|Tech Talk: Karting Safety Equipment
|Article by: - by Darren Swisher
|To the person new to the sport of karting, perhaps there is no issue more important than that of safety, particularly for those concerned moms and dads watching their young son or daughter contesting in a competitive, high-speed atmosphere.
This month's tech article focuses upon some baseline advice for rookies and veterans alike, as they venture out into the marketplace in search of safety equipment. It should be noted, as ever, that technical features are often a matter of personal opinion, and there is no substitute for careful, thorough research before any purchase is made.
The following article was written by Darren Swisher, president of the Association for Karting Safety Equipment Standards (AKSES). Swisher has a dozen years of experience in the design, construction, and manufacture of motorsport-specific apparel, and has been involved in karting for a similar length of time. In this article, Darren takes the time to examine each component of equipment that plays a significant role in protecting the driver; helmets, driving suits, shoes, gloves, helmet supports (neck collars), and rib protectors.
Swisher makes an important note that the driver's safety gear is only one facet of providing overall protection for a karting participant. Clearly, the engine/chassis combination must be properly inspected before any driving session, plus the condition and maintenance level of the track itself play a large role in contributing to a safer karting experience.
Karting Safety Equipment
- by Darren Swisher
Each year, Bell, Simpson, Arai, Shoei and Bieffe release a new generation of safer, more aerodynamic, lighter, and more stylistic helmets to the market. When purchasing a helmet, close attention must be paid to the D.O.T. (Department of Transportation) logo and also the Snell logo located inside the helmet, usually under the fit pad. Since its founding in 1957, the Snell Memorial Foundation has independently tested manufacturers' helmets, and updates its standards every five years. The most current update is Snell 95 approved.
Snell's first safety standards for protective headgear were issued for auto racing in 1959, and subsequently, other specific helmet standards for motorcycling, equestrian sports, bicycling, rollerblading and skateboarding, snowboarding and skiing have been issued. Finally, in 1998, a karting standard was obtained.
The importance of Snell certification is absolutely paramount, given that the Snell label is backed by ongoing random sample testing, and identifies those helmet models providing and maintaining the highest levels of head protection.
Four of the most critical elements affecting a helmet's protective properties are:
Impact management - how well the helmet protects against collisions with other objects
Helmet positional stability - whether the helmet will be in place, on the head, when it's needed
Retention system strength - whether the chinstraps are sufficiently strong to hold the helmet throughout a head impact
Extent of Protection - the area of the head protected by the helmet
There are several other important aspects of helmets to consider. Full face helmets provide a measure of protection from facial injuries. The external shell of these helmets includes a rigid "chin" bar that passes from left to right over the lower part of the face, and the Snell Memorial Foundation has devised special tests for the chin bars of full face helmets.
Some helmets come with a separate structure that bolts to the helmet in order to cover the lower part of the face. These removable chin bars are often intended to deflect small stones and debris encountered in some sports and may not be effective facial protection in falls and accidents. It is important to note that the Foundation does not test removable chin bars and considers any headgear equipped with them to be an open face helmet.
If a full face helmet is equipped with a face shield, it may also provide a measure of eye protection. The Foundation tests the face shields of full face helmets for particle penetration resistance. Face shields provided with open face helmets generally do not provide the same levels of eye protection, and for that reason are not considered.
The shells of both open and full face helmets should also provide a measure of protection from penetration. The Foundation tests the shells of both full and open face helmets for penetration resistance.
Effective headgear must be removable. Paramedics and other emergency personnel must be able to quickly remove headgear from accident victims in order to check for vital signs and to perform emergency procedures.
The Foundation has devised tests and criteria for helmet removability. The Foundation also tests helmets for visual field. The helmet must provide a minimum range of vision as measured on standard headforms. It is also important to remember that the visual field requirements are based on the needs of people participating in well regulated and controlled events. For this reason, the requirements are considerably less than those the Foundation requires for street use headgear, such as for motorcycle helmets. Be absolutely certain that the helmet and face shield permit adequate vision for every intended use. Specifically, if your racing helmet's visual field is only sufficient for controlled track events, don't use it for street motorcycling.
The Snell Memorial Foundation recommends the following simple, straightforward procedure when it comes time to size a helmet:
Position the helmet on your head so that it sits low on your forehead; if you can't see the edge of the brim at the extreme upper range of your vision, the helmet is probably out of place. Adjust the retention system so that when in use, it will hold the helmet firmly in place. This positioning and adjusting should be repeated to obtain the very best result possible. The procedure initially may be time consuming. Take the time.
Try to remove the helmet without undoing the retention system closures. If the helmet comes off or shifts over your eyes, readjust and try again. If no adjustment seems to work, this helmet likely is not for you; try another size or a different manufacturer.
I recommend only suits, not jackets and jeans, and not two-piece jacket/pant combos. Jackets offer no protection from the waist down and two-piece jacket/pant combos will often ride up and reveal your midsection. The only discernable reason manufacturers are making these jackets is because they are about half the price of a suit, but at the likely cost of only half the protection.
