When I'm at the track, I like to poke around the paddock and check out other cars for inspiration. Sometimes I'm more appalled than inspired. I can't understand why safety is often neglected in race cars.
(Note that I am speaking here about dedicated track and race cars; not street/track car hybrids or daily drivers that get driven on track).
While every racing organization has a very detailed rulebook with comprehensive safety requirements, there are often head-scratching compromises. To give an example: NASA will not allow you to terminate a main hoop down bar onto another bar (such as a horizontal bar tying the rear strut towers together); the bar has to land on a plate that meets a minimum area. Yet on the other hand, they allow race cars to have bolt in roll cages, most of which are very questionably designed and implemented. Not that you have to choose between these options, but to me, one is much more egregious than the other.
Some of what gets allowed may point back to lazy or lax technical inspectors, but at the end of the day, the onus falls on the owner of the car. If you wanted an unsafe cage and NASA passes it, who is that harming, them or you? There may be some cases where it will affect other drivers, but its probably going to affect the owner of the car the most.
I really can't wrap my head around why the owner of a car would make the decision to skimp out of safety equipment. Is it because they chose to ignore the dangers, don't realize the dangers, or simply haven't been properly informed about safety equipment features and options? Is it a budget thing? What about those that buy safety gear, but don't use it all the time? (Example: not wearing Nomex during a practice session, or because it's too hot outside. Is your car any less likely to catch fire?)
Thankfully, NASA requires all racing drivers wear a HANS device, but a containment seat is not required (you can get by with a center net in lieu). Of course at all other levels, including Time Trials, nothing at all is required when it comes to safety, besides the battery being secured, lug nuts tight, and floor mats removed from the interior.
I see a surprising amount of cars that have a roll bar/cage, 5/6pt harness, fixed back racing seat [that isn't halo/containment style], and the driver wears a HANS device. The HANS device only protects your neck in a frontal collision (and a certain degree off-center, but primarily it prevents forward neck craning). In a side impact, the HANS device does little to nothing to prevent your neck from craning sideway; that is what the halo portion of the seat is there for. Are the drivers not aware? Have the organizations done too little to educate about these safety systems?
Up until a recent rule revision, NASA did not even require a real fire suppression system in race cars. You could get away with just a little 2 pound hand held extinguisher. That seems crazy to me.
If you've been following RISING EDGE, you know I'm a proponent of buying a turn-key race car rather than building from scratch. One critically important consideration that I haven't touched on is the car's cage. The car could be a great deal, in pristine condition, or built just the way you want it. But what if the cage sucks? I'd say in almost all cases, it needs to be skipped over. The cost benefit would have to be substantial to consider buying a car knowing that you want to cut the cage out and start over.
It should be clear that my musings are mostly rhetorical: there's no one size fits all solution to safety, budgets, and rulebooks. I just hope to spark some critical introspective on the gear and devices that we are trusting our lives to on the track. Just like car insurance: hopefully you will never need it, but you will be glad you had it if you are ever in an accident.
Have any questions or suggestions for me regarding safety equipment? Please reach out!