retardant underwear. “Fire retardant underwear is not that expensive and today’s technical fabrics wick away moisture and keep you comfortable,” says Utt. “Our underwear sells for $59 top or bottom, and features flat seams for comfort.” Vehicle drivers aren’t the only ones that Utt believes should be wearing proper fire safety gear. He’s seen pit crews from local and sportsman teams wear t-shirts and shorts during pit stops. “My philosophy is that anyone driving, fueling or who are around a vehicle when fueling takes place, should be wearing a minimum of an SFI 3.2A/5 rated multi-layer suit, hood, helmet, fire-retardant shoes, and gloves,” says Utt. “There also needs to be a person doing nothing but holding onto a fire extinguisher while all the pit action goes on. It sounds like overkill but it takes just one time for a fire to get out of hand and injure or kill someone. Fire safety should never be left to chance.” Another safety item Utt sees improving now is head containment within the vehicle. “Seat design has changed and evolved because we know how important head containment is,” he says. “We want to limit movement in an impact and we’re seeing advances in that with head and neck restraints as well as safety nets. Safety nets should also be replaced every two years. Most window nets are SFI rated for two years and after that, the nylon in the webbing breaks down from UV rays from the sun, as well as shop lights.” HEAD & NECK RESTRAINTS “The biggest issue we see in the use of head and neck restraints are improper fitment. Most drivers don’t set the correct tether length and limit their head movements,” says Heath. “The assumption is that the device needs to grab the driver’s head immediately. Tether length adjustments should be enough that there’s proper head movement front to rear and side to side.” As with many safety devices, they are all designed to offer protection and be comfortable to use. “The head and neck restraint shouldn’t feel like it’s holding your head in place. In fact, it should feel like nothing is there,” says Heath. Heath was also adamant that head and neck restraints aren’t just for racing applications. “I also think it’s very important for recreational off-road enthusiasts to use head and neck restraints, especially with kids,” he says. “The weight of the helmets tosses their heads side to side and their necks take a beating. We designed a collar that absorbs the load of the helmet and addresses the weight. This works especially well for kids in UTVs.” BASE LAYER TECHNOLOGY “Increased awareness of the types and levels of protection that garments can provide has led to an increased interest in making safety apparel more comfortable. The priority in developing racing apparel, however, is to keep a driver safe and protected, which is why the standards for protection revolve around flammability and protection against heat transfer in the event of a fuel fire,” says Hirschi. “The CarbonX base layer garments that are used in motorsports are also used in molten-metal environments. Steelworkers wear an outer layer of protection—consisting of an aluminized jacket and leggings and an FR coverall—on top of their CarbonX Ultimate or Active Baselayer. Drivers use a similar system; they must wear an SFI-certified fire suit that covers a base layer providing next-to-skin protection. If that outer suit or jacket fails or is subjected to long exposure to direct flame or molten metal, the base layer is the last line of defense to protect the wearer from suffering a serious injury or worse.” A common reason why some racers don’t wear flame retardant underwear along with a multi-layer racing suit is due to the heat and perspiration that makes them uncomfortable. According to Hirschi, that’s all changing with new fabrics that are both moisture-wicking and non-flammable. “All of the CarbonX Baselayers meet the SFI requirements for heat and flame protection, just like any other SFI certified garment,” says Hirschi. “The SFI requirement for base layers is a minimum TPP rating of 6.0 cal/cm2. Our Ultimate and Active garments easily exceed this standard (Ultimate has a TPP rating of 14.8 cal/cm2, and Active has a TPP rating of 10.0 cal/cm2) They also perform significantly better than the SFI flammability requirements. CarbonXâ base layers that are manufactured from non-flammable fabrics designed for comfort and moisture-wicking. Our Ultimateä fabric delivers the highest level of inherently non-flammable protection and is a heavier fabric, yet it is considerably lighter than FR fabrics that provide similar levels of protection. Our Activeä fabric is lighter and includes FR Rayon in its fiber blend to help with comfort. The FR Rayon that we use in the Active blend is hydrophilic, which means it attracts water. Moisture from the body is wicked along the hydrophilic fibers so that it more readily evaporates and results in quicker cooling of the driver. Our CarbonX Arc fabric is currently in development and will be an even lighter alternative that combines comfort with our brand’s signature non-flammable protective properties.”

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