By David G. Firestone
Editor’s Note: I will be traveling to Tucson, Arizona this week, and I’m getting ready to fly for the first time in 11 years as you read this. I will have the Friday Feature and Throwback Thursday items next week, but no tracker or grades. In the meantime, here is my Friday Feature for the week.
I wrote about the Infinite Hero Challenge Coin program last year, and I’m going to revisit it. I’ve learned some more information about Infinite Hero Coins, that I didn’t have before, so I’m going to add this new info, for the sake of completeness.
Infinite Hero quickly realized that Oakley was a great partner, and began working with them to come up with some unique merchandise as a part of the partnership. The Infinite Hero Foundation was founded in 2011, and quickly acquired a partnership with Oakley. This resulted in a series of merchandise items sold by Oakley, with proceeds going to help the Foundation.
I’m not into sunglasses myself, but many people are, and Oakley has a lot of fanboys. So, once these glasses began to hit shelves, they sold quickly. This is a review from 4 years ago, of one such pair.
Notice the coin in the box? Of course you did. Aside from glasses and boots, Oakley realized that the coin would sell too. So sometime, I’m guessing 2012-2013, this coin was sold.It is quite thick, and has a ridged edge. One side featured “Courage, Honor, Virtue, Heroism,” around a globe design with an Oakley logo. Oakley is a partner with the Infinite Hero Foundation. The other side features an Infinite hero Foundation logo. The coin was placed in a round, flat plastic container, with black foam braces. The coin lacks the blue enamel that the coin that comes with the glasses coin, and future coins, and has a very plain look. I do like the plain look. In April 2014, they started appearing on the side of Jack Beckman’s funny car. Terry Chandler, who also sponsors Tommy Johnson Jr.’s Make a Wish Foundation Funny Car, is the financial backer of the car. She pays for Infinite Hero to race on the sides of the car. This also began the NHRA coin program. This is a new form of racing memorabilia I have never seen before, though it’s a great idea. When Jack Beckman gets into his funny car to race, he carries at least 5 Infinite Hero Challenge Coins in the pocket of his driver suit. Once the race is over, he will autograph them and sell them at the track and on eBay. They cost $100 with all proceeds going to the Infinite Hero Foundation.
The idea of items carried in a pocket is not a new one. NASA has done this for years. Many space shuttle flights carried first day covers in the storage bay. When the shuttle landed, the covers were removed, and sold to collectors. I’m a little surprised this hasn’t been done before with auto racing, because I think that it would create a new memorabilia market.
The 2014 design that Jack used was identical to the one sold in stores, but the Infinite Hero Foundation logo has a purple enamel present. Jack autographed the plastic case. A redesigned coin of the same size was introduced for 2015. The Oakley logos are gone. One side features a design similar to the globe design, but the globe design has been replaced with an American Flag design. “Courage, Honor, Virtue, Heroism” has been replaced with “Duty, Honor, Innovation, Courage.” The new emblem on the reverse side has one of the across bands removed. The new packaging is an upgrade, with the circular plastic cylinder replaced with an attractive box. It comes with a card that Jack Beckman autographed, and on the reverse it has the Infinite Hero Foundation Pledge. The first one is from The CARQUEST Auto Parts NHRA Nationals at Phoenix on February 22, 2015, where Jack was eliminated in the first round. The second one is from the Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Nationals in Norwalk, Ohio, where Beckman won the event, beating Courtney Force in the final round. The Infinite Hero Foundation is a worthwhile charity, designed to help our nations veterans. I fully support them, and I encourage my readers to try and buy at least one of these coins. Jack Beckman is a great spokesman for the Infinite Hero Foundation. I reached out to him for an interview about his racing uniforms, and he happily obliged…
DGF-Could you explain, from a driver’s perspective, how you want your suit to fit?
JB-It really depends on the kind of vehicle you are driving. Top Fuel dragsters you are more sitting on the ground, funny cars you are sitting more upright. Sponsors want their logos front and center, so we have to work around that. I also don’t like my suit to be too baggy, because when they put the seven point harness on, it will fold over.
DGF-You wear an SFI 20 rated suit, how many layers of Nomex does your suit have?
JB-Well, the SFI rating is only based on how long the suit will protect the wearer. In testing, a 20 rated suit will protect the wearer for up to, I think, 40 seconds, and that is based on how long it takes the mannequin in the testing facility to sense the fire. Older generations of suit would need 12 layers to do what the new materials could to in 6 or 7 layers. If there were an amazingly durable material, you could have it in one or two layers.
