Track safety is paramount. The main objective of a track day is to be safe and drive home afterwards. Different clubs/schools have different rules but generally the rules are similar to the following.
Drivers education is about providing a safe place for drivers to improve their driving ability. Most schools break drivers in to groups based on ability/experience. A fast car does not mean that you'll be in the fastest group as you'd be amazed the horsepower upgrade that an experienced driver can make to a car.
It's Only an HPDE. How Dangerous Can It Be?
Any time you sit behind the wheel of a car, you're putting yourself in a dangerous situation. You're probably more likely to get into an accident on the way to the track than at the track... because at the track you'll be subject to rules, instruction, and supervision designed to make it as safe as possible. Unfortunately, if you do happen to have a problem on a track you're going to be moving a lot faster then your garden variety fender bender. As a result, the consequences can be much higher.
Some say HPDE is not as dangerous as racing but if you hit something at speed then the physics don't care whether it's a DE or a race. It's going to hurt. 110mph into walls that line many tracks, even for an offset collision, will do a lot of damage to your car. There are steps you can take to limit that damage to your car.
Some drivers recommend:
Rollbar with back braces
Helmet with neck restraint
This is expensive, expect around 5k USD for this no matter what the car. It's cheap if something happens. Your odds of being hurt will be significantly lower than in your stock car. However, these are NOT REQUIRED for most events. Cars today are very safe. I mention them here as a reference only.
How much safety equipment you need for your car depends on:
The Car - if you have a high horsepower car that his hard to handle, you can probably afford to invest in safety equipment.
The Track - some tracks have lots of space and run-off area, some are tight and have close walls.
The Event - Time Trials, Driver's Ed, Club Racing (Requirements are different for each)
The Driver - Your attitude towards driving and how hard you are going to push makes a big difference in how likely you are to go off, and what will happen to you when you do.
Regardless of how much equipment you decide you need, you'll find some advice about making the final choices here.
What's equivalent safety?
This means that what ever you did for safety on the drivers side of the car, you need at least the same on the passenger side. You can't be sitting in your car with your instructor wearing a 6pt polyester harness in a carbon fiber seat with your instructor in the stock seat with a 3pt belt. Have a heart, that would be a very nervous instructor...
You need the same level of protection for both occupants. I have seen some cars with only one 6pt harness on the drivers side. That looks suspect to me and I would be very hesitant to get in the car as an instructor.
Upgrade the carbon unit in the car
The biggest safety factor in the car is you. The more you educate yourself in driving, the safer you'll become. Spend money on modding yourself by gaining school/track time before any other performance modifications.
First and foremost, plan ahead and read any and all rules and regulations for the event in which you will be participating. There's nothing worse then showing up for an event, only to be denied tech because you didn't read the requirements.
Many HPDE days have a minimum as a stock street car with a 2.5lb fire extinguisher mounted where the driver can access it. Most, if not all organizers will want the car checked and signed off by a dealer/mechanic before allowing you on the track.
Again... check with the organization running the event. Even though some event hosts still allow M rated and non-Snell tested helmets, it is recommended that you go with a reputable brand that is tested to Snell standards.
SA rated helmets (Special Application) are tested for multiple impacts and fire protection
M rated halmets (Motorcycle) are tested for a single impact and are not required to have fire resistant materials
Helmet ratings are helmet ratings, no matter the price. A $200 SA rated helmet will hold up the same way a $500 or a $1000 SA rated helmet will (a bit over-simplified... a better fitting, lighter helmet will be worth the money)
Fit is more important than the name or the price. Too tight and you'll head will go numb, too loose and it won't stay on your head properly
Never buy a used helmet... you never know how its been taken care of or how it will fit
Open or closed face mostly comes down to personal preference. In vehicles with an upright seating position, non-competitive, and airbag equipped... there is no real reason not to get an open face helmet if you want. If you don't have an airbag, definitely buy a closed face helmet. One added benefit that has nothing to do with impacts is the added fire protection of a closed-face
Motorbike helmets won't do. If you aren't using a head and neck restraint then buy the best helmet you can afford. A composite model if you want. A lighter helmet is safer than heavier one in an impact. If you aren't planning on buying a neck restraint then I recommend the lighter composite helmets.
Most require cotton pants and a cotton sweater with long sleeves. A fire proof racing suit is optional and really depends on your level of paranoia (yep, I have one). Fire suits aren't as good as you'd think. I was quite surprised that a fire suit will only give maybe 13 seconds of protection before second degree burns. This kind of shocked me. 13 seconds isn't a whole lot of time. Course, in a t-shirt and jeans you're already cooking at 13 seconds but still, I thought you'd have longer. Adding nomex underwear apparently adds 6-9 seconds to this, but it's not a whole lot of time but is a lot better than normal clothes.
Most people use sneakers for shoes and you can buy driving shoes from between 100 and 200 dollars.
Above all BE SMART, BE ATTENTIVE, and LISTEN !!!
FORMER Avenging Moderator of the Apocalypse and Leader of the Axis of Oversteer
"I live with fear every day and sometimes, she lets me race."
2002 SVT Focus... Stock