A compromised helmet will not, in any way shape or form, protect you as well as a brand new one. In essence, if the first wreck didn't get you, the next one will. And don't pull that "it won't happen to me" argument. Even the best racers in the world have had more than one hard wreck in their careers. Race long enough and you can bet it will happen.

Guidelines Okay, you've been in a crash and you're not sure if you should replace your helmet or not. Here are a couple of tips to help you along.

Step 1. Check the entire outer shell of the helmet to see if there is any delamination, spiderwebbing (hairline cracks that look like a spider's web) or larger cracks, paying extra close attention to areas that may be painted. If there are, don't even go to step two, you need a new helmet.

Step 2. Look closely at your head and neck restraint mounting bolts, this is an area of high stress in an accident and if the hit is hard enough, there may be cracking at that spot of the helmet.

Step 3. Once you've determined that the outer shell has no damage, look at the inner liner. You are looking for any signs of compression such as indentations or a misshapen liner.

Step 4. Remove the inner liner and inspect it closely. While it's out, also look for any damage to the outer shell from the inside. However, only do this if you have a removable inner liner. If you don't, you could very easily damage the helmet.

If you have a shred of doubt as to the condition of your helmet, send it to the manufacturer for inspection. The manufacturers we talked to for this story will all inspect potentially damaged helmets free of charge. Remember the bottom line is just because it looks good, doesn't mean it is good. All of our manufacturers said that if you have a bad wreck you need to send the helmet back to them for a professional evaluation.

Getting back to our original theory of can you have liner-crush without hitting your helmet against something, we consulted John Melvin, Ph.D. Dr. Melvin is an independent consultant on safety who has worked with GM, NHRA and NASCAR. He brought up a very important point. "One of the big problems is that everybody's head is different. Helmets don't fit everybody's head exactly, whether it's the overall shape of your head or a bump on your head that is pressing more on one spot of the inner liner than another. So, it is conceivable that in a heavy crash with head and neck restraint pulling on the helmet you, in fact, can locally deform the helmet."

Melvin says that the solution is to make sure that you have a good fit. Just because one brand's medium doesn't fit exactly right doesn't mean that another one's won't. When helmet shopping, you should buy based on fit, not on brand or marketing.

And that's what this little research project brought to light. As racers, we spent untold hours tweaking our valvetrain combinations to get just the right amount of power. We spend days on end fussing with the setup just to get that exact handle on our car. We need to pay just as much attention to the one piece of safety equipment where fit is more critical than any other, your helmet.

In the course of this story, we had a number of helmet manufacturers bring up the fact that if you race cars, you should not wear a motorcycle helmet. While just about every track and sanction specify Snell rated helmets, some do not differentiate between the Snell Rating for motorsports SA-2005 or those for motorcycles M-2005. Consequently, at some tracks you can legally race in a cheap Snell-rated motorcycle helmet. However, that could be the worst decision of your life. Motorcycle helmets are not made for racecars. First of all, most motorcycle helmets are not made with fire retardant materials. They don't have to be. They are designed to absorb impacts of your head bouncing off the ground going 55 mph, not protect you from fire.

"On these things (motorcycles) you slide away from the fire, in a car, you're trapped in the fire," says AMA motorcycle racer Glen Castle.

Any helmet manufacturer worth their weight in padding will tell you the same thing. And in fact, many take steps to prevent racers from buying the wrong helmet. For example, Simpson's policy is that they won't install HANS clips on a motorcycle helmet.

HANS clip mounting aside, we decided to find out just what happens when you have a motorcycle helmet that gets near a little heat. (Our apologies to the ozone layer.)

Think about these pics next time you go helmet shopping and remember to buy the right helmet, there are plenty of SA-2005 helmets that are value priced. The moral of this exercise? Don't wear a motorcycle helmet, it can melt to your head.

Simpson Race Products
Bell Racing Company
2311 W. 205th St. Ste. 102
CA  90501
HJC Motorsports