The Driver Suit Blog-Nomex-The Core Of Driver Suits

By David G. Firestonenomex1I must have said the word Nomex a thousand times on this blog, but what exactly is Nomex? In short, it is a flame-resistant meta-aramid cloth material. It is an aramid material, which is the same thing as Kevlar, but it is not as strong as a bulletproof vest, but it has great thermal, as well as chemical resistance, which makes it great for racing firesuits.Untitled

The development of the Nomex firesuit has been a long road. This road has seen its share of driver deaths and injuries. Before the Coca Cola 600, I discussed the deaths of Fireball Roberts, Eddie Sachs, and Dave McDonald in fire-related crashes over the course of 6 days in 1964. What took place from there would cross the paths of racing and a young drag racer.

Bill Simpson was born in Hermosa Beach, California in 1940. He took up drag racing at a young age, and at age 18, broke both arms in a drag racing crash. As he recuperated, he thought of safety in racing for the first time. He developed the idea of an X shaped parachute, and using materials from his uncle’s army surplus shop, developed a functional drag racing parachute. Don Garlits noticed the new parachutes, and took an interest, which helped the Simpson Drag Chute company to form. As time went on, he started making other racing equipment, which caught the attention of drivers, and, oddly enough, NASA. During a project, he met Pete Conrad, who introduced the now 27 year old Simpson to Nomex in 1967.

Nomex was created in 1967, for NASA. Far from the uses it has today, its main use at the time was for the Apollo Command Module parachutes. NASA needed a material that could stand up to the heat of reentering the earth’s atmosphere, and still remain fully functional. Simpson saw what the material could do, and decided it would work well to make driver suits, and other uniform items.nomex1nomex2Contrary to what most people think, Nomex is not fire PROOF, rather it is fire RETARDENT. It does burn, but burns at a much slower rate, and that protects the driver in the event of a fire. Bill Simpson decided to show how much better this material was by having a “burn off.” He put on one of his Simpson racing suits, doused himself in gasoline, and lit himself on fire. Though he was fully engulfed in flames, he was not hurt. Though he admits that is was a bad idea, it sold drivers on Nomex. Even today, 46 years later, Nomex is still the go-to material for driver suits.nomex3Nomex is used for many other things. Nomex sheet is used in power cords for insulation. Fire-fighters use Nomex for protection in saving lives. Fighter pilots wear Nomex suits in case of cockpit fires. Nomex was developed for NASA and NASA still uses a lot of Nomex. It is used in what NASA refers to as the “Thermal Micrometeoroid Garment of the Extravehicular Mobility Unit”, or in regular English, the “outer layer of a spacesuit.” The spacesuits that space shuttle astronauts wore on liftoff and touchdown were primarily made of Nomex. Almost every project that NASA has done in the last 40 years involves Nomex in one form or another, so it is a very versatile material.

Interestingly, as safety concerns increased, and safety equipment changes for the better, you begin to see that Nomex is beginning to have competition in the driver suit market in terms of fire protection. While I’m typically a traditionalist when it comes to sports uniforms, for driver suits that is a great thing. Developing a new material that serves the same purpose as Nomex, but can do it better and longer is a great thing. Eventually, Nomex will go the way of typewriters, film cameras, the printing press, and the floppy disk as an invention that is obsolete but changed the world.

Paint Scheme Reviews!

Some new 2014 schemes released this week:

Danica Patrick #10 Apsen Dental Chevy SS  Even though this scheme is better than the *ahem* current Aspen Dental scheme, it still does not look good.  But it is still an improvement, and I’ll give it a C

Ryan Newman #31 Quicken Loans Chevy SS  Great color scheme-Check, Awesome use of Northwestern stripes-Check, classic design-Check, A+ Grade, Double-Check!

Dale Earnhardt Jr. #88 National Guard Chevy SS  The numbers kill what is otherwise a great scheme.  I like everything else, but the color of the numbers looks really odd, and I can’t really say it adds to the car at all.  Still it is a decent scheme, so I’ll give it a B

Now we move on to 2013

Denny Hamlin #11 FedEx One Rate Toyota Camry  Very clean look, with a very good color scheme, can’t say anything bad about this, A+

Greg Biffle #16 Pink 3M Ford Fusion  Pinkwashing is an automatic F.  I hate it when companies use causes like this to move products, so I show no mercy in this sence.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. #17 Pink 3M Ford Fusion  See Above, F

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. #17 My Best Buy Ford Fusion The blue used on this scheme is a tad too light, but it is still a decent scheme, though the lighter blue takes it from the A grade Best Buy had to an A-

