Yesterday, I was at Sonoma Raceway for a 24 Hours of Lemons race. I wasn’t racing, but I was working as staff at both gear tech and pit-out. At pit-out my job is to ensure the following:
- The car has the proper event sticker
- The driver is wearing a driver’s wrist band
- The driver’s helmet has an inspection sticker
- The harnesses are tight
- The neck brace is attached appropriately
- Other shit looks okay
Not all racing series do these checks. In fact, I think it’s kind of rare. A couple weekends ago, I was at the Lucky Dog race at Thunderhill, and the only checks were for stickers and wrist bands. Nobody put their head into the car or tugged on straps. We do that in Lemons, and I think it’s a good idea. I personally noticed the following:
- ~5 fire systems still had their safety pins inserted
- ~10 drivers didn’t have their neck devices connected
- 1 driver didn’t have a wrist band
- 2 cars had harnesses buckled way too high (stomach instead of hips)
I saw a lot of cars over the weekend, and I’m estimating that ~3% of cars have done something egregiously wrong. Nobody was wearing tennis shoes this time, but shit like that happens if you look for it.
Part of my usual routine is to tug on the front harness straps and then reach around the helmet to tug on the neck straps. About 1/4 of the time, the harness straps are too loose. As noted above, every once in a while one or both neck clips are not connected. But then I started to notice that there is quite a bit of variability in how loose the neck straps are. So I started a new routine and asked each driver to “nod your head forward” or “pretend you’re in a crash”. If the neck device is installed correctly, the helmet’s range of motion will be stopped as the tethers reach their limit. Sometimes the helmet isn’t stopped by the tethers even when the clips are in…
All of the HANS brands devices worked as intended. When you bob your head forward, the tethers stop the head from going too far. The tethers are anchored on a collar that extends above the shoulders. I like this design because the tethers go straight back when engaged. Also, you can turn your head side to side freely as you drive. However, the downside of HANS is that they offer zero protection from side impacts. If you have a halo seat, your head is protected by the seat wings. However, I estimate that only 10% of cars have halo seats. Should everyone use a halo seat? As long as you can still get out of the car easily, yes. But if the halo means you can’t get out of a burning car, I’m not sure I’d get in there. Alternatively, use a neck device with some side protection.
I’ve owned 2 NecksGens, the Rev and the Rev2 Lite. The former was non-adjustable and the tethers were really restrictive. You can turn your head only a little side to side. This takes some getting used to, and I can imagine some people feeling claustrophobic. On the plus side, they provide protection from side impacts. Yay! The newer units are adjustable. That flexibility allows it to fit people of various dimensions, but it leaves the user to choose the proper length. I use the shortest setting to provide maximum protection. But I noticed that not everyone else does. I saw a couple that were so loose that they probably didn’t provide any protection at all.
The really cool feature of these are that the neck restraint attaches to the body rather than the harnesses. So you can use them with 3 point belts in your street car if you want to (probably a good idea for HPDE). The straps are adjustable both down and back. I saw one where the down straps were tight and the back straps were so loose I could have rolled them around my fist. Certainly that’s not how it’s intended to be fitted.
There are 2 selling points for Z-tech (1) the hardware itself is adjustable, not just the straps (2) they are the least expensive. These are popular, and because of that I probably saw the most too-loose straps on this device. Like the NecksGen, they offer side protection when the straps are properly adjusted and no protection when the straps are loose.
Simulate a Crash
Neck braces don’t make you safe, you do. After you strap in and are good to go, make a final check for your own safety. Nod you head forward to simulate what your head would do in a crash. Ensure that your helmet is restrained by the tethers. If you find your range of motion is unlimited, please don’t go on track. You could lose your head out there.
This was the extent of my driving at Sonoma.