A Crash Corse on SFI Ratings

By David G. Firestone

This week, we’re going to do things a little differently. I came across this post from Bartley Motorsports in Rocksprings, Texas, and they were so good in explaining the SFI raiting for driver suits that I had to repost it.  I take no credit fir this post, it all goes to Bartley Motosports.  Thanks to Patrica Bartley for letting me use this!

A Crash Course on SFI Ratings

What is “SFI” and why does it matter to me, as a racer? The SFI Foundation is a non-profit that administers standards for specialty automotive and racing equipment. For the purpose of this article, we’ll focus on “spec 3″ of the ratings as they relate to fire protection materials, driver suits and driver accessories.

3.2 is specifically a technical bulletin on Fire Protection Material while 3.2A is very prescriptive in the requirements to meet ratings such as 3.2A/1, 3.2A/3, 3.2A/5 having to do with “TPP” or Thermal Protective Performance or, how long until you reach a 2nd degree burn. As a realist, I hope we can all agree these are guidelines and not guarantees. One can imagine many circumstances that would influence the effectiveness of a given article and it’s ability to protect against flame. Of note, the 3.2A/10, 3.2A/15, 3.2A/20 ratings for driver suits currently require recertification every 5 years.

3.3 deals with accessories such as arm restraints, footwear, gloves, helmet supports and underclothing to name a few.

How do you know if an article is SFI approved and what it’s rating is? Glad you asked that. Every SFI approved item must carry a tag (normally affixed in a conspicuous location) that has a specific standard layout and will not only show SFI’s logo but it will call out the specification that it meets. It is interesting to note that different manufacturers use different materials to achieve the same ratings. Do your homework before you buy to be sure you are spending those dollars wisely. In addition, always follow the manufacturer’s cleaning instructions as you could easily alter the properties of your gear’s material and have disasterous results if the time came to rely on it. This is not something to take lightly.
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To give you an idea of the relationship of the SFI rating, to TPP, to ‘time to burn’ we offer the following:

SFI-TPP-Time chart

Race sactioning bodies will specify, in their rules, the minimum requirements to compete at various levels. For most highly competitive / high speed events you should give serious consideration to what your own expectations are as they relate to your safety. Ask yourself if you are prepared for the worst. Stop and think about “what if…”.

It wasn’t long ago we were passing through technical inspection and were told “you don’t need that [safety item] in this class” to which I quickly answered “I will if we flip the car”, which drew an affirming nod from the inspector. Only you can be responsible for you and you must be prepared to deal with the consequences of your decisions. We always exceed the requirements because we consider the “what ifs”. One more comment on that note – I’d rather exceed requirements as I PASS tech, than to fall short and be sitting out the event or scrambling to address the deficiency at the last minute.

When you are planning a first-time purchase or it is time to replace/upgrade, just think as you would when packing a suitcase:

1. Underwear (bottoms)

2. Undershirt (top)

3. Socks

4. Suit (two-piece top/bottom or one-piece driver suit)

5. Shoes

6. Gloves

7. Head protection (head sock (balaclava) and helmet)

6. “other” as required – helmet support, arm restraints, head/neck restraints, harnesses…there is a lot going on as it relates to your safety in competition. READ THE RULES!

Check out our website for pictures, information and pricing of safety equipment.

Thanks again to Patrica Bartley and Bartley Motosports for letting me use this!  Next week, we examine an area of the racing memorabilia market many fans are shocked even exists.

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