[Editor’s Note: Today we have a guest-written column from David Firestone, who’s going to take a close look at a auto racing suits. Enjoy. — PL]
By David Firestone
The 2013 NASCAR season is upon us, as the 55th running of the Daytona 500, the Sprint Cup Series’ premier event, will take place this Sunday. That makes this a good time to look at something that’s rarely if ever gotten any attention here at Uni Watch: auto racing driver attire.
A racing uniform usually consists of the following: a double- or triple-layer fire suit; a helmet and HANS device (that stands for head and neck support); racing gloves; racing shoes; and fire-retardant undergarments, which include socks, long johns, an undershirt, and — depending on the driver’s preference — a balaclava. These uniform items, like most professional sports uniforms, are custom-designed to the driver’s preference.
The most commonly used material in racing suits and equipment is Nomex, the fire-retardant material created and marketed by DuPont, first used in racing in the 1960s. Prior to Nomex, the way drivers used cotton coveralls that had been soaked in flame-retardant chemicals. After Glenn “Fireball” Roberts died at the 1964 World 600, and Eddie Sachs and Dave MacDonald died at the 1964 Indianapolis 500 — all due to burns suffered from accident-driven fires — these coveralls were phased out.
Fire suits are typically two or three layers of Nomex material, which can provide up to 30 seconds of fire protection. That might not seem like much, but it’s enough for the driver to stop, drop, and roll, or for safety crews to attend to the situation. Older Nomex suits had one layer of protection, but redundancy in safety has saved lives, and now some drivers even wear four layers of Nomex.
The differences in racing fuels and their flammability factors are also critical to suit design. NHRA and IndyCar suits are much more fire-retardant, due to the use of nitromethane, methanol, and ethanol fuels, which have a higher flash point than gasoline but they have the detrimental trait of burning with an invisible flame. These alcohol-based fuels are actually much safer than F1 and NASCAR, which use gasoline blends instead of alcohol blends. Gasoline burns with a lower flash point, but the flames, unlike alcohol-based fuels, are very visible.
Racing suits have become big business over the years. Looking at the NASCAR, IndyCar, and F1 drivers, you see suits made by many different companies, ranging from auto-racing safety companies like Alpine Stars, Sparco, Momo, Simpson, Stand 21, Deist, Pyrotect, and Impact, to athletic apparel companies like Puma, Oakley, and Nike.
To understand driver suit design, we need to look at some suits up close. Let’s look at the suits worn by Kasey Kahne in 2005; Mike Skinner in 1997; Randy Lajoie in 2000; Alex Barron in 1998, Christian Fittipaldi in 2003; and Terry Labonte in 2009. Let’s look at every aspect of the suit from a design perspective.
• The Shoulders: Shoulder yokes are a frequent appearance on fire suits, though the design has changed a lot over the years. Up through the ’90’s, shoulder yokes were frequently just strips of Nomex with the sponsor name embroidered into them. IndyCar and F1 suits were known to have shoulder yokes that had text facing the front and the rear, to take advantage of the exposure provided by in-car cameras. In recent years, foreign suit companies such as Momo and Sparco have been more prevalent in NASCAR, which has led to changes in shoulder yoke design. In recent years, a T-shaped design has been used, with logo creep from the suit’s manufacturer.
Located under this section are the arm gussets, which are designed to increase driver mobility without decreasing protection. They’re seen on almost every fire suit in racing.
• The Upper Torso: It looks like a clusterfuck, but there’s method to the madness. The series patch is located on the upper-right chest for IndyCar, the upper-left chest for NASCAR and NHRA. F1, on the other hand, does not have a series patch on driver suits. Also usually present in the upper torso are car manufacturer logo, tire manufacturer logo, team logo, and associate sponsors. The primary sponsor is usually not present here, as it is visible on the shoulders and collar. TV interviews with drivers are usually filmed with the area just above the large primary logo on the lower torso visible, to just below the top of the driver’s head. In these interviews, all logos, including suit manufacturer logos on the shoulder yokes, are visible.
• The Lower Torso: This section of the suit houses two critical elements — the primary sponsor logo, and the belt. The primary sponsor mark is the biggest logo on the front of the suit, and can measure between 4 and 20 inches in height. All the color schemes used on the suit are dictated by the colors of the primary sponsor of the suit.
The belt has a more interesting history. For many years, the driver’s name was embroidered into the upper-torso area, but in the mid-1990s this was moved to the belt to create more room for sponsorship patches. While this is still a common practice, many driver suits have sponsorship logos on the belt, instead of the driver’s name. For a number of suits, the safety certification is located on the belt’s underside.