Joey Logano #22 Shell/Pennzoil/Hertz Ford Fusion I’ll be honest, I want to give this scheme a better grade, but the Hertz logo just looks out of place here, and it is awkward on an already iffy scheme.  Best I can give it is a D-

Cole Whitt #30 Black Clover Toyota Camry  Swan Racing seems to go out of its way to design bad paint schemes this year, and this scheme is no exception.  It has no redeeming features at all, and earns an F-

Jeff Burton #31 Sleep Innovations Chevy SS  Great color scheme, though the design on the front is a bit overdone, still a good looking scheme that earns a solid B+

Aric Almirola #41 Maurice Petty Tribute Ford Fusion  Tribute schemes have worked very well across the board, and this is no exception.  Simple, timeless, yet attractive, a great tribute to a great engine builder.  Extra points for using Maurice’s #41 for the weekend.  Interestingly, Maurice raced in a total of 26 Sprint Cup races, and had 7 top 5’s and 16 top 10’s during the 1960’s.

Travis Kvapli #93 Dr. Pepper Toyota Camry  An A+ scheme all around.

 

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Vintage Item Spotlight: Lyndon Baines Johnson Bill Pen…Part 1

lbj-s503-pen-1By David G. Firestone

It dawns on me I should use this blog more often. So what I’m going to do is every other week, I will take a vintage item, and analyze it up close. The Driver Suit Blog will be for racing items, this will be for everything else.lbj-s503-pen-1

For the first part of this new blog, we will take a look at a Lyndon Baines Johnson bill pen, used to sign a legislative bill in 1965.lbj-s503-pen-2

The pen is an Esterbrook crystal fountain pen, which, in addition to LBJ was used by John F. Kennedy, and Dwight D. Eisenhower. This particular style was used for a number of high profile bill signings, including the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the Limited Nuclear Test Ban Treaty in 1963. This particular pen was used to sign S. 510, “An act to extend and otherwise amend certain expiring provisions of the Public Health Service Act to community health services, and for other purposes.”

The pen is clear, with THE PRESIDENT THE WHITE HOUSE engraved on the side.lbj-s503-pen-3The steel fountain pen tip has ink remnants from that signing still present on the pen over 49 years later, which adds to its mystique. This 49 year old ink on this 49 year old pen changed the United States of America and affected all of the citizens within it.lbj-s503-pen-4Pens such as these are highly desired by collectors…but how do collectors get them?  Here is a simplified version of how a bill signing works in the United States:  The House and Senate pass the bill, and the bill goes to the President who signs the bill.  In a media ceremony, the President signs a number of copies of the bill, each with a different pen, and then gives the pen to individuals who helped pass the bill, Senators, Representatives, and private citizens alike.  These pens are treasured by the recipients, but often times, after the recipients pass away, or if they need some extra money, they will sell them to collectors.

Many examples of “bill signer” pens exist on eBay and other collector sites where it is unclear if it was used to sign legislation.  Those pens that actually have signed legislation command a much higher price, and are very highly desired by collectors.  Benjamin Franklin once said “The pen is mightier than the sword,” and this pen is a perfect example of that.

The Driver Suit Blog-The Helmet Stripe-An Unusual Place For Sponsorship

By David G. Firestone14ALast week, I had a column run on Uni-Watch, and I delayed this article until this week.  Two weeks ago, we discussed visors, this week, we will discuss what has become known as the “helmet stripe.” Helmet stripes came from IndyCar and Formula 1 cars, which are open cockpit cars. Helmets are clearly visible to television cameras and fans. As a direct result, helmet design in Formula 1 has become its own unique art form. Helmet designs become a part of the driver identity. The other thing that these open cockpits allow is for sponsorship opportunity. As such, a small opaque stripe is used on helmet visors.lepage-4In NASCAR, the visor was slow to arrive. This is due to two reasons, first, many drivers up until the mid 1990’s chose to wear open-faced helmets. While these helmets had a shade to help keep the sun out of a driver’s eyes. While sponsor logos do show up, they were used for the driver’s name. This Brad Noffsinger example from 1988 is an example of that.Noffsinger-4The second reason that helmet stripes were slow to come to NASCAR is that in-car cameras, while used, were for many years positioned in such a way that the visor would not be seen. Even if helmets were painted, the visor had no stripe. When the in-car cameras were positioned to film the driver from the side and even from the front, the helmet stripe became the standard. The stripe is designed to fit over the part of the visor that overlaps the opaque part of the helmet, as this example shows.musgrave2 musgrave3Helmet stripes have become standard. To show how it affects the overall look of the helmet, I took this Kevin Lepage helmet from 1999, and edited the pictures to show how it looks. lepage-2  lepage-4  lepage-6Not bad, but let’s compare it side by side to the original helmet…lepage-7 lepage-8 lepage-9Helmet stripes have become a unique way for a driver to customize a helmet, as this video shows: Facebook pages and Twitter helmets are becoming standard on these. All visors that a driver would wear on a helmet have these stripes, which is standard, as visors are changed on a regular basis, and sponsors want the advertising space that they pay for.

