Choosing the Perfect Racing Shoes
When it is time to strap on a race car and make some laps important safety equipment like harnesses, racing seats, fire suits, and helmets are all taken into consideration for driver safety and comfort. As such, a decent percentage of a typical racing program’s budget is earmarked for safety equipment. While a fire suit is a given, budget should also be allocated for things like shoes, gloves, arm restraints, and other items related to the main fire suit purchase and what is relevant and required for a specific racing class, track, or sanctioning body. For this buyer’s guide we want to focus on car racing shoes—their function, benefits, design, and more so you can find the best racing shoes that fit your feet and your needs, be it drag racing shoes or NASCAR racing shoes! Obviously, we are solely referring to racing shoes for driver safety that are SFI rated in this guide and not the more basic driving shoe one might employ for a spirited drive through the countryside in a vintage sports car.
We have plenty to discuss in our guide, including various racing shoe styles, materials, and so on, but the number one critical decision you must first make is the proper shoe size/fitment. Most car racing shoes follow the standard U.S. men’s shoe/sneaker sizing you will find in everyday footwear like your favorite sneakers. Converting the U.S. men’s shoe sizing to a woman’s size, or UK sizing is easy with our sizing chart. If you are looking for racing shoes for your youth racer the smaller end of the U.S men’s sizing will work for those younger racers.
Just like certain brands of jeans run a bit small or a bit large, you will see a note on some of our product pages where if we know a brand of race shoes runs a half size smaller or larger we will recommend the appropriate size adjustment to get a normal fit. In a perfect world you could try our racing shoes on like you would your sneakers at your local shoe store. However, that is not possible, which is why you need to have accurate shoe sizing for the best fit. Often your fellow racers can provide input on a racing shoe that has a great fit.
The fit is crucial to ensure your foot is not only supported, but that whatever your foot is doing (applying brake, clutch, or gas) is happening as quickly and as efficiently as possible to keep you at the head of the pack. The more at ease you feel in your safety gear the better you will be able to concentrate on making laps.
The SFI rating for racing shoes is SFI 3.3A/5, which is also used for racing gloves and other driver accessories, is and will be affixed to the racing shoe with a sewn tag, just like your racing suit. This SFI rating means that the SFI racing shoe, much like your fire suit, has passed stringent tests to reduce injury from fire/heat when properly worn and is certified by the SFI. There are no such thing as fireproof racing shoes, the SFI certification simply means they are resistant to heat and fire to limit or prevent injury. Typical SFI racing shoes are made from suede or leather with a fire-retardant material layer. This fire-retardant layer can be Nomex, an Aramid-like fiber, or a treated cotton fiber. We do carry FIA certified shoes as well if you are racing where FIA sanctions the event’s safety protocols. You can find non-fire-retardant racing shoes on the market as well. These are generally used for karting and will feature a vinyl, cotton, nylon, or polyester construction. Racing shoes made from leather are more durable, but they also retain more heat, which can be an issue in a hot race car with no insulation. Suede shoes in lighter colors will show dirt and wear much more easily, so there is always going to be a tradeoff.
You will find the best racing shoes on the market using one or more of the following features. These features are designed to aid in comfort, fit, and safety and can certainly be combined to provide the best fit and safety aspects for your needs. Choosing a racing shoe with a slim profile will aid in heel-toe shifting and transitioning from one pedal to another while ensuring your racing shoe is secure with the proper sizing and adjusting strap tension will keep your feet stable.
High- or mid-top racing shoe designs are the most popular design feature to consider first. You will find very few low-top race shoes, as it is difficult to protect the ankle area from extreme heat or fire hazards. So, your first decision should be whether you wish to wear a mid-top, or a high-top design like the Speedway racing shoe shown here. These taller designs do much more to protect the ankle since the top of the racing shoe easily sits inside the leg cuff of the racing suit paints. One thing to consider for extremely tall racers is that the high-top design will help offset a racing suit pant leg that may be coming up a little short.
Your next feature consideration should be sole construction. Some of the racing shoes we offer, such as these Alpinestars utilize a thinner sole to improve pedal feel. While this drastically improves driver interaction when behind the wheel and improves your grip on the pedals, you will feel every pebble you step on when walking. Other racing shoes have a medium density sole that provides more foot protection with the tradeoff being a little less feedback from your pedals. What you generally will not find with racing shoes is a thick, cross-trainer-like sole. What is great in the running world is not so great in a race car. A thin, narrow sole is your best friend when behind the wheel. Additional padding and toe reinforcements can be found on some racing shoes as well, further aiding in support of the racer’s feet and protecting them from excessive heat.
When you choose a mid-top or high-top racing shoe design you will generally see one or more hook and loop closure straps around the ankle area. These straps help secure the racing shoe around the ankle and does two things—it provides support for the ankle area and allows you to adjust just how tightly you want that support to be.
Racing shoes generally use laces to tighten the main body of the shoe around the foot and are very similar to your regular sneakers in that they have pass-through eyelets for the laces and a tongue under the laces to act as a comfort cushion. That said, some racing shoes feature a lace cover which protects the lace area—which is a more open part of the racing shoe—from fire intrusion; further protecting the top of your foot. You can find some racing shoes with hook and loop closures that do not use traditional laces as well.
Remember how we mentioned the durability of leather earlier, yet the tradeoff was more heat? Well racing shoe manufacturers combat this by utilizing a perforated outer layer, such as these Alpinestars Tech 1-T mid-top racing shoes shown here. These perforations act as vents to keep your feet cool, especially when walking or outside the race car. But they can have the effect of increasing the amount of heat to your feet if your race car has an extremely hot floorboard due to exhaust routing or lack of thermal barrier material. So, consider wearing a solid shoe if you have extreme heat to deal with inside your race car, otherwise the perforated shoe is the better option. If heat is an issue in your race car then we also recommend you consider adding heel protectors to your arsenal.
The last major racing shoe feature you should consider is a low-cut Achilles area. Some shoes will either have a U-shaped opening, like the G-force Atlanta shown here, or simply have a lower cuff area cut at the Achilles heel area of the feet. This lower cut or opening provides for a larger range of motion for the racer’s feet if needed at the potential cost of exposing this area to fire more easily. Ensuring the racing pants leg cuff covers the opening should be paramount. A fire-retardant sock would also be highly suggested for this type of racing shoe.
Lastly, we have come to the styling of the typical SFI racing shoe. This is a very personal decision, and frankly there are no wrong answers. Some racers prefer a contrasting shoe (black or red with a blue suit perhaps) while others will insist on buying the same brand and model line of shoe that matches their fire suit. You want a flamboyant “look at me” racing shoe that has the appearance of a basketball high-top, we have that. Or you want a subdued traditional single-color racing shoe that does not stand out and meshes with your racing suit of choice? We have that too. Whatever your style, there is a racing shoe we stock that will fit (see what we did there?).