• The Legs: The logos on the legs are specifically designed with in-car cameras in mind. The leg logos appear to be sideways when the driver is standing up, but they’re properly oriented when the driver is sitting in the car. I refer to these as “television logos,” as this aspect of suit design became the standard when the camera inside NASCAR race cars was moved from behind the driver to the passenger seat. In recent years IndyCar has added a similar camera setup.
The pant cuffs are interesting. They have fireproof inner cuffs — a cuff within a cuff! — and actually have a little bit more protection than the rest of the suit. This makes sense, since the driver’s feet are usually what’s closest to any fire that might occur.
• The Sleeves: Just below the arm gussets are a number of logos. The top logos include the primary sponsor, many associate sponsors, and often have a series logo. The area below the elbow houses another set of television logos, which appear properly oriented when the driver is driving (although these logos can often be obscured by driver’s gloves).
• The Back of the Neck: This is a unique area for customization. Designs appearing here can include the car number, the team logo(95), a sponsor logo, or an, ahem, unique personalization. In a number of suits, the “liability tag” is located on the inside just below this area.
• The Back Torso: This area usually has a large primary sponsor logo. On occasion, stripes or other graphics from the front extend to the back. Other than that, there’s nothing particularly remarkable here.
• The Safety Certification: This small, often overlooked patch is mostly unseen by the general public, but it serves a vital function. The patch indicates that the suit has been examined either by SFI or by FIA and has been certified as meeting the standards of the driver’s sanctioning body. SFI is usually used by most North America-based equipment manufacturers, FIA by more international equipment manufacturers. SFI patches are frequently seen on the inside of sleeves for domestic suits, and on the inside of belts, or on the back of the neck for international suits.
• The Liability Tag: Every piece of racing equipment has some form of liability tag, which basically states that anything that happens to the wearer of the item is the wearer’s problem and not the manufacturer’s problem.
Great stuff — thanks, David. And for anyone who wants more, check out David’s new racing suit blog.
By Brinke Guthrie
Interesting story about this postcard of the old Riverfront Stadium in Cincinnati, which shows a hot air balloon right over the field. What’s interesting (to me, anyway) is that I did this very thing. My radio station decided to fly our hot air balloon on the night of the 1988 All Star Game. So up we went, and we ended up drifting over the stadium. That was a no-no — it was restricted airspace due to the Vice President being at the game. Oops. We were just waiting for the F-16s. Then I hear this “whirring” noise and look down, and see nothing but white — it was the Fuji Blimp, which was like maybe 20 feet below us! Guess the airspace wasn’t restricted for them. (For more of my station’s hijinks, here’s a blog I created. Yes, it was really like WKRP.)
Here’s the rest of this week’s eBay finds:
• No new 1970s NHL posters this week, but we do have a big poster showing the evolution of the NFL uniform. And speaking of NFL posters, you’ll never do better than this Vikings poster. I had this one! Finally, this eBay seller has several NFL posters for sale, like this great one for the Oilers. [Hmmm, that “S” looks upside-down, no? — PL]
• Take a look at this Babe Ruth wristwatch from the 1950s! (It’s the sports watch of champions!)
• How many of us grew up watching sports on TV with one of these huge CBS Sports banners in the background?
• Nice lot of 1970 Chase & Sanborn Coffee NFL stickers. Never saw these when they were out. (More of a Chiquita NFL sticker kid back then.)
• Here’s a 1971 Steelers travel clock.
• Staying with 1971, we’ve got a New York Football Giants puzzle from Springbok.
• Nice detailing on this 1940s Detroit Tigers bank.
• From reader Dave Kuruc, here’s a 1965 CFL Coke bottle cap display. “I’ve never seen those versions of the Saskatchewan and Edmonton logos before,” he says.
• And finally, we’ve got a nice varsity look to this 1960s Boston Bruins sweatah.
Seen something on eBay or Etsy that you think would make good Collector’s Corner fodder? Send your submissions here.
Cold case: For reasons not worth explaining, I have an extra iPhone 4 case, made by Speck. Black with gray accents. Lightly used for about four days by a certain uniform columnist but pretty much like new. Retails for $30. Yours for $15, plus a buck or two for shipping. If interested, get in touch. Thanks. Now sold.
OMFG: My latest “One-Man Focus Group” column is about stripes (including a brief mention of stripes on uniforms).
