GRX: safety first

The Generic Racecar Experiment (GRX) is my attempt to build a Toyota Yaris that will compete in everything from hillclimbs to the SCCA Runoffs. My #1 concern is safety. The two main sources of danger are crashes and fire. To protect from crashes, racecars need a roll cage, cage padding, racing seat, seat brace, and 5-7 point harness. Some racing organizations also require window nets, center nets, or arm restraints. Let’s see why racecars need roll cages.

For fire protection, most racing organizations require the car to carry a fire extinguisher. Some go further and require a push/pull/electronic fire suppression system. Kill switches are also part of the fire protection suite to cut power to the fuel pump. In the video below, the car doesn’t have a fire suppression system and the driver doesn’t use the kill switch. The fire continues much longer than it should have.

Given that the GRX will be competing in multiple types of events with multiple organizations,  it will have a lot of safety equipment. Let’s take a look at the shopping list.

  • Roll cage & padding – A custom roll cage is often the most expensive part of the build and usually costs $1,500-$3,000. Rally cages are on the high end. I got my cage built for $1,080 as a demo car in a cage-building class by master builder John Pagel of Evil Genius Racing. The cage also has to be padded to prevent injury if head or body come into contact with the cage structure. I bought the Longacre kit ($50).
  • Fire protection – Fire systems have 2 or more nozzles connected to a bottle of fire-retardant chemicals with a mechanical or electrical switch. Since I’m very safety conscious, I purchased a 4.0 liter, 6 nozzle, pull system from for $370. I will also carry a hand operated fire bottle, which I already have.
  • Kill switch – Kill switches come in a variety of different mechanisms. They are not very expensive. I happen to have a Miata kit sitting around, so I will be using that.
  • Seats & braces – I found a lightly used Corbeau FX1 Pro seat on Craigslist for $200. This is a fiberglass seat designed to flex slightly to absorb energy on impact. It will be mounted to a Corbeau double-locking slider ($138) and backed up with a custom seat brace. The passenger seat is a Corbeau Forza ($231) that will be fixed in place and braced by the cage structure.
  • Harnesses – Harnesses may be SFI or FIA certified. FIA harness have a 5 year lifespan whereas SFI are 2 years. Some can be re-webbed after expiration for a fee. I decided on a FIA harness from Racequip ($140 each).
  • Nets – Some racing organizations require a window net and/or interior net, so I need both. I bought a Allstar window net kit ($90) and a G-Force center net ($90).

The total for safety equipment stands at $2,589. Added to the $3,040 purchase price of the vehicle, the current total is $5,629. There’s still a few things to purchase and much to do before it’s ready to go racing. My target is to keep it under $7,500, which is about one quarter of the price of the professional builds mentioned last week.

Next week I’m introducing yet another new feature to YSAR. Check back.

Z is for Zero

I’ve been trying to remove every bit of weight off my racecar to make it faster and use less consumables. It’s a pain scraping all the insulation off, cutting every bracket, and removing all unnecessary wiring. But ounces turn into pounds. It’s funny how little things add up to big things. Last week I removed 15 pounds. If that’s only 0.15 seconds per lap, I’ll take it. Over the course of 300 laps, it adds up to 45 seconds. It’s a lot more than zero.

Recently, Stephen Cox, a driver in the World Racing Series was in a fire at Circuit of the Americas. WRL is a budget endurance series and Stephen is an amateur. He’s not getting paid to put his life on the line. For him, like me, racing is a hobby and the joy of being on world famous tracks is a dream come true. Unfortunately, his race turned into the worst kind of nightmare. I cannot imagine the horror of being sprayed with fuel or the pain of having my flesh on fire. His account of the incident scared the crap out of me. You can read about it on his blog.

Stephen is in the hospital recovering, and it will be some time before he’s whole. He’s a husband and father. One of the WRL racers set up a fund to help ease the financial burden on his family. I don’t know Stephen and I’ve never raced with WRL. I gave $50. It’s not a lot, but lots of little things can add up to big things. Like weight savings on a race car. Give a little. Anything. Just not zero.

Videos and a new theme of posts return next week.