If you intend on driving a racecar—even if it’s a total crapcan—you’re going to have to look the part. Bonus: all of that Stiggy get-up prevents you from going up in flames if and/or when your questionable machinery decides it doesn’t like its fuel lines anymore, hooray!
So, you guessed it: here’s more safety gear you’ll need to acquire to go crapcan racing (or any racing, for that matter) that’s outside the $500 budget. Most teams leave this up to individual drivers since it’s stuff you can reuse to hop onto any team, anywhere, although some teams decide to go all-out on matching gear as part of a theme.
Each series has its own set of rules regarding how current drivers’ equipment needs to be, which certifications they look for and what they require. The 24 Hours of LeMons and ChumpCar tend to err on the side of affordability, but less budget-oriented organizations often tend to be a bit more strict about items’ age and the type of head and neck restraint you can use.
Look up the rules for the series you’d like to run before you enter an event. Also, make sure that all of the tags certifying your gear are easy to find since that is what groups use to check that everything’s in spec. If you’re unsure of where a sticker or tag is sewn on, ask for it to be pointed out when you buy it.
So, there’s problem #1: buying it.
Shopping is Irritating
There are certain items I don’t mind shopping for: vintage Fisher-Price stuffed animals, racecar parts and delicious cheeses, for example. All of these have one thing in common: I don’t have to try them on. Ever.
To state the obvious, people tend to be different sizes. Some are more “normal” than others, making it a lot easier for them to buy clothes off the rack. I, however, am a short person with tiny hands, tiny feet and large boobs. Very few things ever fit me as they were designed to fit. On top of that, very few items involving racecars are designed to accommodate boobs or hips in the first place—but I’ll get to that shortly.
Worse yet is the fact that racing gear is a fairly limited market. Unless you live near a track or in a large city where you’re more likely to find a specialty shop that caters to racers, your options are limited to a catalog or the Internet. Maybe this is because I am an oddball size, but I prefer to try things on in person to minimize the amount of returns I have to make. Living in a place where you don’t have a store nearby sucks.
Fortunately, most of the gear you’re looking for is far less annoying to buy than stupid prom dresses that never fit right because they list actual measurements, and usually do so in a somewhat detailed manner. Even if you’re buying from another racer instead of a store, the size charts are often just a Google away.
Furthermore, most shops are more than happy to tell you which items run small, run large or have any other kinds of distinct fit characteristics if you simply ask them. Most of the larger vendors such as SafeRacer or OG Racing are incredibly responsive via email or phone, as are some of the manufacturers themselves. Simpson’s factory store, for example, is one of the most downright pleasant bunch of people I’ve shopped with.
Stuff to Acquire
I say acquire since it’s possible to rent or borrow gear if you’re headed far away from home for a race or just don’t think you’ll do this very often. So, what’s the shopping list?
These are the one- or two-piece grownup onesies that are probably going to be the most difficult item to get to fit 100% right. It’s the same problem I have with stupid dresses: off-the-rack, they’re made to fit a certain shape that I’m just not. Rather, these are usually made to fit the average dude shape.
Luckily, these end up looking so awkward on so many people that few seem to care if yours is a little off. It’s a race, not a fashion show. It’s also preferable for these suits to be a little loose in places since that extra air between your skin and the material is better for fire protection. On the other hand, if the worst-case scenario occurs and you have to get out of your car immediately, you need to be able to move quickly without snagging on anything, so be wary of having too much extra material on your person as well.
Single-layer SFI 3.2/A1 suits are the minimum for most crapcan series, but they mandate that you wear a full set of fireproof underwear under them. If you’d prefer more protection and/or going commando under everything, look for a multi-layer SFI 3.2/A5 or higher rated suit.
There are advantages to both. Some people in warmer climates prefer the single-layer suits since they’re an inexpensive option that is fairly cool. Unless you’re doing ChumpCar’s ice racing series or something, thicker options like drag racing suits are less preferable to the lighter SFI 3.2/A5 suits geared towards road racing. You’re in a little box where all the comfort items have usually been taken out to save weight and install a roll cage. It gets hot in there, even in climates where you wouldn’t expect to be anything except cold. Pricier SFI 3.2/A5 suits often build in extra ways to draw out heat. The upper end of the market is crazy, with super-light materials, designs made specifically for being comfortable while sitting and cooling panels galore.
If you really want to make sure your Giant Grown-up Onesie fits, you can order a custom suit. Many companies will make one for you if you send in your measurements. Stand21 is towards the pricier end of things, with custom suits starting somewhere around $2500 for a basic suit but can easily be optioned up to $3500 depending on custom graphics and other options. Also, they’ve got a whole collection of licensed Porsche stuff. (I’m going to throw that note in there for when I strike oil in my yard, ‘k.)
Alternately, you can order an off-the-rack suit and get it tailored afterwards if there’s any part that’s really baggy or out of place. Buying one already in a certain size can be as cheap as $100 or so for a decent single-layer onesie, and can reach near $2,000 for one of the newest ultralight multi-layer suits.
