The idea that auto racing is a mens-only game is a myth. Women have been racing motor vehicles since the 1880s. While fewer in number, their passion for the sport equals that of their male counterparts. And, with racing becoming more and more poplar in the US, future generations will likely have more champions like Danica Patrick, Ana Beatriz and Simona del Silverstro.
With more and more women on the track, concerns about the safety of race cars is increasing (not that racing was cavalier about the safety of male drivers). Mothers who are concerned about whether their daughter will be safe as she races around the track can rest assured that all the major race series have been amping up their safety requirements in order to insure the health and safety of their drivers.
The photos of cars pinned on racing profiles look futuristic and fast, but they hide a myriad of safety features designed to protect their drivers. Below are some of the features now required by NASCAR as an example of the safety of race cars.
Racing Suits aren’t part of the cars, but they are a vital part of racer safety. All suites must be fire retardant. This includes the gloves and shoes worn by racers. Many drivers add a heat shield to the bottom of their shoes as well, to protect not just from fire, but from the heat of the car’s engine. The helmets worn by drivers must also meet safety standards to protect racers from head injuries.
Harnesses and HANS
Far beyond the simple seat belts found in regular cars, racers are strapped in using a strong harness that encompasses the shoulders, waist and legs. The HANS device (Head And Neck Support) attaches to the helmet and provides support for the back of the neck and head. In the event of a crash, it prevents the head from whipping forward without stressing the neck.
Cars themselves have built in safety features to protect drivers. These include window nets to limit flying debris and restrain the driver’s arms, roof flaps to reduce the chance of cars going airborne or flipping repeatedly down the track.
Car of Tomorrow
NASCAR has spent nearly a decade developing what they call the Car of Tomorrow, which changes the very design of race cars. It includes a roof that is both higher and wider, a smaller fuel cell, a windshield made of flexible glass, and a reinforced roll cage.
These, and many other safety features are being tested and used by drivers and racing teams around the world — not just NASCAR. Young women who dream of joining race teams in NHRA, American Le Mans Series, or any race league can learn about these features by following their favorite teams online.