Choosing the Right Racing Gloves
When the green flag drops and you start turning laps in the heat of battle the last thing you want is to have a poor grip on your steering wheel. The steering wheel and pedals are your main inputs to control your race car and having the right gloves and shoes to be able to provide quick and concise application of said wheel and pedals is of utmost importance. You want to have enough contact to feel what the race car is doing, but also be protected from excessive heat and even the possibility of fire as well. Obviously, we are talking about fire-retardant auto racing gloves here and not the standard driving gloves you would don for a Sunday drive in the country. We covered this in our recent racing shoes buyer’s guide and this go-round we are going to focus on the best racing gloves and what you should be looking for in a quality racing glove that will keep you safe and help you find your way to the winner’s circle!
Like any safety apparel, a proper fit is crucial to ensuring the wearer’s safety. More so with racing shoes and racing gloves is the ability to control the race car as well. Wearing ill-fitting gloves can not only introduce dangerously high temperatures to the wearer’s skin but can also allow fire egress that is just as much, if not more dangerous. An improperly fitted pair of racing gloves can also lead to control issues with your race car too, which is why a properly sized/fitted pair of racing gloves is so critical in any form of motorsports.
There are two popular methods for measuring your hands for proper racing glove fitment that manufacturers utilize—measuring the palm’s width just below the knuckles or measuring the circumference around the palm just below the knuckles. Both measurements will exclude the thumb. Using a fabric measuring tape will provide the most accurate measurements. Be sure to measure both hands and choose the larger of the two measurements. Every brand of racing glove we carry provides a measuring example graphic/image with the product listing, so refer to the manufacturer’s sizing chart to determine which measurement method that brand uses or see our Toolbox article on racing glove sizing. Then take your measurement and compare it to the manufacturer’s chart to order the correct size racing gloves.
Unlike racing shoes, which are SFI 3.3A/5 rated with two layers of fire-retardant material, you can find racing gloves in SFI 3.3A/1 (usually a single layer construction) as well as the SFI 3.3A/5 rating, which are often two-layer construction. Just as we explained in our racing suit buyer’s guide, the higher the TPP rating the larger safety window of time you have to remove yourself from any dangerous heat or flames. This includes indirect as well as direct contact, and when it comes to gloves, we feel you will want the most time available with the SFI 3.3A/5 gloves since you use your hands in the extrication of yourself from your race car in an emergency. This means potentially touching things such as a burning window net or hot sheet metal/chassis components as you remove yourself from the race car.
The SFI certification denotes that the gloves have passed specific temperature tests, again both direct and indirect, that translates to a specific TPP value, providing the wearer with an approximate time window of protection. Like most racing shoes, SFI 3.3A/5 certified gloves are made from leather and/or suede materials with a fire-retardant under layer, usually made from Nomex, an Aramid-type of fiber, or treated cotton. SFI 3.3A/1 gloves are usually a single layer and made from similar treated materials. You will find gloves that are not SFI certified (used mainly for karting and popular with the sim-racing crowd, AKA gaming gloves), however we feel the investment in an SFI certified glove is worth the small additional expense. Like all SFI rated fire-retardant clothing, you will find an SFI tag sewn onto racing gloves as well.
When you are considering a pair of racing gloves for your safety it is more than just proper fit you must consider. You must take into account several additional factors, including the type of racing you are competing in, the feel of the racing gloves, the amount of palm grip, straight or curved glove designs, and much more. Popular racing glove features include gauntlets (which help protect the wrist area), and external seams, also known as “outseam” gloves. We will discuss each feature in the following paragraphs to help you make an informed decision on the best racing glove features you will need for your racing program.
Starting with one of the most critical features of a racing glove, the palm grip area, you will find several options. The most common palm grip configuration is a full leather or suede palm that is essentially the main glove surface utilizing a sewn-on leather or suede palm section and is found on your traditional style car racing gloves. Some of these gloves will feature this traditional surface with perforations in the palm grip area as well. A variation of this design is where the manufacturer uses leather or suede patches on the palm area. These smaller patches allow increased flexibility in the glove for the wearer to grasp the steering wheel, shifter, etc. with a small trade off in grip strength.
A rather recent feature that some racing glove manufacturers are adding are silicone printed grip panels. These silicone grip panels have the benefit of being “grippy” without adding an additional thick layer of leather or suede to the glove. This keeps the glove light and flexible. It is arguably the most flexible option if your hands are doing a lot in the cockpit of your race car. Furthermore, the silicone printing is available in countless colors, allowing the manufacturer to add contrasting colors, logos, and more to the gloves quite easily, adding a bit of style to the racing gloves to go along with the functionality of the silicone printing feature.
Moving on to other features to consider, we have the wrist closure and gauntlet length to discuss next. When it comes to safety these two features work together to protect the wearer from heat or fire ingress to the wrist area, which can sometimes be left unprotected by the sleeve of the racing suit or jacket. The racing glove cuff is often a sewn-in elastic wrist band that keeps the gloves snug against the wrist, preventing heat and fire from entering the main glove and injuring the palm and fingers. An example of such a glove is shown here with the Bell Apex II. You will also find some gloves where the wrist area is secured by a hook and loop strap that the wearer can adjust and secure to their liking. Working in conjunction with the wrist closure is the racing glove’s gauntlet. The gauntlet is the portion of the glove that extends from the main glove body and covers the wrist and lower forearm area, overlapping the racing suit or jacket’s sleeve and cuff to protect the wearer. Typical gauntlet length you will find with most racing gloves is medium length, however some brands do offer a longer length gauntlet, which much like a higher ankle racing shoe for tall racers, offers more protection to those with long arms where the racing suit or jacket sleeve might come up a little short.
Two additional features that some racers are not aware of or have never considered include knuckle padding and pre-curved glove construction. The knuckle padding is exactly what you think it is, additional patches of leather or suede added to the knuckle area for abrasion and impact protection. The pre-curved glove shape is an interesting concept more racers are choosing these days. The gloves are sewn with a curve built into their natural shape, meaning less pull or stress on the glove’s material when gripping a steering wheel. They are “pre-shaped” if you will. Not only is there less stress on the glove material since they are manufactured with an “in use” curve to them, but they are more comfortable to the user, which is especially important for those racers running longer sprints or higher lap events.
One of the most recent updates to the world of racing gloves is the external seam, or outseam, configuration. Traditional racing gloves have been sewn together for decades with the seam on the inside, which for some racers provides a strange feel, since the thickness of the leather or suede material creates a rather bulky seam. This has been the style for traditional racing glove design, but now manufacturers are beginning to offer the option of an external seam. It provides the racer with a more natural feel between the glove and the hand without affecting the glove’s grip or flexibility.
Just like there are with racing shoe choices, the color combinations are quite plentiful when it comes to your choices in racing gloves as well. From a basic solid color up to bi-tone and tri-tone color designs, designs with stripes or color patches on them, and a multitude of styles, you will have a tough decision to make. Much like your racing shoes you can choose to have your racing gloves match your racing suit or contrast it. There is a vast array of styles and colors available for gloves. So whether you are seeking drifting gloves, drag racing gloves, or dirt oval racing gloves, just be sure whatever path you choose that your gloves fit properly and feel good on your hands.