The last time we saw my track-prepped Mazda Miata, I was confident. Its only real flaw — the fact that I sat too high in the car — had been fixed. It was perfect in every way, and nothing was going to stop me and my six-foot-tall frame from ripping around at track days all summer long.
Then I bought some safety gear, and the whole thing came crashing down.
To recap, I improved on the safety and the seating position in my Miata by installing a set of FIA-certified fixed-back seats and SFI-certified five-point harnesses. But, as you may already know, safe use of racing harnesses requires that you also use a HANS device — even if your sanctioning body doesn’t.
With the HANS, I decided to buy a new helmet. My SNELL-rated motorcycle helmet is legal in many event organizer’s rulebooks, but the thought of drilling holes in the only thing between my head and a solid steel roll bar was more than a bit off-putting. Plus, an open-face racing helmet would be better for shooting in-car video out on the track.
Since I knew I’d be getting a new helmet, I never tried the broomstick test with my existing one. The test is pretty simple: Rest a broomstick atop both your roll bar and your windshield. Anything that’s above that line (say, your head) is totally unprotected in a rollover should you veer off-track.
This past weekend, I finally had the time to visit a safety equipment retailer to pick up the HANS equipment and the new helmet. Excitedly, I hopped in the car in full safety regalia. With my helmet on, I fit under the hardtop with room to spare. This is it, I naively thought. I’m ready for track season.
Then I took the hardtop off, and found my helmet was sticking half an inch above the Miata’s roll bar. Shit.
So the driver’s seat came back out, and the process of relocating it began. Plenty of taller Miata drivers cut out their floors and weld in lowered floor pans to get an extra couple inches of headroom, but I still have much of my Miata’s stock interior and didn’t want to do anything that would prevent re-installation of the factory seats down the line. So, with down no longer being an option, the only alternative was back: Reclining the driver’s seat until my head passed the test.
Here’s the thing about the broomstick test: Depending on your sanctioning body, your head may not simply need to fall below that broom-handle line. Many event organizers want to see your helmet two full inches below the roll bar. Finding half an inch in a Miata is doable; finding two and a half is Herculean.
But I tried. Oh my God, did I try. I spent hours across multiple days changing the seat angle, cutting and rearranging brackets, doing anything I could to force that seat into a place that allowed my Sailor Moon body proportions to safely fit inside. That perfect seat position never materialized. Bringing the seat low enough to pass the broomstick test put the harnesses out of alignment; raising it to bring the harnesses back into spec made the roll bar an issue once again.
So, the towel has been thrown. It seems I’m not cut out for the roadster life. I’m listing the Miata for sale tonight, in hopes that it can help another budding track enthusiast get their start. If you’re under six feet tall, or if your height is all in your legs, all that’s left is to take it racing.
As for me, I’m already on the hunt for something new, with a fixed roof, for the summer track season. Don’t worry, the track blogs will still come — just not from behind the wheel of a Miata.