Two-piece suits are also an option if you’re a drastically different size on top than you are on the bottom, or if you’d just prefer dealing with two pieces instead of one. The bottoms are often absurdly comfortable since they’re just quilted pajama pants that are socially acceptable to wear at a racetrack. Having a two-piece suit means that you can just take off the top half and loaf in the pants all day without fear of dragging the top half through something you shouldn’t.
Although there’s a smaller market for female-shaped anything, some manufacturers actually cater to it. Simpson and Alpinestars make off-the-rack woman-shaped suits, and Lady Eagle specializes in custom ladies’ gear.
The same issue with buying one off the rack is exactly the issue that sets off horrible flashbacks from formal shopping: things fit everyone differently. Although the Alpinestars women’s suit looks like it’s roughly my wacky dimensions in the middle where I’m hardest to fit, I know that most of their gear runs a little small and I’d probably want to try it on anyway. Why? Because shopping is irritating.
I call this “Underwear” even though most of it covers enough to wear out in the open. Anything you wear under your suit should be either fireproof or non-flammable: no metal latches, no synthetic materials, and nothing that could otherwise burn onto your skin if it gets hot. If you’re wearing a single-layer SFI 3.2/A1 or SFI 3.2/A3 suit, you’ll want to get underwear that looks like long johns for maximum protection.
Comfortable fireproof t-shirts and shorts mean that you can take your suit off and not worry about running around in your “underwear,” so there’s also that.
Some underwear items are required even if you’ve got a multi-layer SFI 3.2/A5 suit and are planning to be Commando Man underneath. You need socks to cover that awkward space between your suit and your shoes, plus you’ll need to wear a balaclava if you’ve got any facial hair or long hair that might stick out from underneath your helmet.
Balaclavas are genuinely awkward looking things, so it’s a good thing they’re under a helmet. The extra room is always on top, where only silly hipsters and people with sweet mohawks seem to have more hair. If you’ve got business in the front and a party in the back, however, you’d think that they’d allow more room at the bottom for hair, but noooooo. Consequently, wearing a balaclava will make you look like you’re either about to rob a bank or you’re Condom Man, but the upside is that it’ll prevent your neck from catching on fire since it’d be otherwise exposed.
While I’ve always felt as if Nomex is soft enough to begin with, Carbon-X is a bit softer, and thus, scratches your plums less (allegedly).
If you’re racing in hot weather, your team may want to look into buying a cool shirt system. These come with a cooler you fill full of ice and cold water that circulates through a series of tubes. You can either get a pre-made cool shirt out of nomex or cotton, or sew one together yourself using a t-shirt and the appropriately sized aquarium tubing.
This Means Your Bra, Too (Unfortunately)
So, here’s the part where I get to rant about wanting to slap whoever determined that all women fit nicely between a 32-38 band size and a A-DD cup size with both Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. Yes, we name ours, too.
Congratulations, if you’re outside of that “normal” range, it’s always going to be ridiculously pricey for you to find basic underwear, much less fireproof gear. This I hate. I could buy about three timing belt tensioner pulleys for the 944 for the price of a normal bra for me. Hate. Loathe. Despise. Not amused. Not at all.
Here’s a primer on how bras work for those of you who are reading this section in wonderment and awe. These are sized a lot like dudes’ pants: there are two measurements that determine everything. There’s a band size, which is how far around it is around your rib cage, just underneath the boobs. Then there’s a cup size, which is determined by the difference in size between the thickest part of your boobs and the band size underneath. One inch of difference is an A, two is a B, and this pattern continues all the way up to the Ds, where depending on the manufacturer, five or more inches is either more Ds (DD = 5, DDD = 6) or continues up the alphabet (E = 5, F= 6, and onwards).
If you’re a “boob guy” and you’re talking about a really thin woman with huge bazongas, please stop referring to them as “sweet 36Ds.” She’s probably a 30 or 32 multiple-D of some kind, and if she’s wearing a 36 band size with that shallow of a cup, that’d be really, really uncomfortable. /rant.
So, back to the subject of not setting your boobs on fire. Underwires turn into hot branding irons if they get hot, so even if your usual bra is all cotton, you’ll need to find one that lacks any metal parts, too.
There are a surprising number of options out there for fireproof bras now, just not so much if you’re an oddball size. While most look like sports bras, others like this one from PXP Racewear look more like normal bras—just without all the hooks, eyes and underwires. Many of the same manufacturers that do custom sizing on suits often do custom underwear as well. Measure away and start calling around.
Here’s the one item where measurements don’t seem to be as precise as they should be. You can still get a rough idea of whether or not one’s going to fit by the measurements posted online for most helmets, but there’s no real way to tell if the shape of the helmet is going to fit the shape of your head without trying it on. Different helmets have different shapes, oddly enough.