Today's karting suits are mainly made from plastic in the form of known fabrics such as nylon, polyester, and polyester cotton mix. Denier is a term used by fabric producers to determine size of yarns used in the process of making the fabrics. The higher the denier, the heavier the fabric (usually stronger depending on fiber content, i.e. cotton vs. nylon). 1000 denier Cordura nylon is the top dog in regards to abrasion resistance on racing surfaces, followed by 200 x 500 denier Antron Cordura. Antron Cordura has a shiny appearance due to the addition of the Antron fiber (usually found in top quality carpets). Next we have 420 denier pack cloth and 70 denier flight satin, and 70 denier nylacheck (that solid color checkered looking fabric). Some companies will reinforce critical wear areas with 1500 denier ballistic nylon.
Hence, denier has a lot to do with the protection you get from a suit. The first three mentioned fabrics have a urethane coating on the back side of the cloth to prevent fabric weave from spreading apart (because of the large denier fibers), making the garment more or less water/air resistant. It is important that these fabrics be cleaned by hand with a mild detergent in cold water to prevent discoloration and delamination of urethane coatings. You may have seen or even had a suit that started fraying in the wear areas, most likely do to machine washing and hot water.
Ultimately, the brands that use the 1000 denier Cordura and the 200 x 500 denier Antron Cordura shall hold up well under most racing surfaces. However, the rest of the fabrics should be destined for indoor use only or at lower speed classes.
Shoes of all types have been seen out on the track, from tennis shoes, basketball shoes, wrestling shoes, running shoes, hiking boots, and even military boots. These are all better than no shoes at all, but lack the protection, style and comfort that karting shoes give the racer. The shoe craze, in general, has also hit racing. You have the high tops, mid tops, low tops, heat transfer, speedfit, preform soles, layered soles, multi-density soles, leather uppers, suede uppers, nylon uppers, hard tongues, soft tongues, ultra padded tongues, and so on. Most karting shoe manufacturers use a suede upper, multi-density sole, padded tongues and Velcro closures in a high-top or a mid-top range.
Most of the karting shoes available for purchase are great for protection, with the exception of the ones that incorporate the use of nylon fabric within the shoe. The important factor in shoes is the Velcro strap this is primarily used to secure a good fit at the ankle, but also offers a secondary use of holding down the shoe laces so they don't get snagged.
Gloves are an integral component of karting racewear. As with shoes, gloves of all types have been seen at the track. Glove making in general is a science of its own with terms such as belly leather, bias tape, clicking, cuff, fourchettes, gauntlet, grain, gusset, welt and more. Then you have the types of leather, which include buckskin, buffalo carbretta, calf, cape, chamois, cow, deerskin, Morocco and pigskin. Karting glove styles of today differ only slightly from brand to brand. Sizing is determined by measuring around the biggest part of your hand over the knuckles while making a fist, excluding thumb. That measurement is the size. 7 = XS, 8 = SMALL, 9 = MEDIUM, 10 = LARGE, 11 = X-LARGE, 12 = XX-LARGE.
When determining brand preference, look at the seams, tug at them, are they pulling apart? Do you see fabric unraveling? Do you see a lot of stitching? Is the Velcro strap secured adequately? Try on a pair slightly smaller than your current size and see if you can locate any failures in the fabric or stitching. Use your best judgment when it comes to fabric, some brands use a much too thin fabric for the back of the hand. Look for added protection on knuckles, palm, wrist, fingertips and forearm.
There have been many terms used to describe this item: neck collar, neck protector, neck support, helmet rest, and more. The original term was helmet support, and was first used as a device to protect the collar bone when the helmet was thrust forward in a crash, as the helmet would come down and break the collar bone. After using the device for many years, the karting community has seen a drastic decline in neck related injuries.
Neck collars are a mandatory safety device for most sanctioning bodies in karting. There are many different colors, styles and designs in today's market, and the 360 degree supports are the most popular. Be sure they are equipped with a heavier density foam, not the sponge like foam used in furniture, this is way too soft and offers no protection at all. Avoid the horseshoe-shaped supports; these do not offer protection all the way around your neck and are usually made of the lighter density foams.
Rib protectors are somewhat new to the karting scene. These devices are worn under the suit, around the midsection of your torso. They work to help dissipate energy from the track during turns, in rough terrain and during collisions with obstacles and/or other karters. The energy comes through the kart to the seat, the seat in return delivers the blow directly to your ribs. The device absorbs energy into its plastic ribs or shell and distributes it over a larger area.
These devices are not mandatory now but very well could be in the next season or two. Most brands offer a vest type product that have plastic, vertical ribs over medium density foam covered in mesh, nylon and cotton.
Things to look for are: minimum 1/8th inch thick plastic inserts, full protection from front rib cage all the way around to spine, and minimum 1/4th inch foam padding.
ekartingnews.com is not affiliated with Mr. Swisher and makes no assurances that the information provided in this article will help prevent possible injury or death while engaging in motorsports. Motorsports is a dangerous activity and participants undertake it at their own risk.