DGF-When a suit is burned so that the Nomex is discolored, do you feel anything?
JB-The discoloration is from the dye in the suit, but not really. The big screens and the slow motion video are astounding though. We as drivers experience it in the moment, but watching it on the big screen, you see so many more things than you never would notice otherwise. When the body gets lifted during the explosion, the firewall that’s to shield the fire coming back from the engine is no longer there. Then you can feel it get warm. But the materials today and the construction of the suit, they’re just light years better than one and two generations ago, to the point that I don’t ever want to say that there’s a “routine fire” but you could have one that looks pretty darn impressive on the big screen, and get out of the car 100% unscathed.
DGF-My next question, it’s a hypothetical one, but it is one I think I need to ask, For most of your career, you have worn Impact driver suits. If you were to switch manufacturers, let’s say to Simpson, would you be able to notice the difference?
JB-Hmm…interesting question. If they are using different materials, maybe. The older style Impact suits, when I first started running funny car in 2006, were much stiffer, it was a different material, it was bulkier, more constrictive. I believe, along manufacturers lines, you might still have a choice of material there. The construction methods are all very similar, and sizing, it’s an individual thing. You can check a box on your order form that says “small” “medium” or “large,” or you can send them custom measurements and they’ll build it to that. So I don’t think you would notice with the newest light weight material for manufacturer to manufacturer. That said, you’d have to stick me in a room with a blind fold, and have me try on every men’s suit so I could give you an answer with some authority.
DGF-Along those same lines, would you have any concerns going into the switch?
JB-Well they all have to meet the same criteria. Here’s the thing, the NHRA rule book mandates a minimum amount of protection. When they tell you, if you drive a fuel funny car, you need a 3.2-20 suit, which includes a certain spec of gloves and over-boot worn on top of your driver shoes. They don’t tell you that you have to wear thermal underwear underneath. Up until 4 years ago, they didn’t tell you that you needed to wear a head sock under your helmet. You don’t have to wear inner-liner gloves under your fire gloves. I wear all that stuff. So it’s up to the driver if they want more protection than the minimum.
The fire suit manufacturers have to prove that their equipment satisfies a certain spec. There is no spec higher for drag racing that the 20. But it’s possible that some of the suit manufacturers make them to a higher level spec. I’ve been in some pretty big fires, and have walked away, I singed my eyebrow once, when the concussion blew my visor up on the helmet. Aside from that, I have had zero injuries, which gives me a lot of confidence in the equipment I wear. I feel that I have tested several times, and it’s passed with flying colors every time. Now the other manufacturers have to meet that same spec.
DGF-Do you, over the course of an event, wear the same suit for every run, or do you switch them out occasionally?
-Typically at the beginning of the year, we will have two suits constructed, just in case one gets in a fire, and gets disfigured. I had a sleeve changed out, and it wasn’t a safety issue, it had melted some of the sponsor logos. Typically, I won’t switch suits until we get to The Countdown, because the funny car suits tend to get run down, and dirty from the continual clutch dust, run after run. I just want a fresh looking suit for the photo shoot, once I get to The Countdown. Then I’ll save the suit I wore for the first 18 races as a backup suit. I will wear the same suit the whole weekend long. The only thing I rotate out over the course of a weekend are the thermal underwear and the head sock because once I get out of the car, they’re sweaty, and I’ll hang them up to dry, and put fresh ones on for the next run, and keep rotating them.
DGF-When you are getting into your uniform prior to a run, start to finish, how long does it take to get everything on?
JB-It’s no longer…getting suited up is really no longer than getting street clothes on. I’ve got thermal underwear, top and bottom, so that would be like putting on underwear and a t-shirt. I’ve got my driving shoes…I’m sorry, I put on my firesuit, driving shoes, my over-boots-so it’s almost like a pair of slip-om rain galoshes over your tennis shoes. The thing that’s a little more time consuming is once your getting ready to get into the car, is getting the head sock on, getting that tucked down into the collar of the jacket, my helmet on, and strapped. I wear glasses, so I put those on. Inner gloves have to go on, outer gloves have to go on. I’ve got to walk over to the car, duck down underneath, get in, and then, the 7-way harnesses, as well as the fact that I’m wearing a head and neck protection device, they make it really tight, once you are in the cockpit, and the crew guys are working in some pretty constrictive spaces. The body’s still on the car, so they’re ducking under that. You’ve got this bulky firesuit, so you’re taking up most of the cockpit. They’re getting these straps laid out on you, they gotta plug the radio in, plug the air hose into the helmet, get all the straps buckled in, then get you tightened, so that can take a good amount of time, but I’ll tell you, you get in a pretty good rhythm with this thing.