Uni Watch News Ticker: Although the University of Utah has the Ute Tribe’s permission to use Native iconography, some in the tribe are now questioning that arrangement (from JaceSon P. Barrus). … Follow-up from yesterday: Since Jim Bouton was one of the players shown in that amazing photo of MLBers suiting up as a basketball team, I sent him a note and asked if he had any recollections. Here’s what he wrote back: “We were undefeated against high school faculties. We would double-team the gym teacher and let the biology teacher go free. In the fourth quarter I would run around in a gorilla mask. Did you know that you could kiss a nun while wearing a gorilla mask?” … “In HBO’s undercard fight on Saturday night, Sakio Bika and Nikola Sjekloca both wore black trunks with white trim,” writes Jason Mott. “On their gloves, they had red and blue tape wrapped around the regular white tape, in order to tell them apart.” … Mike Raymer went to a recent Preds game and spotted someone wearing this “Smashville” jersey. “It seems many people (probably all hockey fans) in Nashville have taken to calling their city Smashville,” he says. “The jersey struck me as odd. I guess it would be like a Rangers fan getting ‘The Big Apple’ on a jersey, or a Blackhawks fan getting ‘The Windy City.'” … Wow, the Ft. Wayne Komets sure have a lot of ads on their ice. Is every ECHL ice surface so logo-strewn? (From Terry Mark.) … Michigan hoops wore throwbacks over the weekend. Here’s how the design originally looked on Rudy T back in the day (from Matt Riegler). … NickNOB alert! That’s Skip Wise of Clemson in 1975 (from Garrett Sumner). … Wisconsin’s goalie wore a hat over his mask for the Hockey City Classic (from Michael Bailey). … Lots of good Negro Leagues photos in this slideshow. “Some I recognize, while others are new to me,” says James Ashby. … With all the Jerry Buss stuff circulating yesterday, my ESPN editor Dave Wilson looked up Buss’s MISL team, the L.A. Lazers, and couldn’t believe how bad their logo was. … Scroll down on this page to see a very entertaining 1968 Globetrotters program (from Mark Coale). … Here’s something you don’t often see: Roberto Clemente wearing No. 19. Plus the striping pattern on his sleeve is reversed from the way it should be. Plus-plus what’s the deal with the multi-colored glove? Anyone know more? (From Jeff Flynn, Jr..) … New gold Friday jerseys for UC Santa Barbara baseball (from Casey Harms). … Ever wonder what a Lamborghini would look like with LSU tiger stripes? Me neither, but here it is anyway (thanks, Brinke). … New shoes for Ichiro (from Jeremy Brahm). … “At the end of overtime, with the game still tied in today’s Devils/Senators game, cameras caught coach Pete DeBoer filling out his shootout paperwork, identifying his three shooters,” writes Neil Vendetti. “He filled out the names, then went to add their uni numbers. When he got to Kovalchuk, he turned around and asked someone (I’m lip-reading here) ‘What’s Kovy?’ It doesn’t seem possible that he wouldn’t know his best player’s uniform number.” … No photos, but an interesting story from Patrick Fleming: “In Monday’s Manchester Utd. vs. Reading FA Cup match, Noel Hunt got hit on the head and started bleeding. After receiving treatment for the wound, he got a new jersey with no name or number on it to replace the blood-stained one. About ten minutes later he started bleeding again and was ordered off to have it treated. Again he was given a replacement jersey, but this one had his name and number on the back. Did they actually have a spare Noel HuntNno.10 jersey that they didn’t know about the first time they went looking for a replacement jersey, or did they go and wash his blood-stained one?” … Chris Perrenot notes that the nets used in the NBA’s slam dunk contest had a few little white panels. I feel like we’ve seen these before, but I can’t remember what they’re for. Anyone..? … Here’s Chuck Cooper, the first black players on the Celtics, with numerically mismatched shorts and jersey (from Zack Kurland). … Fun infographic on the evolution of NFL team logos (from Chris Taylor). … Like I always say, start ’em young. That’s Marty Hick, telling a uni-centric bedtime story to his daughter Clara Jane. … Lots of good finds by Michael Clary: (1) A Seattle University basketball jersey with sleeves and a crotch panel. (2) An excellent look at those early-1940s Cubs uniforms that I love and everyone else hates. (3) A big batch of old Red Sox pants and stirrups. (4) An old baseball card showing the notoriously anti-Semitic Ty Cobb in a Star of David-esque design. … “I was playing NBA 2K13, and for the first time I heard a little dialogue about the potential for ads on NBA jerseys in the near future,” says Andrew DeFrank. “Didn’t record it, and couldn’t find it on YouTube, but basically the three announcers chatted back and forth about the proposed addition, potential fan backlash, and so forth, making it ‘like European soccer.’ The verdict was that they expected a small patch that fans would quickly accept in the near future.” … Went ice skating in Manhattan yesterday afternoon and was struck by how many people were wearing baseball merch: a Phillies cap, a Red Sox jacket, etc. The one hockey sighting was a guy wearing a Jagr Rangers jersey. … You’ll never believe what I’m doing this weekend. Frankly, I can’t believe what I’m doing this weekend. Details soon.