Paint Scheme Reviews!

Because of the Uni-Watch article last week, I didn’t get to review paint schemes.  Within the last couple of weeks there were a large number of 2014 paint schemes released. Now I know that many of these will change before the start of the 2014 season, but I will grade them anyways.

Brad Keselowski #2 Miller Lite Ford Fusion  Same scheme as this year, same grade, C

Kevin Harvick #4 Budweiser Chevy SS Same Scheme as last year, same grade, A

Kevin Harvick #4 Jimmy John’s Chevy SS  They improved one of the best schemes in NASCAR and went from an A to A+

Kevin Harvick #4 Outback Steakhouse Chevy SS The color scheme remains the same but red takes over from beige as the primary color, which gives the car a great look, and an A grade

Kasey Kahne #5 Great Clips Chevy SS Same scheme as this year, same D+ grade

Kasey Kahne #5 Pepsi Max Cheyv SS Same scheme as last year, same F grade

Marcos Ambrose #9 Stanley/DeWalt Ford Fusion Great color scheme, though the nose, and quarter panel design are over done. Even still, I give it a B-

Marcos Ambrose #9 DeWalt/Stanley Ford Fusion See Above

Tony Stewart #14 Bass Pro Shop/Mobil 1 Chevy SS I get that two companies with different desgin schemes are sharing the car, but this is just brutal to look at. The orange and camo contrast is hideous, and the overall design is overdone. C-

Tony Stewart #14 Mobil 1/Bass Pro Shop Chevy SS The white and black contrast just looks awful! I really hope this changes before the season starts, because this is a scheme that is painful to look at. I have to give it an F

Tony Stewart #14 Code 3 Associates/Mobil 1 Chevy SS As bad of a color scheme as this is, it is certainly better than the other two Tony Stewart schemes are. That said, the color scheme warrants an F while the design warrants an A, so I’ll split the difference and give it a C

Greg Biffle #16 3M Ford Fusion This scheme is a MAJOR improvement over this year’s design! All of the pointless noise on the door is gone, and the car has a very smooth look because of it, and I have to give this design an A

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. #17 Nationwide Insurance Ford Fusion Great color and design schemes, though the white on light blue lettering and logos are hard to see. Even still, I have to give it an A-

Joey Logano #22 Shell/Pennzoil Ford Fusion Same scheme as last year, same grade, D

Joey Logano #22 AAA Insurance Ford Fusion  See Above

Jeff Gordon #24 Pepsi Max Chevy SS I gave this scheme a C-, but given the *ahem* other Pepsi Max scheme, I’ve reconsidered, and I will give this scheme a B

Ryan Newman #31 Caterpillar Chevy SS  An improvement on an already good scheme, A+

Aric Almirola #43 Smithfield Foods Ford Fusion If the hood and front were done in the stars design, and the rest of the car was red and white striped, it would look better, and I would be able to give it more than a C+

Jimmie Johnson #48 Lowes Chevy SS Supposidly, this will be the main scheme for the whole season, and I have to say it looks amazing, and is an A+ grade

Jimmie Johnson #48 Lowes/Kobalt Chevy SS This will be run for a few races, and it is an A+ scheme.

Carl Edwards #99 Fastenal Ford Fusion Same scheme as last year, same A grade

Carl Edwards #99 UPS Ford Fusion No redeeming features whatsoever, F-`

Now on to new 2013 paint schemes…

Jamie McMurray #1 Cessna/Auburn University Chevy SS The white hood and roof just look aukward, compared to the black covering the rest of the car.  That said, it is still a decent scheme, and I’ll give it a B

Dave Blaney #7 Breast Cancer Awareness Chevy SS Pinkwashing is an automatic F

Marcos Ambrose #9 Bostitch Ford Fusion The 2014 scheme is previewed here, and I’ll give it the same B- grade I gave the 2014 scheme.

