Track Day Clothing: Natural vs Synthetic

Track Day Clothing: Natural vs Synthetic

When participating in open track days or HPDE, even though you are not driving at a competitive level requiring fire protective racing suits, it is worth thinking ahead and giving your track attire a second thought. Some organizations/clubs make suggestions to avoid synthetic clothing, for good reason.

Keep in mind this does not apply to higher level competitive racing; we recommend following the guidance of your sanctioning bodies for fire protection. Today’s focus is on the more casual enthusiast participation in local driving events that have less strict rules around fire protection.

Cotton and polyester are two commonly used materials for clothing. While each have their pros and cons, we want to focus more on the qualities that make on better suited for your days on track.

Cotton has long been a staple for producing garments. Made of natural fibers, cotton is breathable, comfortable, absorbs moisture, and hypoallergenic (to name a few). Where cotton falls short is fire protection. Cotton generally is highly flammable, difficult to extinguish, and combustible. In, probably more extreme cases, it is plausible that cotton can combust when worn under a fire retardant race suit, causing a whole world of other problems as you potentially trap burning clothing underneath the race suit. 

Polyester has been a popular alternative to cotton for clothing. Being a synthetic material, polyester is durable, moisture wicking, and lightweight (again, to name a few qualities). In high performance driving, where fire is an unfortunate reality we never want to encounter, polyester creates a potential nightmare of a situation. While polyester might take a bit more heat to ignite compared to cotton, it has a tendency to melt as it heats up, potentially melting to your skin, fusing to your skin, and requiring surgical intervention. 

For our purposes of open track days and HPDE, cotton has long been the go to - short of stepping up to full fire retardant suits, typically made with Nomex.

What’s the latest and greatest?

Merino wool has been making its name as the new kid on the block - not new to clothing, but new to motorsports. In 2022, Nissan adopted a line of motorsports apparel for their Nissan Formula E Team, featuring blends of merino wool. Merino wool has some great qualities that align well with motorsports: higher ignition temperatures compared to both cotton and polyester, no melting risk as you see with polyester, still comfortable like cotton, not prone to absorbing odors, moisture wicking, and naturally flame resistant.

What about blended materials?

While it is possible that blended garments, such as those made of a combination of natural fibers and synthetic fibers can bring forth some of the better qualities from each material, the opposite is also a possibility that needs to be considered. In the example of blended cotton and polyester garments, you want to be cautious about unintentionally creating an environment that is both easy to ignite, burns well, and melts - a terrible combination.

As hobbyists and enthusiasts continue growing in the motorsports world, advancements in technology and research help improve our experience safely enjoying the activities we love.

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