If you’re between sizes, you can often swap the padding out for thicker padding if all of that is removable.
Most groups require helmets that are Snell-rated SA2005 or newer, so you can pick up an older certification or a slightly used one if you’re trying to keep costs down as much as possible. Other certifications such as FIA 8860 are often listed, so check with the organization you’re running with if you have one of those stickers instead of the Snell one. New helmets often start at around $250 and can reach into multiple thousands of dollars depending on how many extra features you want: lightweight carbon shells, integrated drinks tubes, ventilation systems, head and neck restraint posts, speakers and wires for communications and customized padding.
Because there’s a nice rollbar in the way, most racecars don’t have the drop-down visor that spares you from squinting anymore. To get around this, you can either buy a pair of sunglasses that you can cram into the visor hole or get a tinted or mirrored visor. Just don’t go with a tinted visor if you’re planning on racing on conditions too dark to need it. You should leave it down if you’re out on track, else there’s nothing to protect your face if things go wrong.
Many racers also decorate their helmets with stickers or even paint to make sure they know which helmet is theirs, too. Again, I must reiterate my preference for sparkles.
Head and Neck Restraints
Most people like it when their head doesn’t snap off—self included. This is why head and neck restraints are such a big deal.
Foam collars are your cheapest option, and still technically legal for LeMons and ChumpCar. While a lot of people find them less restrictive in movement, they don’t actually do very much to keep your head from snapping too far forward in an impact.
Most groups are encouraging people to get a HANS, Necksgen, Hybrid or similar device. These usually snap onto the helmet itself to keep your head from snapping too far, too violently should something happen to your car with you in it. You need to install the corresponding posts into your helmet to do this. If you’re nervous about drilling into your own helmet, many newer helmets come with holes for neck restraint posts pre-drilled. Some can even be ordered with the posts themselves pre-installed.
Many devices like the Necksgen REV and HANS look kind of like composite or carbon fiber toilet seats. Slip your neck through the open side and belts that go in top hold the device (and you) firmly in place. Because of this, some harnesses are now made with thinner belts on the top to accommodate HANS devices. If your entire car is using one, you may want to get HANS-specific harnesses, too.
For that reason, racers who do a lot of trackday instruction tend to favor the Hybrid devices. These feature extra straps that hold the device to your body, eliminating the need to be used with a racing harness. This way, if a car only has three-point belts, you can still use the same neck restraint as you do for crapcan racing.
Gloves and Shoes
These are two more items you need to acquire that must be SFI or FIA rated to pass tech in most crapcan series. These are the two parts of your body that are getting the most use while racing, so make sure you find options that are fairly comfortable.
If your steering wheel is fairly slick, gloves with grippy material on the palms and fingers can help keep the wheel exactly where you want it to be without having to keep a death grip on the wheel. (You shouldn’t be holding the wheel like that anyway since you can feel more of what’s going on with a lighter grip.)
Most racing shoes don’t offer a lot in the way of support, which is mostly fine since you’ll wear them primarily when sitting to race. Soles are kept thin to help you feel the pedals beneath you. If you’re used to running around in FiveFingers (...hi), this probably won’t be a big deal. If you’re used to wearing heavy-duty padded orthopedic running shoes, you’re probably going to want to change out of your racing shoes as soon as you’re out of the car.
Unfortunately, this is another set of items that may be difficult to find if you are a strange size. Not many vendors make different widths of shoes or lengths of gloves. In that case, you may want to find a vendor that works with custom sizing on these.
Less Expensive Options
While there’s plenty of merit for spending extra on safety gear, it shouldn’t be a serious barrier to entry if you really want to go crapcan racing.
One option if you know a lot of people who do this sort of thing would be to ask around and borrow gear. They might get tired of you asking after several races, but if you’re just looking to try it out or going to a race that’s far from home, this might be worth a shot.
Another option that is great for just trying out the sport is to rent gear. Places like Race Suit Rental will give you a clean set of in-spec gear starting at $180 per event (with a $500 deposit you’ll get back if everything gets returned in good shape).
Alternately, you can always find spare or used gear for sale on forums, eBay and other places online. Look for items that are still in spec and in good shape. This is one way to afford a nicer suit, for example, that you probably couldn’t afford new.
Or there’s the tried and true method of waiting for things to go on sale. Safety gear usually gets updated once a year, so when the old year’s inventory needs to move, many vendors put it on sale. Things get discounted even further when a new specification comes out. If you’re fine with having to replace your gear a little sooner than you would if you’d bought gear that conforms to the most recent specs, that’s a great time to try to find new items at heavily discounted prices.
Some series have partnerships with vendors that allow racers to get gear at lower prices. The 24 Hours of LeMons, for example, puts together a “dirt cheap” package that includes everything you need for $525.
Now that you have all the gear to go racing, you can be super-lazy and go as a racecar driver for Halloween, too! (No, really. Don’t do that unless you’re totally out of ideas.)