Nomex-The Core Of Driver Suits

By David G. Firestonenomex1

I must have said the word Nomex a thousand times on this blog, but what exactly is Nomex? In short, it is a flame-resistant meta-aramid cloth material. It is an aramid material, which is the same thing as Kevlar, but it is not as strong as a bulletproof vest, but it has great thermal, as well as chemical resistance, which makes it great for racing firesuits.Untitled

The development of the Nomex firesuit has been a long road. This road has seen its share of driver deaths and injuries. Before the Coca Cola 600, I discussed the deaths of Fireball Roberts, Eddie Sachs, and Dave McDonald in fire-related crashes over the course of 6 days in 1964. What took place from there would cross the paths of racing and a young drag racer.

Bill Simpson was born in Hermosa Beach, California in 1940. He took up drag racing at a young age, and at age 18, broke both arms in a drag racing crash. As he recuperated, he thought of safety in racing for the first time. He developed the idea of an X shaped parachute, and using materials from his uncle’s army surplus shop, developed a functional drag racing parachute. Don Garlits noticed the new parachutes, and took an interest, which helped the Simpson Drag Chute company to form. As time went on, he started making other racing equipment, which caught the attention of drivers, and, oddly enough, NASA. During a project, he met Pete Conrad, who introduced the now 27 year old Simpson to Nomex in 1967.

Nomex was created in 1967, for NASA. Far from the uses it has today, its main use at the time was for the Apollo Command Module parachutes. NASA needed a material that could stand up to the heat of reentering the earth’s atmosphere, and still remain fully functional. Simpson saw what the material could do, and decided it would work well to make driver suits, and other uniform items.nomex1nomex2

Contrary to what most people think, Nomex is not fire PROOF, rather it is fire RETARDENT. It does burn, but burns at a much slower rate, and that protects the driver in the event of a fire. Bill Simpson decided to show how much better this material was by having a “burn off.” He put on one of his Simpson racing suits, doused himself in gasoline, and lit himself on fire. Though he was fully engulfed in flames, he was not hurt. Though he admits that is was a bad idea, it sold drivers on Nomex. Even today, 46 years later, Nomex is still the go-to material for driver suits.nomex3

Nomex is used for many other things. Nomex sheet is used in power cords for insulation. Fire-fighters use Nomex for protection in saving lives. Fighter pilots wear Nomex suits in case of cockpit fires. Nomex was developed for NASA and NASA still uses a lot of Nomex. It is used in what NASA refers to as the “Thermal Micrometeoroid Garment of the Extravehicular Mobility Unit”, or in regular English, the “outer layer of a spacesuit.” The spacesuits that space shuttle astronauts wore on liftoff and touchdown were primarily made of Nomex. Almost every project that NASA has done in the last 40 years involves Nomex in one form or another, so it is a very versatile material.

Interestingly, as safety concerns increased, and safety equipment changes for the better, you begin to see that Nomex is beginning to have competition in the driver suit market in terms of fire protection. While I’m typically a traditionalist when it comes to sports uniforms, for driver suits that is a great thing. Developing a new material that serves the same purpose as Nomex, but can do it better and longer is a great thing. Eventually, Nomex will go the way of typewriters, film cameras, the printing press, and the floppy disk as an invention that is obsolete but changed the world.

Paint Scheme Reviews!

Some new 2014 schemes released this week:

Danica Patrick #10 Apsen Dental Chevy SS  Even though this scheme is better than the *ahem* current Aspen Dental scheme, it still does not look good.  But it is still an improvement, and I’ll give it a C

Ryan Newman #31 Quicken Loans Chevy SS  Great color scheme-Check, Awesome use of Northwestern stripes-Check, classic design-Check, A+ Grade, Double-Check!

Dale Earnhardt Jr. #88 National Guard Chevy SS  The numbers kill what is otherwise a great scheme.  I like everything else, but the color of the numbers looks really odd, and I can’t really say it adds to the car at all.  Still it is a decent scheme, so I’ll give it a B

Now we move on to 2013

Denny Hamlin #11 FedEx One Rate Toyota Camry  Very clean look, with a very good color scheme, can’t say anything bad about this, A+

Greg Biffle #16 Pink 3M Ford Fusion  Pinkwashing is an automatic F.  I hate it when companies use causes like this to move products, so I show no mercy in this sence.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. #17 Pink 3M Ford Fusion  See Above, F

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. #17 My Best Buy Ford Fusion The blue used on this scheme is a tad too light, but it is still a decent scheme, though the lighter blue takes it from the A grade Best Buy had to an A-

Joey Logano #22 Shell/Pennzoil/Hertz Ford Fusion I’ll be honest, I want to give this scheme a better grade, but the Hertz logo just looks out of place here, and it is awkward on an already iffy scheme.  Best I can give it is a D-

Cole Whitt #30 Black Clover Toyota Camry  Swan Racing seems to go out of its way to design bad paint schemes this year, and this scheme is no exception.  It has no redeeming features at all, and earns an F-

Jeff Burton #31 Sleep Innovations Chevy SS  Great color scheme, though the design on the front is a bit overdone, still a good looking scheme that earns a solid B+

Aric Almirola #41 Maurice Petty Tribute Ford Fusion  Tribute schemes have worked very well across the board, and this is no exception.  Simple, timeless, yet attractive, a great tribute to a great engine builder.  Extra points for using Maurice’s #41 for the weekend.  Interestingly, Maurice raced in a total of 26 Sprint Cup races, and had 7 top 5’s and 16 top 10’s during the 1960’s.

Travis Kvapli #93 Dr. Pepper Toyota Camry  An A+ scheme all around.