I typically get suited up and walk over to the car five pairs from when we run. If we were pinched for time, we could do it with two pairs to go. But I don’t like to do that for a couple of reasons. The first one is that you just hate to feel rushed, but I’m okay with that, psychologically it doesn’t affect me. I don’t like doing that to the crew guys because typically, once they’ve got me strapped into the car, they’ve got a couple other tasks that they need to do as we’re towing up to the starting line. I don’t want to rush them, and have them feel any extra anxiety about the things they need to get done.
DGF-Alright, you mentioned gloves, shoes, and over-boots, how long do those items typically last over the course of a season?
JB-I’ll typically put my firesuit on with my driving shoes, and my boots on in the tow vehicle, I’ll walk up to the starting line, inspect things, walk back to the tow rig, so I’ll put a couple of miles a year on my driving shoes. The only thing that wears them out, as you can imagine, is the sole if you walk enough steps. Other than that, you can get a full season out of them. The over-boots, it really depends. If you have a fire, since they’re typically near the source of the fire, I would replace them after that. They get pretty beat up with the clutch dust on them, and blowing them out run after run, so I’ll typically use two pairs of them over the course of a season. Same thing with the gloves. Putting them on and off is what eventually wears them out. I like wearing the tight gloves which means the crew guy is rolling them up, stretching them over my hand, pulling them back down over the cuff of the firesuit, and that takes its toll on them. We’ll make 170 runs over the course of a year, so after 100 runs, it’s usually time to replace those.
DGF-I’d like to talk about your helmet visor for a second, because I’ve noticed that there are a lot of drivers who black out part of their visors to create tunnel vision, so they can only focus on their lane. Are you one of those drivers?
JB-The Clydesdale Effect? Like blinding the horses so they don’t get spooked? No, I’ve tried that in the past, and I’m a big proponent of doing anything that you think will make you perform better. If you think a red glove will make you drive better than a blue glove, it will. It’s psychological more than it’s mechanical. There is definitely a value in removing distractions, when you get up to the starting line. But to do that, you’d better have three visors prepared. Let’s say you wear a clear visor, and the helmet rolls out of the tow vehicle in the staging lane, and the visor gets scratched. You’d better have another clear visor, with the blinders in place. Because if you swap it out for one without them, that’s gonna screw you up, probably, right? You did it for psychological purposes, and now somethings change. Ponoma is a track where we really face, Sonoma it happens too, but Ponoma is probably the worst, we get very high glare conditions, and you have to go to a dark visor. So you’d better have a dark visor prepared for that, and a clear one ready to go in case the clouds come in. So I’m fine with that. I feel like whatever a driver needs to do to keep them in a mental zone, where their performance is at a top level. That’s not to say in two years, I might decide that that works better for me. I’ve tried yellow visors, clear visors, light tint, dark tint, glasses, no glasses, and the reality is that I’m pretty much the same without them. But I do the one that I feel like, removes the most distractions, and therefore, puts me at a higher level of focus.
DGF-Alright Jack, this is my last question. I’m a memorabilia guy, and do you keep uniforms, or other items from special moments in your career that have special meaning to you?
JB-Yeah, it’s funny you ask that, because my wife is so clean and organized, and not sentimental. And I don’t get to keep anything. I get some bitchin’ souvenirs from fans, and I bring them home and say “where do you think that’s gonna go?” So I’ve got a little pile of stuff there. Yes, I do keep all my helmets. I’ve only ever sold…I’m sorry, let me rephrase that, I’ve only ever…not kept…two of my helmets. One of those I gave to my good friend Ronnie Swearingen, and last I checked, it was on display, with the rest of his helmet collection at the Garlitts museum. The other one was I had a duplicate helmet painted because a gentleman really, really, REALLY liked the design, and I told him “I’m not getting rid of helmets.” He paid to have a duplicate made, and I wore it for one race. Firesuits, Schumacher gets them back at the end of the year, and puts them on eBay. But if we do multiple suits, usually I can keep one of them.
DGF-Alright Jack, thank you very much, it was an interesting interview.
JB-You know it’s interesting, I’ve done thousands of interviews, which typically means, when I do an interview not much is unique. Yours was a completely unique interview.