By David G. Firestone
Like shoulder epaulets, the collar of a driver suit has made a transition. It has gone from safety accessory to fashion piece, but unlike the epaulet, it is not only ornamental. Because the collar is still a piece of safety equipment. It goes without saying that fire is an ever present danger in auto racing. The collar protects the neck from burns. This may seem minor, but many people who die from burns die from infection. When the skin is compromised, it can’t stop germs from getting inside the body, and as such makes infection a serious risk during burn injuries.
But the fashion aspect of collars is interesting as well. With the standard alignment of sponsors on the top of the suit, the Series logo, tire manufacturer logo, car manufacturer logo, and other sponsor logos are on the top, and the primary sponsor logos are present on the collar and epaulets. This Randy Lajoie example shows how the suit appears during an televised interview:
Note a couple of things: First, the fabric on the collar overlaps just a bit here, but when the driver wears it, it meets perfectly at the center of the neck. Second, it allows the driver to breathe easily. Comfort Vs. Safety is a constant debate. This is one kind of collar, the other kind of collar is what I call the Velcro collar, as shown in this Alex Barron suit from 1998:
The Velcro collar is exactly what it sounds like, a collar with a strap which Velcros shut. This provides a little more protection in case of fire. It also has another use, as sponsor ads are popular to put on the front of the Velcro strap. This has been used quite often over the years…
This is due to the fact that for quite some time the open face helmet was used, and the collar provided extra fire protection where the helmet failed. In this day in age, helmets come standard with Nomex socks on the bottom, so the collar, while still a key safety feature, is not as critical. But for sponsor logo placement, it really can’t be beat.
If the collar does not have a Velcro closure, then the primary sponsor logo is sewn into either side of the collar. Like the Lajoie example above, or this Mike Skinner example below, this can be used very effectively as a place for sponsor logos.
Like most other aspects of the driver suit, the choice of Velcro or not comes down to driver preference. Kyle Bush, as well as older brother Kurt favor the Velcro style, whereas Tony Stewart and Carl Edwards prefer the non-Velcro variety. Many pit crew shirts have a similar design to the driver design as well.