In one of the first races of my career, I flipped six times end over end and launched my helmet into the infield while flipping. Surprisingly unharmed, I walked away from the collision untouched. Four years later, though, I was not as fortunate when I ended up on a stretcher after flipping forcefully in a sprint car and colliding with the driver’s side of the roll cage mid-flip. A month after suffering a concussion, I returned to compete in the final five points races of the season. However, returning too soon caused my issues to resurface, prompting me to refrain from physical exercise over the offseason.
How to Choose the Right Helmet
By the time I was 18 and entered the fifth season of my career, I realized that I needed to improve my head protection if I intended to continue racing for many years to come. Consequently, I switched to a new carbon fiber helmet that was custom fit to my head by the manufacturer.
As someone who would never want to see another driver hurt the way I was, or worse, I’d like to provide my best helmet suggestions for others who would hopefully be more proactive in head safety than I was, to maximize the racing careers of everyone who reads this.
Yes, lightweight helmets are more expensive, but after my previous concussion, I’ve solely worn carbon fiber helmets. Most brain injuries in racing are not caused by direct head contact with other objects. Rather, they are produced by the brain violently bouncing about on the seat, the head being restrained by a neck restraint, or the driver colliding with another vehicle. I’d rather get hit in the head by a whiffle ball than a baseball when comparing lightweight helmets to those without. They may not appear to differ significantly in weight, but at high speeds, I want my head to be contained in the lightest feasible container. In addition, the heavier the helmet, the greater the wear and tear on the neck and shoulders.
Heads come in a variety of forms and sizes. Don’t take shortcuts when determining your size; have a professional measure you. Manufacturers not only know the best method for measuring but also which helmets fit various head shapes and styles, for example, round heads versus narrow heads. Visit a manufacturer’s booth at a local track or trade fair to get fitted and be proactive in assessing when you may need a replacement helmet.
Regarding manufacturers: Some companies dedicate themselves 24 hours a day to researching, designing, and developing the latest and finest protective helmets. The quality of research and development increases with the size and experience of the manufacturer. The helmet is the most important part of your racecar to be the “best of the best” of all the best and quickest components. Support the manufacturers who support the racers, as many of them offer trackside support.
Take care of your helmet – Once you’ve purchased a high-quality helmet, you should take care of it to ensure that it continues to serve its purpose and lasts as long as possible. Racers should clean their helmets frequently, as the longer, they wait, the longer it takes to remove the dirt. Keep it in a clean, dry location during the week, and transport it in a helmet bag. Do not place it on the ground upside down, and do not throw it. Not that anyone would ever get angry enough in racing to do that anyway. Apply helmet cleaning products to maintain a clean interior, after a race, place a few dryer sheets in your helmet to absorb moisture, and use an odor-eliminating spray to prevent odors. Replace worn-out cushioning and shields as necessary. Even if the helmet looks to be in good condition, send it back to the manufacturer for inspection after a severe collision.
Replace your helmet as quickly as possible, if the padding on the interior of your helmet is worn or begins to smell, or if the outside is considerably chipped/scratched, it is time to replace it. In any case, when in doubt, replace it. It is preferable to be safe than sorry.