Every Sunday, NASCAR drivers are displayed on millions of screens around the nation layering on their multi-layer firesuits, head socks, helmets, gloves, neck restraints, and gloves. At the highest levels of motorsports, it’s often mandatory for drivers to wear the best of the best safety equipment. However, oftentimes we neglect to go the extra mile to ensure our littlest competitors have the same caliber of safety.
For almost ten years I’ve spent every weekend at local karting tracks where many youth competitors cut their teeth. While I’ve seen little ones go for big rides and walk away, I’ve also witnessed scary safety failures that I hope I never see again. With that being said, for this article I reached out to the parents of some of our local youth racers to talk about their kid’s safety gear. I asked them what they wish they would’ve known about youth racing safety gear before their child got started in racing. Through their responses, along with my own observations, I came up with a list of 3 primary tips to take into consideration when you’re getting your kid started.
#1 – Youth gear is different from adult gear
It’s arguable that most people getting a child started in racing have been involved in the sport in some way prior. However, they often don’t realize that even though there’s a lot of similarities, youth racing is different than the adult levels. For example, a lot of safety equipment can be heavy, bulky, and ill-fitting for the little ones. It’s important to get a high quality, lightweight, proper fitting helmet such as the Bell GP.2 youth helmet. Helmets like these are made using the best technology and have features such as padding that can be added or removed to grow with your racer. Oftentimes you’ll see young racers wearing motorcycle style helmets that have cheap, plastic shields that can break off easily and cause injury. It’s necessary to get a helmet specifically made for racing. Additionally, look for neck restraints that are high quality and made specifically for youth racers. For example, the youth Hans or Simpson Hybrid Sport Junior. Ensure that you purchase belts that are narrow, youth belts that won’t slide off a tiny neck restraint.
#2 – It’s expensive
When shopping online for gear, it’s our natural instinct to look for the lowest price and then justify the product after the fact. With your child’s safety gear, try to reverse this process. Yes, it can be stressful when after eating the expense of the racecar and everything you need to go racing, safety gear hits you with another big price tag. However, you can’t put a price on your child’s health and safety, so spend the extra dollar on the gear. As a tip, safety gear is the typically the easiest item to talk a potential new sponsor into purchasing, so try to find safety sponsors from the get go.
#3 – The best of the best is important at the lowest levels
Sometimes we’re under the perception that we need to invest in better gear the higher up we get. This is true, as long as you’re starting out with good gear from the start. With that being said, at the lowest levels there’s areas of safety I’m adamant about and others where I think it’s ok to save a dime.
No matter what you’re racing, everyone should have the best of the best helmets and neck restraints. Those two areas are critical for a long and healthy life, as well as racing career. Make sure your child’s seat is proper fitting and has head support on both sides, and ensure your belts are up to date youth belts. Have someone you trust make sure your seat and belts are installed properly in the car. If your child is racing a vehicle that requires fireproof gear, make sure every piece of equipment is fireproof.
At the lowest levels, especially if fire is not a concern, items such as suits, gloves, and shoes are not as critical in terms of quality. Many of my youth drivers wear wrestling shoes and single layer generic suits. Kids wear out suits quickly when playing in the pits, so a fancy custom suit isn’t necessary if it’s not in the budget. These items are also ok to buy used.
With all of your child’s gear, keep the ratings up to date and replace sooner rather than later (especially after a hard crash). Lastly, different styles of youth racing require different types of safety gear. Double check the rule book to make sure you have the proper gear for your class of racing.
Please call a trusted safety manufacturer if you have any questions in the process of purchasing your child’s gear, as it’s always better to be safe than sorry. Even after receiving your gear, check with an experienced racer to make sure you’re suiting up and buckling your child in correctly. Most of all, enjoy these times with your little one. Before you know it, they might be layering on fancy custom gear on the big screen on Sunday’s.