Play safe

Part 2


received an e-mail from SFI Foundation Inc. Motorsports Manager Carl Olson about my last column on safety ("Safety First," January 2004 Drag Racing Online), chiding me for not knowing what the SFI is all about. More importantly, he agreed that we straightline journalists need to get the word out amongst our peers about how important it is to have the proper safety stuff on our bodies every time we jump into our race cars.

When Super Pro racer and custom car painter Joe Sannutti of Premier Powder Coating in Baxley, GA, called in late January to say that my new Tommy Harris/Fabrication Concepts (Douglasville, GA) dragster was all prettied up and ready to go, I thought I was done. Wrong. It looks like I've still got a way to go in the outfitting of the front-engine dragster. Outfitting, as in purchasing the proper fire suit, helmet, gloves, shoes, neck collar and arm restraints. It's like carrying a picnic lunch to the lakeside without the right picnic basket --- you not only have to have all this stuff to race, you NEED it all to race.

Those of you with good memories remember the name Carl Olson. He was with the NHRA for many years, and is now a manager with the SFI. You all may also remember that Olson had his own FED back in the late '60s and early '70s, the Kuhn and Olson Top Fueler. Get a hold of one of the video tapes of racing from that era and you'll likely see Olson racing at the NHRA Winternationals in the car, losing to "Big Daddy" Don Garlits in his brand-new, revolutionary rear-engine dragster, the one that changed drag racing forever.

Olson's car is now a museum piece (it still runs --- just attend any Hot Rod Reunion cacklefest and see for yourself), and Olson gave me one of the greatest quotes ever when I was working for the late Steve Collison and "Super Stock & Drag Illustrated" magazine. "You know," Olson said, "no matter how many times I rewind that tape, the outcome is the same. I never do beat Garlits in that car of his."

So I asked Olson, who is now with the SFI, to tell me what all those letters and numbers in the association rule books really mean to me, a racer. What does SFI stand for, if anything? (And yes, Olson said in his chiding letter, those letters really do stand for something, even though several in the safety industry told me that they don't). And what --- or who --- is "Snell," and what does a Snell rating have to do with helmets?

It turns out, a lot. In a second letter to me, Olson said that the SFI Foundation "oversees the development and administration of its quality assurance specifications. It is the sanctioning organization that determine which of them will apply to their various classes and eliminator categories." Meaning that the SFI recommends which safety specs the NHRA and IHRA should adopt vis--vis fire-retardant clothing, helmet strength and so on, based in part on recommendations from industry manufacturers and their testing.

Want to know about the SFI Foundation via your computer? Go to, and then click on "Our History." Want info on driver suits? Click on "Articles," and then go to "SFI Specs Assure Quality Driver Suits." Want a quick reference as to what you need? Get your 2004 NHRA rulebook and look at the chart on page 260. The rulebook also has a list of SFI Spec expiration dates for things like flexplates and shields on pages 258 and 259.

How simple is that? I'll make it simpler --- for myself, at least. Let's assume that my new Fabrication Concepts front-engine dragster runs quicker than 10-flat seconds in the quarter. The rule book on page 260 tells me that yes, I need an SFI-approved flexplate, an SFI-approved driver restraint system (arm restraints), an SFI-approved flexplate shield, an SFI-approved harmonic balancer, an SFI-approved Snell 90 helmet, an SFI-approved chassis, and so on. That page also reveals the need for a parachute, aftermarket rear axles, a trans reverse lockout and other items that we all have come to expect during our Saturday afternoon on-track tech inspections.

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