Safety Series Part 1: Roll Bars and Cages


I’d like to take a moment to welcome you to what I will be calling “The Safety Series”.  As a racing driver it is my pleasure to bring to you all things performance and racing, but it is also my duty to bring you all things safety.  Let’s not forget, that all the performance parts in the world will do you no good if you can’t live to enjoy them for years to come.  The Safety Series will be a multi part feature that covers all of the things that are related to being safe on the race track.  Let’s face is, most of us know about and can easily find information on go fast parts, but what about the parts that keep you safe out there?  That is where this series comes in to play, with the help of Dan Reiss and the rest of his team at 425 MotorSports (based out of Kirkland, WA) we will cover everything from roll bars and cages to seats and helmets, so strap in, and get ready, here is part 1 of the Safety Series.

Circuit94:  Dan thank you for joining us and letting me pick your brain a bit.

Reiss:  No problem.  Thank you for having me.  

Circuit94:  Let’s dive right in and talk about bent metal, let’s talk cages vs roll bars, what’s the deal with them and why would someone choose one or the other?

Reiss:  Well, when a client comes to us with a project in mind, the first thing we do is sit down with them and really get an understanding for what they are trying to do with their car and what the desired end-result is.  Each client is different and each project will be equally unique.  A common situation is a customer who has already done some performance modifications to their car, has done a few lapping or autocross events and is now getting more and more comfortable with speed but feels the need to up their safety setup.  This typically stems from wanting better seats since they are sliding all over the place at the track because of the lack of bolstering in factory seats or because of wanting to join a racing event that has a sanctioning body that enforces strict safety rules.  In this case we would discuss the goal for the car and if the customer wanted say a show-worthy track car that is still street legal as he may still enjoy driving it on the street as often as he can and isn’t planning on turning it into a full race car.  I would explain to him that a 4-point roll bar would be best based on what his plan for the car is and would invite him to come to our show room to sit in the thirty plus seats that we currently have on display.  It is extremely important to sit in and try out racing seats as there are so many different sizes, shapes and designs, the last thing you want is to be uncomfortable while racing.

Circuit94:  That makes sense, so Dan why a roll bar instead of a full cage and what are the differences between the two?

Reiss:  I directed the above scenario customer to go with a roll bar instead of a full cage for several reasons.  First, because the customer still drives his car on the street and because of that he will not always be wearing a helmet when he drives his car.  If he had a full cage with bars just above his head, you can only imagine the damage to him and his brain in the event of an accident on the street.  A 6-point roll cage also has door-bars that make it tough to get in and out of your car in a hurry and racers often choose removable steering wheels to make it easier to climb in and out of the car… This is great and removable steering wheels work for street cars too but you lose some of your creature comforts like radio controls, airbag, cruise control and most of the time you will end up with warning lights on your dash. With a 4-point roll bar, he gets the added safety protection in a roll-over situation but it does not impose on his safety when driving on the street.  The 4-point roll bar is completely behind the seats and it does not interfere with the door or cause reason to get a removable steering wheel.  

Circuit94:  That makes complete sense, so different safety equipment for different applications.  Can you explain race harnesses to us and how they work?  

Reiss:  When we build a street/track car, we always leave the OEM seat-belts in the car and in-tact. This way you can wear your stock seat-belts on the street and your racing harnesses on the track. If you don’t know, racing harnesses are not legal to use on the street.  First of all, they are not DOT legal, they also prevent you from being able to lean forward and check your blind spots when changing lanes and if you are wearing them properly (tight!) you would sustain major injuries in an accident as your body would be fixed and your head would not.  

Circuit94:  How do you set a car up for track safety?

Reiss:  Adding a roll bar to a car or even a cage is really just one element of a safety system in a track or race car.  Step 1:  Find a seat that works for you and make sure that it will physically fit into your car.  Before purchasing the seat, make sure that the harness holes are tall enough for your shoulders.  You need to have a clear line of sight over your shoulders, through the harness holes, straight to the harness bar of the roll bar/cage.  This is important as the harness needs to pass through the seats without being obstructed by the seat.  Step 2: Now that you have a seat, you need to install that seat in your car or have the shop do it that is going to be building your roll bar/cage for you. During this step, we are looking for your ultimate driving position.  Once that has been identified and have confirmed you are low enough in the car to wear a helmet and still have enough clearance for a cage, we can proceed.  If  we are just doing a roll bar we just need to make sure that there is enough headroom for your helmet to be free of contact with the roof.  The bar will be behind the seats and will not have the ability to contact the helmet.  Step 3: Once all of this is nailed down, we take a look at the driver and the seating position and determine the height of the harness bar and the location of the main-hoop and start building the roll bar or cage from there.  Step 4: Now that your car has a roll bar or cage in it and you have your seats, you need to finish the safety system by choosing harnesses that are appropriate for driving/racing you are going to do.  Step 5:  Second to last, you will need a helmet that is SA-rated.  SA is the SNELL designation for out-racing helmets. In most cases, you will not be allowed to use a motorcycle helmet on the track, certainly not in any form of auto-racing.  Step 6:  The last element of this system is a Head and Neck Restraint.  The most popular and arguably the best systems are NecksGen, SHR from Schroth and HANS  (all are available at 425 Motorsports). These devices attach to the helmet and are then strapped to your body by the shoulder straps of your 6-point harness.  In the even of an impact, this device will help prevent your head from traveling forward or to the side while your body is fixed to the seat by your harnesses, thus completing the safety system.

Circuit94:  Naturally we will go in to more detail on these different components in future installments of the Safety Series, but in the mean time, what if a driver has a daily vehicle that he or she takes to the track every once in a while but isn’t quite ready for a full track setup? 

Reiss:  If you are not quite ready for this fairly large undertaking, you can benefit immensely from the simple addition of upgrading the seats in your car.  This way, you are held in place much better than you would be with your OEM seats and you still have the creature comforts of your stock seat-belts, stock steering wheel and all of the steering wheel controls that are part of it. Of course 425 is proud to offer the best seats on the market from Sparco, Recaro, OMP, RaceTech, Cobra, Momo, Sabelt, Takata and Bride all of which can be installed into your vehicle with Planted Technology seat brackets and side mounts.  Give 425 MotorSports a call when you are ready, and we can get you all set up.

Circuit94:  Dan, thank you very much for sharing all of that information with us and for helping break down the difference between roll bars and cages.  Tune in next time as we tackle another track safety subject with Dan and the rest of the team at 425 MotorSports.

the authord.pecenkovic
Editor In Chief
Damir Pecenkovic is a passionate car enthusiast, photographer, race car driver, graphic designer, computer nerd, video editor and basketball player all rolled up in to one. Damir is currently the owner of DecalCutter.com and ShutterVelocity.com and is the founder and previous Editor in Chief of Performance Tuner Magazine. Damir currently drives the #19 Mazda MX-5 Miata for Circuit94 Racing. Damir loves to discuss cameras, computers and cars so jump in and join the conversation.

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