(Image: RJS Racing Equipment)

Lyle Barnett is an experienced drag racer, but nothing prepares you for the moment your engine turns into a pressurized flamethrower aimed directly at your face. He was lucky to survive, but his scars and his words serve as an important warning to everybody who drives hard.

In this video Barnett discusses exactly what happened, and most importantly, the value of good safety gear.

He spends a lot of time talking about “Level 5” versus “Level 15 or 20.” That refers to the “SFI rating” of protective motorsports clothing, which ranges from 1 to 20 with 20 being the most resistant to fire.

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These ratings match up with a Thermal Protective Performance (TPP) rating, which basically denote how much heat a piece of material can take before its wearer receives second degree burns. “SFI” used to be short for “SEMA Foundation” when the organization was a division of the Specialty Equipment Manufacturer’s Association. That is not longer the case, but the name was kept when SFI broke off as its own outfit.

Here’s a breakdown of each rating’s value:

SFI RatingTPP ValueTime to 2nd Degree Burn
3.2A/163 Seconds
3.2A/3147 Seconds
3.2A/51910 Seconds
3.2A/103819 Seconds
3.2A/156030 Seconds
3.2A/208040 Seconds

In the video, Barnett explains that he was wearing full protective clothing, but it was only rated to Level 5. After 10 seconds, its heat resistance was exceeded and Bennet’s external injuries are the painfully clear result.

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But the damage runs deeper. Barnett was also running with his helmet’s visor up, forcing fire straight through his sinuses and into his lungs.

Doctors told him the devastation to Barnett’s lungs was the equivalent of him smoking 730,000 cigarettes in 28 seconds.

The ordeal had him under the close care of doctors for weeks, with forty days in a burn center and debilitations that will follow him for life afterward.

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His crash in his turbo Vette, caused by mechanical failure, wasn’t particularly “preventable.” Cars can break, especially when they’re pushed to extreme power levels. But his injuries could have been mitigated significantly by the use of better safety equipment.

“We spend tens of thousands on cars and go-fast parts and we don’t want to spend a couple thousand on things to protect our bodies and save our life,” Barnett’s brother Mark tell us.

He’s absolutely right, of course. As the vehicles get faster, the stakes get higher. That needs to be respected whether you’re racing around corners, in a straight line or just bombing canyons on a motorcycle.

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“We [racers] are reactive, not pro-active” Barnett laments. If you take anything away from his experience, let it be that safety equipment matters. Spend that last $1,000 on a better fire suit instead of a bigger turbo.

Hat tip to Scott!