By Christian Shipp , Photos supplied by author
Before we get into the meat of the content here, an introduction is needed. Who is this guy? I'm just another automotive dork who's too dumb to completely quit motorsports. If you're on The Forum That Shall Not Be Named or a couple other car forums, you've probably seen me posting during my ~15 years of autoX, DE, and club racing experience. I'm not a TrackTuned "contributor" in the classic sense of the word but I regularly harass Adam with ideas for articles/shows and occasionally an analysis of what gets posted; this is one of those times... think of this as a counter-point and expansion to his Harness Bar Article.
The problem with on-track safety equipment and the key item to be mindful of is that it's ALL a compromise. Every single thing you change, add, remove, or revise is a compromise. Added a roll bar to your street/track car? Awesome... except now it's a risk or a hassle on the street. Added 5 point belts? Awesome except how's that work with your airbag? Removed your airbag? Well, did you get a H&N Device? Left your airbag in? Well, how's that work with a helmet? Went Full Retard with a 6+ point cage, harness, H&N, and a window net? Well, how's that impact your speed of getting OUT of the car and what about that fire suppression system? My point is that on-track safety becomes a balancing act of improving your odds of not getting hurt, meeting the sanctioning or organizing body's requirements, as well as doing it in a way that leaves you with enough in the bank to actually get to the track. It's a dizzying array of variables so where do you start?
My recommendation is that you start with analyzing what you're driving (top speed, cornering potential, and existing safety items), figure out what you'll be using the car for most of the time (street, DE, autoX, TT, wheel to wheel, etc.), and then start trying to identify what sort of crash is most likely. Try to play a game of "what could go wrong" while anticipating the potential outcomes. If this is primarily a street car that sees occasional DE use then it's likely that the stock 3pt belt and airbag are going to be the best blend of track and street safety equipment. If you've got a car that's more or less a dedicated TT or wheel to wheel car, then a full cage/seat/belts/H&N/ fire system is the direction you should target.
Here's the hypothetical breakdown for *me*: I've car hopped quite a bit the last couple years but I'm unlikely to have a top speed at most tracks more than ~130mph unless I'm at Daytona. Cornering is relatively high with ~1.2g on street tires. Given the speed and g-loads, this is shaping up to be a case where a full compliment of safety gear may be on the table... except it's predominantly a street/autoX car with occasional track use thrown in. Layer that with an on-track approach that I refuse to do 10/10ths in an un-prepped street car and it means, to me, that I'm perfectly fine with stock safety gear. The multi-point harness that I use for autoX gets left behind as does my fire suit, gloves, and H&N because I simply don't feel I need it for casual lapping days. Unless I'm running a wheel to wheel prepped car in a race, the most likely crash is me versus a concrete wall, tire wall, or dirt berm. Car to car contact is possible but unlikely if I'm paying attention. A rollover is possible but I like to think that I've got enough experience to straighten the car out before I go off track.
Where things get murky is in between area. What if you, like many motorsports enthusiasts, have The Track Car. It's a car that's still registered/tagged, driven to events, and maybe even used to commute periodically or on nice weekends. With only track safety in mind, a full-tilt cage approach makes the most sense... but what about on the street? I can't speak for everyone but having a cage near my head on the street scares the hell out of me and can easily turn a fender bender into a brain blender that results in substantial head trauma. The solution here is, in no small part, dependent upon your appetite for risk. Are you more willing to take additional street risk in exchange for less on-track risk? Perhaps it's vice versa? It's my opinion that there's no easy answer here but splitting the difference between street and full-tilt track by going with a 4 point rollbar, harness, & H&N is probably the smart move. If the rollbar is behind the driver/passenger, it keeps you reasonably safe on the street while enhancing safety on track with only a minimal impact to egress time.
One final item, and please understand I'm not jumping on the Jabaay Bandwagon here, but harness bars: They're truly awful. Seriously, don't run one if you ever plan to crash into something. There are way too many pics and stories out there of folks who've run a harness bar and had it fail in a crash. I'll also make a shout out against the use 4 point harnesses in applications where you can hit stuff. I've seen and heard of too many folks submarining under the lap belt and either being seriously injured or killed. As someone who uses a 4-point belt for autoX, I'd never consider running it at the track. The risk there for injury/death is simply far too great. Do yourself and your family a favor, if you've got this stuff take it out of the car or be very careful when and how it's used... you don't want to wind up being a cautionary tale for novices during next year's Driver's Meeting.
I understand and appreciate that this isn't the stuff that we all want to spend our time thinking about and it sure isn't as sexy as new suspension (hat-tip to my buddy, Marc Osgood, for working small miracles and getting my MCS' into the mail yesterday) but we should all be evaluating our safety gear and risk appetite annually. By acknowledging the risks and planning for their eventualities you place yourself in a position to influence their outcome!