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Aspects of the Current Helmet Design

By David Firestone

As I mentioned in the last post, the SFI/FIA Certifications on current helmets are located on the HANS anchors. I also discussed the advancements in helmets over the last 12 years in my post on the evolution of helmets. But what makes the current helmet design so effective? Let’s take a look at one.mcdonalds-1

This example is an Impact! Air Vapor helmet worn by either Regan Smith in 2005 or Jason Keller in 2006. It was used in the Nationwide Series for Team Rensi Motorsports, founded by former McDonald’s Executive Sam Rensi. It carried a McDonald’s sponsorship.mcdonalds-4

It was made by Impact! Race Products in Brownsburg, Indiana. Impact has a unique history. After Dale Earnhardt Sr.’s death in 2001, Bill Simpson, who had founded Simpson Race Products resigned after NASCAR had blamed Earnhardt’s death partially on a seat belt failure. He had a one year non-compete contract with Simpson, and after that expired, he went to found Impact. Because Bill Simpson was a race driver, he understood the needs of drivers, and both Simpson and Impact followed that philosophy. Let’s take a closer look at some of the features of this helmet.

This is an Air Vapor helmet, used by a number of drivers on the NASCAR circuit. It is made out of a carbon composite material, which is both lightweight and very durable. It has been custom painted with McDonald’s colors and some very cool “ghost skulls.” The helmet has a number of unique curves, and grooves designed to help air flow around the helmet and keep the visor fog-free.mcdonalds-6

The visor is much narrower than older Simpson models, and the gold tint is shading for the visor. The Impact strip across the top does not obstruct the driver’s vision at all, as it covers the area of the visor over the opaque section of the helmet.mcdonalds-10 mcdonalds-12 mcdonalds-8

The Microphone equipment is still present and in good condition. The microphone is one of the most critical safety features, as spotters are mandatory at every race, and they tell the driver everything going on around them. The driver can also tell the crew chief what, if anything, needs to be done to the car during pit stops. The telephone cord-style cable plugs into the seat, and the seat is connected to the electrical system in the car.

Finally, the ventilation intake is located on the top of the helmet. This is connected to a hose, which in turn is connected to a “hot box” mounted in a window behind the driver. The hot box has a gas scrubber on it, which cleans up the air, and cools it before blowing it on the driver. Considering that the driver compartment can reach temperatures of over 160 degrees Fahrenheit, this is a critical piece of equipment. Older models, like this Ted Musgrave model from 1996, have the intake located on the side. However, since the HANS device became mandatory, the intake has moved to the top to accommodate the device.musgrave4

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Now on to paint schemes…

Nationwide Series schemes first…

Ryan Reed #16 Drive to Stop Diabetes Ford Mustang Good color scheme, red white and black is always a good choice, but the design on the side is confusing to look at. If the design next to the front wheels is removed, I could give it a better grade, but with that design it gets a C.

Kyle Busch #54 Monster Energy Toyota Camry I like matte black, and simple designs in race cars, so this design is one of my favorites. I can’t give this scheme anything less than an A

Steven Wallace #66 Richard Tocado Ford Mustang Great scheme…only way this could be any better is if the lettering, numbers and stripes were in gold, like Rusty’s 1990’s MGD scheme…A grade.

Johanna Long #70 Foretravel Motor coaches Chevy Camaro A very solid scheme with a great color scheme, great design, and an A grade…very solid!

Now on to the Sprint Cup Schemes

Dave Blaney #7 Florida Lottery Chevy SS The color scheme is mediocre, with too many light colors and not enough dark. The lettering is just awful, and the car number looks like something that a small town driver would use, not a Sprint Cup driver would. I’ll be generous and give this scheme a D+

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. #17 NOS Energy/Valvoline NextGen Ford Fusion I love this scheme. Orange and blue is a great scheme to work with, there is not a lot of needless design on the sides, the lettering and numbers look good. So this scheme gets an A. Ricky’s Valvoline NextGen scheme is the same as the Nationwide Series car Trevor Bayne drives, and it gets the same A grade.

Kevin Harvick #29 Rheem Chevy SS Yet more proof that red white and black is a great color scheme. I’m not a fan of the curvy design on the nose that leads to the stripes, but as good as this scheme is, it is a flaw I will overlook. Though I’m not a fan of the ads on the roof, again I’ll overlook that. The black on white numbers are a unique twist, that gives the car a cleaner look. Final Grade: A

Terry Labonte #32 C&J Energy Sources Ford Fusion If there were no contingency decals present, I would think this is just a black and white picture. Silver is a great color for cars, and the black white and silver scheme works well in most applications, but this scheme just falls flat. Final Grade C-…just too meh to be good.

JJ Yeley #36 Accell Construction/Golden Corral/United Mining Equipment Chevy SS Three schemes here, first the Accell Construction scheme, which uses a great color scheme, but the side design is just brutal to look at. The Golden Corral scheme is great, with a great color and simple design schemes, and is amazing to look at. The United Mining Equipment scheme has a good color scheme. The stripes are bad, but I like the coal design on the doors and roof. Accell Construction gets an F, Golden Corral gets an A, and United Mining Equipment gets a B

David Ragan #38 Love’s Truck Stops Ford Fusion The only bad thing I can say about this scheme is I don’t like the back bumper design. Other than that, great color scheme and reasonably simple design. Final Grade: B+

Carl Edwards #99 Subway/Kelloggs Ford Fusion The green stripes look more like seaweed, and ruin what could have been a great scheme. The Kellogg’s/Cheez It’s scheme is way too cartoonish to be taken seriously, so both schemes get an F grade.