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

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RACE SUIT EVOLUTION Lighter Weight Fabrics And More Colors Are Crossing The Finish Line By Dan Sanchez Perhaps one of the most visible changes in driver and team safety is in the latest fire suits that are being manufactured and worn by off-road racers. In the past, simple black or white fire suits were the norm and racers would use patches or custom embroidery to showcase sponsors and team logos. Today, modern racing suit manufacturers are pushing the boundaries of lightweight fabrics, colors, and brand visibility with some new technologies. Lighter And More Breathable Fabrics One key element to off-road racers, especially those desert racers in SCORE, is the ability of the racing suit to be light and breathable in extreme heat conditions. New fabrics have come a long way since the creation of Nomex® in the late ‘60s. These fabrics were primarily made up of aromatic Polyamide fibers that are flame-resistant and cannot be washed out or worn away. As Nomex® fabric technology improved over the years, various versions became available for everything from electricians to firefighters and more. For off-road racing applications, however, most suits use newer versions of Nomex® specifically designed to provide more time to escape if engulfed in a fire, while others include a blend of Nomex® and Kevlar® fibers that offer greater thermal protection. “The latest evolution of racing suit fabrics is that they are considerably lighter and offer more breathability,” says Ben O’Connor, VP of Sales and Marketing at Impact Racing. “This is very important to off-road racers who have to deal with extreme temperatures while inside hot vehicles in the desert.” In addition, the use of multiple-layer suits with Nomex® underwear, and a balaclava under the helmet can cause dehydration under most racing conditions, so lighter and breathable fabrics are adding less stress to off-road motorsports racers. Articulation and added materials in areas of constant motion, such as the shoulder, elbow, and knee areas, have also made their way into the modern racing suit. “Ergonomics plays an important part of a safety garment as much as the garment itself,” says O’Connor “If racers are uncomfortable or chaffing happens during competition, it can be a distraction and cause a lapse of judgment at a crucial moment.” Adding Color And Branding Walking down the starting line before a SCORE race, and one can easily spot racers in colorful fire suits, that showcase their team and sponsor’s logos. Currently racers use embroidery which is economical and provides vibrant colors, but those are limited. Another alternative is applique’ where fabrics are adhered to the racing suit by sewing or a combination of sewing and embroidery. Heat transfer applies logos on the garment which looks good but fades and peels over time. The racing suit retains its breathing capabilities, except for the areas where the heat transfer is made. The latest way to add color and graphics is by Dye Sublimation. It’s a fabric printing process using heat-activated dyes, followed by curing the printed substrate to achieve a detailed printed image on the racing suit. “The technology is now available to be able to print just about anything onto your fire protective racing suit,” says O’Connor. “The use of dye sublimation for aramid fabrics allows for wild designs which are extremely popular among race teams.” “Traditionally, driver suits have featured embroidered sponsorship logos,” says Kelli Willmore Director of Sourcing/Research & Development at K1 Race Gear. “In response to the evolving design preferences of drivers and sponsors, there has been a shift towards more intricate branding and graphics. This prompted the use of both Dye Sublimated and Heat Transfer graphics resulting in greater detail for colored designs and branding elements. This process also made it possible to achieve new designs that were previously not possible from the limitations of traditional embroidery methods.” While the process is great for sponsors, the process comes with some slight drawbacks. “With dye sublimation, adding graphics and logos is simple and it’s easier to make color changes,” says O’Connor, but the colors are more muted, not as bright as embroidery. The graphics can also fade over time, but by then sponsors can change and everything has to be redone anyway.” SFI Regulations While these fire suits look great and offer many advantages, there are certain design limitations due to the stringent guidelines set forth by both the SFI Foundation and the FIA. According to Willmore, no matter what colors or graphics are applied to a racing suit, they must still pass these strict standards. “The 3.2A SFI specification sets the standards for flammability and other benchmarks required for SFI-approved racing suits,” she says. “The introduction of the SFI 3.4 NASCAR specific standard builds upon the 3.2A requirements, adding specific criteria for the flammability of sponsor graphics on the suits.” Both O’Connor and Willmore agree that racing fire suits with heat-transferred graphics can somewhat hinder the breathability of the fabric. In addition, if a large portion of the suit has a huge graphic applied to it, with a sponsor logo on the front chest as an example, it must still meet SFI 3.4 standards. “In practical terms, suits meeting the 3.4 standard must not only adhere to the flammability requirements of the 3.2A standard but also pass additional tests focused specifically on the graphics – applicable to embroidery, dye sublimation, and heat transfer graphics,” says Willmore. “This standard is mandated by race organizations such as NASCAR for the Cup, Xfinity, and Craftsman Truck series. It’s important to note that the 3.4 standard introduces graphic-specific tests without altering the fundamental requirements of the 3.2 and 3.2A specs. Suits must initially meet these foundational standards before becoming eligible for the NASCAR-specified graphic testing under the 3.4 standard.” The debate over how much of a driving suit should be covered with graphics can depend on the safety inspector, but in off-road racing, it doesn’t seem like an issue so far. SCORE requires racing suits to be certified to SFI 32.A/5 standards and must cover the body including neck, ankles, and wrists in all four-wheel vehicles. Suits certified to the SFI 3.2A/1 or 3.2A/3 standards may only be worn with a complete layer of SFI 3.3-certified undergarments. General Recommendations A big point that all fire safety apparel manufacturers recommend, is that racers and crew members should take this very seriously. Check your equipment regularly for wear and if you’ve been using a lower-cost suit made from a fire-resistant cotton that is chemically treated, be aware that the treatment can diminsh off or wash out over time. Check Thermal Protection Performance ratings (TPP) and know how long (in seconds) your suit will protect you from second-degree burns, according to SFI or FIA standards. Always wear fire retardant gloves, shoes, underwear, and balaclavas as they add to the TPP rating. Although most drivers and co-drivers are pretty well-protected racing apparel manufacturers still see crew members running around pit areas in short-sleeve T-shirts and shorts. “I advocate for heightened crew safety as a priority in off-road racing,” says Willmore. “While driver safety is frequently emphasized, the reality is that race trucks and cars often represent the safest location, particularly in Baja. Chase crews face significant risks on highways and even more so while pitting. I believe there should be a concerted effort to enhance crew safety by promoting the use of protective gear, even if comprehensive crew suits are financially challenging for some teams. At a minimum, I’d like to see crews equipped with denim pants, cotton long-sleeve shirts, closed-toe shoes, and basic protective eyewear, with an optimal scenario being the inclusion of crew helmets for added protection.” Nothing beats the assurance that your team’s vehicle occupants and crew are safe at all times. Improving safety has always been SCORE International’s number one goal, which has led to substantial improvements over the past five decades. Sources Impact Race Products KI RaceGear

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