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Choosing your Driver Gear  |  April 01, 2016
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Driver Gear

In motorsports, as with any sport, there is an initial investment you need to make to outfit yourself with the proper gear. When I began racing and started looking for my own gear, I got my first dose of reality about just how little there is out there for women in motorsports. I began by doing some internet searching on sites that sell gear to find a woman’s fire suit. I envisioned myself in a suit that was stylish, sporty and that fit me like a glove. Not surprising, there was a variety of selections available for men, yet I could only find the same 1 or 2 options for women across all the sites I visited and they were far from the flattering style I had in mind. That said, I did have a lot of help from fellow racers to figure out what I really needed and was able to find good options that have worked well for me. I want to share with you what I learned to help you find the gear you will need to be safe and comfortable, that is a good value and also to feel good about how you look. Let’s face it – we all want to look good for the cameras when we win and have our place on that podium! I also welcome hearing from you about your experiences, what has or has not worked for you, and any questions you may have.

One thing to consider when you are ready to purchase gear is what type of track driving you expect to do. The information below highlights the different requirements for High Performance Driving Events (HPDE) and for club racing. Keep in mind that requirements will vary based on the club or organization that is sanctioning an event. This information is meant to provide guidance based on what I have experienced.

Helmet – a Snell certified car racing helmet, will cost $500-$1,000.

I feel that a helmet is one of the first pieces of equipment worth investing in for yourself. It is the only gear that is required regardless of the type of track driving you plan to do. Although you may be able to borrow a helmet from another driver, for safety and comfort it is best to have your own helmet that fits you properly. Plus helmets can sometimes get sweaty and that’s probably not something you want to share when you’re covering your head and face with it.

I strongly suggest that you go into a store that carries different sizes in stock so you can try one on. Walk around with it on for at least 15 minutes to make sure it doesn’t feel too tight or too heavy. If you plan to participate in any endurance races and drive for long periods of time you might want to consider a helmet made of carbon fiber because it will be more light weight which will help with fatigue, although it will also be more expensive. Also, some helmets have special visors and air deflectors designed for driving open cockpit cars. If you think you might want to drive an open cockpit car, be sure the helmet you purchase is designed for both closed and open cockpit cars.

The Snell Memorial Foundation (SFI) publishes safety standards for racing equipment. The helmet standard is updated about every 5 years. Your helmet needs to meet the latest Snell standard (SA rating) although when a new standard is published, most sanctioning bodies give members a grace period. The SA rating is printed on a label that can be found inside the helmet under the foam padding. The latest standard is SA2015. You can find a list of certified helmets by manufacturer at the following link: http://www.smf.org/cert

My helmet is a Stilo ST4 GT W Composite. When I bought it, I had Hans posts installed and a Rally electronics kit (in-helmet ear pad speakers and a noise cancelling microphone) and radio connector installed that allows me to plug my helmet directly into a chatterbox or two-way radio system making it easier to communicate with the team or a passenger. The store where I purchased it was able to do both installs for me. I also spent another $100 on a helmet bag.

Balaclava – a nomex (fireproof fabric) balaclava is required for racing and will cost $50-$75.

A balaclava is a stretchy, lightweight knit hood that covers your head with an opening for your face, and is worn underneath your helmet. They come in black or off-white. I bought an Oakley and have two so that I can use a clean one each day when I participate in 2 day events. They are typically one size so you can easily buy these online. One thing to look for is the quality of how the seams are stitched. A bulky seam can dig into your forehead and be really uncomfortable. A balaclava is not mandatory for HPDE but I always wear one both for protection and to help keep the inside of my helmet clean.

Hans Device – a safety item mandatory for racing and costs $700-$1,000.

A Hans is a U-shaped device with a high, hard collar that is used to reduce the likelihood of head and/or neck injuries in the event of a crash. The Hans has straps that attach on either side of your helmet and two arms that lay flat on your chest that are held in place by the shoulder straps of the car’s safety harness. The Hans limits head movement by being secured to the body of the driver rather than the seat. If you are driving a street car that has a regular, cross body seat belt, such as participating in an HPDE, you would typically not be required to use a Hans because the seat belt doesn’t have the shoulder harness to secure it.

Fire Suit – an SFI compliant fire suit or driver suit is mandatory for racing and an off-the-rack, one piece suit will cost $800-$1,000.

Unfortunately, there are not many off-the-rack fire suit options for women. Being a size small but on the tall side, when I was shopping for a suit, my biggest fear was that in order to get a suit size that was long enough the suit would be too baggy and I was going to look like the Michelin tire man. Either that or the length would be too short and I’d always look like I was wearing high waters. I felt that if I was going to spend that much money on a suit, I wanted to make sure I got something I liked because I knew it was going to have to last me several years. At the store where I bought my helmet, they just happened to have a size 46 OMP Tecnica Lady suit in the back because someone else had bought it and returned it. And luckily for me, when I tried it on it actually fit! Many of the women I’ve talked to choose to bite the bullet and have a custom suit made which is about twice the cost. The other option is to look for a two-piece suit so that you can select the top and bottoms in the size that works best for you. Fire suits are also constructed of a single or multiple layers. My suit is 3 layers however keep in mind that the SFI rating is what matters most because it is based on the suit’s thermal protection regardless of the number of layers. For HPDE driving, a fire suit is usually not required but you will have to wear a long sleeved shirt and long pants. I always wear a fire suit when on track.

Nomex Socks and Undergarments – nomex socks are required for racing and cost $25-35. Long-underwear type shirts and pants made of nomex are not mandatory but offer additional protection and will cost $75-100 each.

Nomex comes in black or off-white. I bought OMP socks and have two pair in order to have a clean pair each day when I participate in 2 day events. My socks are a size small and you can easily buy these online. I also own two OMP nomex t-shirts and one pair of pants, both are a size small.

Driving Shoes – racing shoes with a flame resistant liner are mandatory for racing and costs range anywhere from $75-$300.

The shoes are typically suede, high top styles and popular brands include Sparco, Alpinestar, OMP and Pilota. It is best to find a store that carries them in stock so you can try them on to confirm the size and comfort. For HPDE driving, racing shoes are not required but it is important to wear shoes that are light weight to allow your feet to be nimble and have thin soles for good pedal feel. Stay away from bulky sneakers with thick soles. Sneakers such as the Coach Remonna or Kelson styles are a good option. My shoes are OMP Montecarlo and I wear a size EU 40 or US 7.5 with my normal shoe size being a 9.

Gloves – driving gloves made with nomex for fire protection are required for racing and cost anywhere in the $50- $200 range.

There are many brands, colors and styles. I suggest choosing a bright color so people can see your hands if you are giving someone a point-by (signaling to a faster driver to safely pass) or otherwise signaling with your hands. I have Alpinestar Tech 1-Z in red and black, size medium.

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