auto racing

Oakley…Not Just For Sunglasses Anymore-Revisited

By David G. Firestone

Editor’s note, I had a post ready to go this week, but because of the pit fire at the Xfinity Series Race on Friday, I will revisit an article I did last year on pit crew suits.

When you say “driver suit” you think of names like Simpson, Sparco, Impact!, OMP, Stand 21, and Momo, you don’t automatically think of Oakley. Oakley started in 1975 as a sunglasses company by Jim Jannard in his garage in Foothill Ranch California. He got the name from Oakley, his English Setter. He went from working in his garage to one of the biggest sunglasses companies in the world. They design eyewear for athletes, the military, skiers, and, starting in the late 2000’s, motorsports apparel.

Oakley makes a number of racing items, the most prominent being driver suits. IndyCar drivers Justin Wilson, Ed Carpenter, Mike Conway, and Josef Newgarden all wear Oakley driver suits as do Alex Bowman, Ryan Truex, Martin Truex Jr., Clint Bowyer, Jeff Burton, Michael Waltrip, and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. in NASCAR and Tony Schumacher in the NHRA. While they make suits for the top drivers in the sport, for some reason they don’t seem to sell suits through their own site, you have to go to a third-party site to buy their racing suits…which to me seems odd, because no one else ever does that.98-romesburg 98-romesburgb 98-romesburg-pantThis particular suit was worn by Jason Romesburg, who was the rear tire changer for Paul Menard in 2010. Menard had a decent season, with a top 5, and 6 top 10’s and 17 laps led. The suit shows heavy use, with the right cuff on the pant leg destroyed.98-romesburg-pant-rlogo 98-romesburg-pant-rcuff In addition to the damage to the pant leg, what strikes me about this suit is that the material seems so light. While it is safety certified, it does not feel like a Nomex suit. It is very light for a suit of its size.

The suit is a two-piece and the jacket does not show as much wear as the pants, and I understand the reason. The logo about the Menard’s logo is for Mastercraft Doors. 98-romesburg-flogoPaul Menard races with Menard’s on the quarter panel and a rotating set of sponsors on the hood. Mastercraft Doors was on the hood for 3 races in 2010, the Brickyard 400, the Carfax 400 at Michigan, and the Ford 400 at Homestead. While the jacket doesn’t show as much wear, it does show some staining on the sleeves. 98-romesburg-rsleeve1 98-romesburg-rsleeve2 98-romesburg-rshoulder 98-romesburg-shoulder 98-romesburg-lseeve1 98-romesburg-lsleeve2There are stains on the white area of the sleeves. Since Romesburg was a tire changer, this is to be expected.

The two piece suit is very popular with pit crews because it has the same fire protection as a one piece but with less restriction than a one piece. If you have ever worn a one-piece jumpsuit you know that it does restrict movement, as opposed to a jacket and pants of the exact same size. So when you are changing 4 tires in 14 seconds, you need every edge you get. What I don’t see on the jacket are arm gussets. These would be used to add movement without subtracting fire protection. I have two theories on this, either the suit fit well enough that they weren’t needed, or because the crews were switching jackets so often that expense or time dictated that arm gussets couldn’t be used.

One detail I love are the television logos on the sleeves.98-romesburg-lsleeve2 98-romesburg-rsleeve2 The dual logos on the sleeves look good and actually work well for both sponsors. The suit actually looks pretty good, but I do not like the quilt pattern on the legs, because it isn’t represented on the jacket, and it does look pretty odd in this respect. It does look like the two were designed and made by different people. I’m also amazed by how lackluster the warranty label is…98-romesburg-tag2 98-romesburg-tag1 98-romesburg-pant-tag1 98-romesburg-pant-tag2That is the shortest warranty label I have ever seen on a modern suit. Let’s compare it to a Simpson tag…41-craven-tag1Wow that is a short warranty label, also, I don’t think a skull and crossbones don’t belong on this kind of suit, but it does say what it needs to say, just in a much shorter form than most driver suits.

In short, Oakley is making decent suits, and they are doing what they are designed to do, protect the driver from fire. I think Oakley suit could catch with minor league racers, provided they start marketing them better. The fact that they don’t sell them through their own website, and provide more info on the drivers who wear their suits make it hard to sell them to the general public. Puma, which has a lot of talent on its roster too, does not want to sell through its own website. Why they don’t is a mystery, as there is a lot of money in these suits, and people will pay for high quality suits made by a reputable company.

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