SFI Foundation Specs Assure Quality Driver Suits
by Jennifer M. Faye
Years ago, drivers fearlessly climbed into their racecars wearing only cotton T-shirts and jeans. These days, most of us are more informed about driver safety and the importance of being protected from head-to-toe in any racing event. The ability of someone to emerge from a burning car virtually unscathed is a direct result of this recent increase in personal safety awareness.
Of course, racing is inherently risky but the chance of injury can be reduced if you take the time to protect yourself properly. Personal safety is a system of the driver suit, accessories, and helmet. The hub of this system is the driver suit.
There are many things that influence what kind of suit you get such as sanctioning body rules, track requirements, the type and speed of your car, etc. How do you put these factors together to ensure you buy the suit that is right for you? Some drivers look for a manufacturer’s name they know or trust. Other people may be new to the sport and not as familiar with the products available.
No matter how much you already know (or don’t know) about driver suits, you always have a standard that will guide you in your choice of a well-made garment. That standard is the SFI Foundation Specification 3.2A for Driver Suits. You have probably noticed the black and white SFI patch on many drivers’ left shoulders at various tracks, from drag strips to dirt ovals. The patch demonstrates that the manufacturer certifies the suit to meet or exceed the SFI specification.
What does this mean to the consumer? It means that there is a way to differentiate the quality-assured products from the untested products. A driver suit that
is certified to meet the SFI spec has been laboratory tested and has passed the requirements of that test. Before getting into the details of the testing procedures, it is necessary to understand what the SFI Foundation is and what it does.
SFI is a non-profit organization established to issue and administer standards for specialty/performance automotive and racing equipment. This includes parts like clutch assemblies and fuel cells as well as personal driver safety items.
The standards/specifications are created via a committee process. The technical committees are comprised of individuals from all facets of the industry. Through their expertise and research, a spec is drafted and then offered to all interested parties in the form of a public hearing. Once revised to the committee’s satisfaction, the spec is presented to the SFI Board of Directors for approval. If approved, the spec is published and made available to the public. Sanctioning bodies all over the world include SFI specs in their rulebooks and use them as minimum requirements.
The driver suit spec 3.2A tests a garment’s fire retardant capabilites. The spec contains a rating system based on the garment’s capability to provide Thermal Protective Performance (TPP) in the presence of both direct flame and radiant heat. The purpose of the TPP is to measure the length of time the person wearing the garment can be exposed to a heat source before incurring a second degree, or skin blistering, burn.
The TPP rating is the product of exposure heat flux and exposure time. The TPP results can be converted to the time before a second degree burn occurs. The higher the garment rating, the more time before a second degree burn. Here are the SFI ratings with the corresponding TPP values and times to a second degree burn: