Safety is the first and foremost concern of any drag racing organization. The reason for this concern is because nobody wants to see anyone suffer injury while pursuing a recreational pastime. The other reasons become more business minded as it pertains to liability and the ability to carry insurance in order to hold a race event.
A majority of the racers out there are fully aware of the hazards of drag racing. Using this knowledge they buy the best safety equipment they can afford in order to remain safe while racing. Yet, there are a few out there who insist the safety gear they wear is perfectly safe in the face of evidence that proves differently.
Drag racing motorcycles demands boots that are designed to withstand not only accidents but also to handle launches from the line and provide the ability to shift and brake. Wheelie bar bikes are not quite as hard on the toes as are bikes without bars. Because of this, some boots have better design aspects then others. Like the Sidi and Joe Rocket drag boots with plastic or ceramic replaceable tips, which are found on the inside by the big toe as opposed to the outside by the little toe like a road racing designed boot.
Driving shoes and most work boots have one major issue which prevents them from being safe when drag racing motorcycles; shoe laces. Laces leave too many opportunities for error. If they break during a fall the boots can come loose and fly off, they can become hung up on a foot peg, they can come untied and wrap around a chain, they can be burned by exhaust, etc.
Driving shoes also have other issues, which prevent them from being safe. The soles are very thin and the shoes have no areas built for protection. I contacted the Simpson Corporate headquarters for this article and was informed that driving shoes are designed exclusively for automobile racing. The reason why there is no ankle protection or extra toe protection is because they want to keep the shoes as light and narrow as possible so they can be used to operate the brake and clutch pedals which in race cars are located in close proximity to each other. They offer no protection for motorcycle racing of any sort.
There are plenty of arguments for the use of driving shoes. Here is a quote taken directly from the Dragbike.com forum (spelling corrected) in support of using driving shoes, “The rigid boots are not friendly when you have to hold the bike up straight and square when the only real way to gauge where you are is with your feet.” I personally feel your eyes are also helpful when gauging distances.
Another argument for the use of driving shoes also comes from the Dragbike.com forum (spelling also corrected), “I wear driving shoes and have been for twenty years because they fit my riding style. If I am not comfortable on my bike I become an unsafe rider because I now have more distractions.” Personal observation on my part here… I would hope enforcing an already existing rule to ensure the safety of your feet would be one less “distraction” and would aid your concentration when racing.
Work boots on the other hand offer far superior protection when compared to driving shoes, although, less protection when compared to road race boots or motorcycle drag race boots. The fact of the matter is, work boots were made to protect your feet in industrial / construction type environments. If steel or Kevlar toed, the intention is to stop your feet from getting smashed. (Watch the episode of Mythbusters when they test steel toe shoes.) Work boots also provide protection from scuffing and punctures.
On the outset these sound like they would work perfectly for drag racing motorcycles.
But there are still two issues which do not make them the ideal choice; one is the laces, as most have laces. Now you may ask what if they do not have laces? This is where the second issue comes into play; the weight. It is ideal to have as light as weight boots as possible to prevent your legs from flailing around if you were to roll in an accident. Work boots come with thick and typically heavy soles.
The interesting fact is when I looked at Wolverine’s middle of the line Work boot the Marauder the cost was 165.00. At this price you could buy a Joe Rocket motorcycle purpose built race boot. This prompted me to call Wolverine’s National Headquarters to question the construction of their boots.
At first I was connected to a lady by the name of Mary Joe whom promptly rushed me off to someone else when she heard me mention their boots were being used for drag racing. A receptionist at Wolverine Worldwide came on the line to which I repeated my inquiry, like a hot potato I was whisked to a Susan Labarsh (sp.?) who was kind enough to tell me she did not think she was qualified to answer my questions but would be happy to connect me with someone who could. Next the Wolverine National Marketing Director Kelly Retinger answered the phone. Kelly was a pleasure to talk with and truly marveled at the fact their boots were being used in an application other than what they were designed for.
Kelly definitely knew her product lines. The Wellington line of boots technically could fall into the AMA rules since it has no laces; it is made of leather and has uppers above the ankles. But Kelly told me these boots were each designed for specific functions with durability and comfort in mind. For instance, the top of the line 200.00 Fusion was designed for electricians; the lower of the line 117.00 Harrison was designed for cement work, the 165.00 Marauder was designed for construction site work.
When I asked of all of her boots made which one she would recommend for drag racing in a 160 MPH slide. Kelly stated she really could not answer that.
The AMA rules state, “Gloves must be road race type with additional Kevlar or similar palm patch or buttons, minimum 3″ gauntlet cuff with wrist closure.”
We have road racers to thank for the evolution of the race gloves available today. I called a company which manufactures one of the most respected road race gloves on the market. As a matter of fact Korry Hogan ordered a pair of the 300.00 Held Phantom series gloves after he had his wreck in 2006 in Gainesville, FL. The coil of his bike started to shock him through the frame and he had to abandon the bike at 190 mph plus.
The Held family has been manufacturing gloves since the end of WWII in Germany. In the 70’s they started manufacturing them for motorcycle racing under the brand name Held and they have been sewing these gloves for 3 generations.
One of the things glove manufacturers found through road racing accidents is the riders typically slide. In the early days of making gloves, companies layered the palms of the gloves so the sliding would not wear through to the base layer. Later they found adding metal buttons helped stop the palms from wearing through, although the metal buttons had a tendency to get a bit warm. Some companies began to use plastic buttons and as synthetic materials became stronger they moved to Kevlar and carbon fiber for knuckle protection. Held found a natural material to attach to the heel of the palm area to help the rider slide while protecting the base kangaroo leather layer of the glove; stingray skin.
While Steve Irwin is no longer a fan of stingrays, Held is, the stingray has a unique skin that is more like armor. It proves excellent protection from scuffing and puncturing. In the case of an accident, Held has found the stingray material to perform as well as plastic and metal buttons, and to be comparable to Kevlar. Held uses this material on their Titan and Phantom lines of gloves. Held has never had a glove wear through the base layer of material to the skin.
From my observations of accidents in drag racing I have found the track has a tendency to pull apart gloves due to the traction aiding chemicals and compounds used on the track. In road racing they do not use any compounds to help the track have more traction other than the tire rubber the bikes put down. In drag racing anything to stop the gloves from sticking to the track would help prevent the seams from pulling apart, as they are prone to do.
Admittedly, the Held glove is far above the price range of the average rider, myself included, there are plenty of other gloves that offer nearly the same protection for a 1/3 of the price. If in doubt as to whether or not it is legal send a description of it or photo to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Wallets and Denial
So what does all this boil down to when dealing with a person who just refuses to let their inadequate safety gear go? (I mention inadequate because the manufacturers themselves stated it is not adequate for use on the drag strip. This is not personal opinion.)
Really only two things:
- The money that is not in the wallet, although it is there to buy a cam, race fuel or head work. As was clearly stated by one poster on the Dragbike.com forum and I paraphrase, “you can spend 10,000, 20,000, 30,000 or 40,000 on your bike but you can’t afford 200.00 or 300.00 for safety gear.”
- The rider is truly in denial that his equipment will hold up in an accident. After repeated statements, including photos, from riders who have gone down with driving shoes, they continue to argue for the use of them.
It is true that no company will stand behind their product and provide assurance you will be completely safe in the event of a fall. What is clear is a manufacturer builds their products specifically around the environment in which they will be used. Driving shoes were built for cars, work boots for construction, road race boots and gloves for motorcycle racing. Why buy something not intended for what you are doing and hope it works when you can buy something that was designed to work?
My personal advice, bite the bullet and get the right equipment for the right application so you can race with peace of mind.
Now if I can figure out where to come up with 350.00 so I can get a pair of those Held Titan gloves.
See ya on the track!
Simpson Corporate Headquarters http://simpsonraceproducts.com/contact/
Kelly Retinger National Marketing Director 606-866-7302 (Direct Line)
Tommy Kincaid (828) 464-4440
310-891-0222 Media Department
Other AMA Dragbike legal gloves and boots