Landon Cassill #33 T-Mone Chevy SS This is a perfect example as to why only one person should design a car.  It looks like it took at least 3 people to design the car, each with a different idea as to what the car should look like.  And in the end it is just a mess, and not even a good color scheme can give this scheme a passing grade.  F

David Ragan #34 Safercar.gov Ford Fusion  See Above. F

JJ Yeley #36 United Mining Equipment Chevy SS Even if I didn’t give pinkwashing schemes an automatic F, this scheme would get an F anyway, it just looks awful

Kyle Larson #51 Target Chevy SS Simple, yet attractive, and it earns an A

Kurt Busch #78 Wonder Bread Chevy SS  To celebrate the return of Wonder Bread, Kurt is going to channel Ricky Bobby, except for one difference…this scheme is a lot better than the Ricky Bobby Scheme.    No flames and the baloons coming from the brake duct are a great look for this car, and it earns an A

Dale Earnhardt Jr. #88 Mountain Dew/Xbox 1 Chevy SS  It has a great color scheme, and that is the nicest thing I can say about it.  The design is just awful, and it looks like it will give people seizures as it drives around the track.  I give it an F

Blake Koch #95 Supportmillitary.org Ford Fusion Eww…Too much going on, with the over-sized camo in too many different colors, and the door design which is awful. F-

 

The Driver Suit Blog-Uni-Watch Article

No New blog here, my latest column ran on Uni-Watch…check it out

The Driver Suit Blog-The ONLY Time A Visor Looks Good!

By David G. Firestone100_4068Some time ago, I did two posts focusing on one item, and for the next two weeks, I’ll do something similar. A part of the driver uniform that is seen by virtually everyone but not really discussed is the visor in the helmet. We see them on in-car cameras and on television, but we don’t think about them by itself that much. It seems like a minor part, but it has an interesting history.

From the 1920’s through the late 1980’s, helmets were primarily open-faced. This example is from the 1960’s, and was worn by Maine short track driver Jim McConnell.mcconnell-5 mcconnell-3 mcconnell-1 mcconnell-9 mcconnell-8These helmets are very simple in design, they just cover the whole head, except for the face. The downside to this is that when the sun shines in the driver’s eyes, or if the car is an open-cockpit the wind can and will force the drivers eyes closed, or fumes from the car can get in a driver’s eyes. As such, these helmets were worn with goggles.100_3182As full-faced helmets took over, the visor came attached to the helmet. The early ones were basically plexi-glass but as safety certification got more advanced, the visors were and still are fire tested. They also have to stand impact testing as well. As the helmets became more advanced over the years, so did the visors. Let’s take a look at one:100_4068This visor is from the McDonald’s helmet I covered earlier in the year. It is made of a very tough, but very light clear plastic. The visor is attached to the helmet by 3 screws, two that hold the visor to the helmet and a third that guides the visor and keep it in the proper place. There was a 4th one, but it was removed at the driver’s request. The visor has some unique features. At the bottom-left side there is a small flap, which is used by the driver to open the visor. Next to the small flap is a hole for a small peg. The peg goes in the hole, and holds the visors shut, but is small enough so that if a driver wants to open the helmet, they can do so with no trouble. Drivers frequently leave the visor open slightly, so two small knobs, one on each side so the driver can open or close the visor.100_4069Notice that it has a yellow-ish tint. This is one of 3 options for drivers, dark tint, light tint, and clear. The visor is designed to be easily changed at the drivers request. Clear visors are used for night races, and tinted ones are used for sunny races. In the event a race goes from day to night, a driver can use a tinted tear off, so that when it gets dark, they can remove the tint and have a clear visor.100_4070 100_4071Like eyeglasses, visors get scratched over time. As such, they are changed often. Like most other items racing teams and drivers use, when they are no longed needed, they are sold to the general public. They are frequently autographed by drivers, and are a popular item to get signed by drivers. They are interesting to look at, and interesting to examine up-close. All helmet visors in this day in age have a sponsor stripe across the top, and we’ll cover that next week.

Paint Scheme Reviews

Danica Patrick #10 Go Daddy Chevy SS Pinkwashing is an automatic F

Greg Biffle #16 Sherwin Williams Ford Fusion See Above

Tony Raines #40 Moon Shine Attitude Attire Chevy SS See Above

and we have a new 2014 scheme

Kasey Kahne #5 Farmers Insurance Chevy SS It’s amazing what a different shade of paint can do to a paint scheme. This years Farmer’s scheme earned a D+ because of the primary color, this scheme earns a B+ because of the color. The design needs some work, but the whole scheme is a major improvement.