When F1 driver Felipe Massa got hit in the head with an errant spring from another car in August, his helmet, along with his skull, got seriously damaged. Massa was wearing a top-of-the-line carbon-fiber/composite helmet-which meant, despite almost a couple of weeks in the hospital, he survived with few after effects. The same could easily happen to one of us in the short track world.
Recently, I was at a racetrack where I saw a teen sitting behind the wheel of a Street Stock wearing a DOT BMX helmet. When I questioned the teen about his choice of head protection he thought it was no big deal since the track rules only said he had to wear "a helmet." By the letter of the rulebook he was legal, but in actuality he was taking a serious risk with his life. The Snell Foundation, the non-profit group that tests and certifies all types of helmets, has standards for every brain bucket you can think of including bike, motorcycle, and auto racing. Its tests and resulting certifications are geared to each helmet's intended use. For example, to gain certification, Snell performs a number of application-specific tests on motorsports helmets that are not performed on bike helmets. Check them out:
Chin Bar Test In this test, the helmet is affixed to a rigid base with the chin bar facing upward. An 11 pound weight is dropped through a guided fall to strike the central portion of the chin bar. Maximum downward deflection of the chin bar must not exceed a predetermined distance.
Penetration Test As the name implies, this test will determine whether or not a helmet can withstand, or at the very least protect the wearer from, the situation that Massa experienced. The helmet is affixed to a rigid base and a sharply pointed 3-kilogram (6.6-pound) striker is dropped in a guided fall onto the helmet from a prescribed height. In order for the helmet in question to pass the test, the striker must not penetrate the helmet or even achieve momentary contact with the head form.
This is a typical rig to perform a drop test on various parts of the helmet. Manufacturers
Faceshield Penetration Test Many drivers wearing full-faced helmets also have faceshields. But did you know that the faceshield on Snell-certified helmets also has to pass a rigious test? We here at Circle Track just love the fact that this test involves a firearm (albeit an air rifle, but it's a gun nonetheless). Here's how it works. The faceshield is affixed to the helmet and shot along the center line in three separate places with an air rifle using a sharp soft lead pellet. The pellet achieves a speed of approximately 500 kph (310 mph) and must not penetrate the faceshield, nor is it allowed to leave any resulting "bump" on the inside of the shield greater than 2.5 mm. In Massa's case, the spring hit him in the left temple, such that the left-side attachment point of the faceshield was broken, but the shield itself was largely in tact.
Flame Resistance Test This is our favorite here at Circle Track and one we tested on an M2005 helmet in the Feb. '08 issue. This test is conducted using a propane flame of approximately 790 degrees centigrade. The flame is applied to the shell, trim, chin strap, and faceshield for a specified number of seconds, and any resulting fire must self extinguish within a specified time after flame removal. During the whole process the temperature of the interior lining of the helmet must not exceed 70 degrees centigrade. You can take a look at the Circle Track version of that test by turning to page 65.