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

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COMFORTABLE PROTECTION Safety Experts Discuss Ergonomics And Comfort In Safety Apparel By Dan Sanchez When most competitors finish any SCORE race, they’re usually exhausted after being exposed to driving for long hours in the vehicle or holding on to the handlebars, in the case of moto racers. While the experience of finishing a SCORE race is exhilarating, it’s not so much fun when you’re hot, dusty, sweaty, and getting bumped around violently for hours at a time. Although this is the environment that is Baja racing, competitors, at the very least, want their safety gear to be as comfortable as possible. Fire suits, underwear, helmets, gloves, and shoes are necessary for off-road racing, designed to protect vehicle occupants and riders from injuries and fire. But wearing these items never felt like your favorite shirt or a well-worn pair of jeans. There was no such thing as “comfortable” safety gear, but over the years, technology in fabrics and design has changed racing apparel from heavy and stiff to light, breathable, and comfortable. “Comfort and ergonomics are as much of a safety aspect now as the garment itself is,” says Ben O’Connor, VP of Sales at Impact Racing. “If you’re driving for long periods of time in something uncomfortable, it can adversely affect your driving.”   While racing across the desert at high speeds avoiding obstacles and other competitors, it only takes a second of fidgeting with your racing suit, gloves, shoes, or helmet, to cause a lapse of momentary judgment. Within that split second, a wrong decision can lead to an accident or worse. Recognizing this, safety gear manufacturers have also been focusing on improving driving/riding comfort, not only with fabrics but also in design. “Materials have become lighter and breathable, allowing off-road competitors to be more comfortable when they are racing in the harsh environments of desert racing,” says Chris Emery, Owner of The Racers Safety Source. “In the past, competitors would have an idea of what they wanted and would simply order it. Now, they are coming into the store to try it on and see how it feels. It’s a very important change as they want to check out the materials and make sure they feel good in it.” Some of the factors that make safety apparel more comfortable include increasing the size of gussets in key areas such as under the armpits, crotch, and knees. According to O’Connor, these are small items but make a massive difference during long races. “As an example, our Impact Racing top-end gloves, the Alpha and Phenom, have external stitching, so they don’t rub against the skin. They are also made with the fingers pre-curved slightly to prevent the glove from bunching up where you bend them. There is also a silicone layer placed on the fingertips and on the palms for improved grip. Overall, we’ve made them thinner and with a better tactile feel for an improved interface between the driver and the vehicle.” The same holds true for the latest racing helmets on the market. According to Emery, light and adjustable is the way things are moving, especially in off-road motorsports. “One of the biggest and newest products in this area is the Bell BR8 off-road racing-specific helmet,” he says. “It’s lighter in weight, has adjustable interior padding, and has three options for forced air. They also offer it in composite or carbon fiber materials.” With comfort on the minds of both manufacturers and racers, the best thing I am seeing is that more sportsman racers, and those that are not racing on huge budgets, are selecting higher-end racing apparel,” says Emery. “They are becoming more educated and know that better equipment will allow them vital more time to exit a vehicle in a fire, or give them a bit more protection than what they have been using in the past. “Your protective gear including your helmet and fire suit is just one aspect and is a must,” adds Scott Steinberger “The Weatherman” and President/Owner of PCI Race Radios. “Please do not drive your race cars without your fire suite, helmet and neck restraints.” COMMON MISTAKES Although it’s mandatory for racers in all classes to have proper outer apparel, it’s common that they don’t always wear fire-retardant underwear. A trend towards using compression-style underwear to reduce fatigue is a popular undergarment, but safety experts warn against using these types of undergarments. “We see lots of racers wear polyester or synthetic compression undergarments,” says Emery. “While these do help with muscle fatigue, the fabric will melt onto the skin when under extreme heat.”   Flame retardant undergarments, including a balaclava for under the helmet, provide the extra time for someone to extricate themselves from a fully engulfed in flames. “Racers can try on undergarments as there are various sizes that could provide some type of compression,” says O’Connor. “But the fact is that you ultimately want to give yourself the best and longest amount of protection available with and under your racing suit.” “There’s no substitute for Nomex underwear,” adds Emery. “Many of the latest underwear are now breathable and pull sweat away from the body to help keep you cooler. But if you go against the rules and don’t like or want to wear one, then at the least wear something that is 100-percent cotton, rather than any polyester, as it will melt onto your skin.” Racing shoes also fall into this category; some simply don’t opt for the latest fire-retardant designs available. “I still see a lot of leather and canvas shoes being worn in off-road races,” says Emery. “I think they know that they may have to exit the vehicle at some point, and they would prefer something with more traction or a thicker sole to walk over rough terrain. There are some good options, however, like Alpine Star’s Radar shoe that has a hefty, durable sole. OMP also has its TT show that is also thicker and reinforced heels.” MAKE EDUCATED DECISIONS No matter what safety equipment you choose, these industry experts, and others, agree to make sure they come from brand-name manufacturers. “Anything from top-line manufacturers is going to be great,” says Emery. “If you see a company with some kind of gimmick to sell a racing suit or gear, stay away from that.” While off-road racing has become safer in many aspects, it’s still a dangerous sport, and safety is never to be taken lightly. “The reality is that there are always going to be incidents that happen, and equipment failures will always occur,” says O’Connor. “The best thing anyone can always do is to be prepared. In off-road racing, there are a lot of inconsistencies. It’s not as structured as IndyCar or NASAR racing.” Steinberger couldn’t agree more and also suggests to improve the time it takes emergency crews to reach you, it’s also important to check your communications prior to a race. “Make sure your driver has a clear path and nobody is in your testing area,” he says. “I personally test at Outlet Center in Barstow and recommend only testing on weekdays when there are less people recreating in the area. It can be crowded and dangerous on the weekends and very dangerous to slam the whoops at speed. Good communication with your crew will spot the areas you are testing at speed, but also have our crew ready to move quickly with fire suppression equipment.” With more people having access to participating in SCORE races, especially within the UTV classes, it’s important that teams become educated in what’s needed to prepare for a race, and become familiar with what safety equipment works best, and how to properly use it to ensure they will be racing for many more years to come. Check out this video on fire protection and the practice drills necessary to evacuate from a burning vehicle, created by Stand 21 and the Racing Goes Safer motorsports safety foundation. Sources Impact Racing The Racers Safety Source PCI Race Radios

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