Now, we didn't use a propane flame-a standard long-tube Bic-style lighter is all we had. Our goal was to show how fast a motorcycle helmet, the choice of many local racers due to cost concerns, would catch on fire. Our theory was that fire coming through the firewall in the cockpit could easily travel up the driver's body to a point where it would contact the lower or underside of the helmet. If that helmet was not rated for motorsports use, in other words, fire retardant, the driver could get burned. We thought that the helmet would burn quickly given the lack of fire retardency and the abundance of foam and fabric, we just didn't know how quickly. Boy were we shocked, when we introduced the flame into the chin strap area of the helmet, it took a mere six seconds for the cheek pads to become fully engulfed.

Now, try this little test. Get all you're gear on and strap into your car, steering wheel on, and window net up. Get a friend with a stopwatch to time you and then answer this question: Did you get out in six seconds?

Some of these tests may seem extreme but that's the whole point. Racing cars is an extreme sport, particularly in the oval track realm. Bad things can happen without warning and having the proper helmet can greatly increase your chances of surviving even a freak occurrence like Massa's. That increased chance of survival begins with having a certified helmet that is designed for the activity you're pursuing. BMX helmets, like our teenaged friends, have no place at a motorsports facility.

Fit Beyond all of the proper certifications, a helmet is only going to do the proper job if it fits correctly, is positioned on your head correctly, and is securely fastened. The first step in making sure your helmet fits is to measure your head. Use a cloth tape (or a string) and take the measurement about one inch (2.54cm) above the eyebrows in the front and at a point in the back that results in the largest possible measurement. Most safety companies offer a conversion chart for this measurement and the corresponding helmet size.

Now helmets should be worn low on the brow-just slightly above your eyebrows. When properly positioned, the helmet should fit your head snugly with firm and uniform pressure all the way around. It also must touch the top of your head.

To check the fit of your helmet, put it on and stand in front of a mirror. Gently rotate the helmet first from left to right and then from front to back. If the skin on your brow moves with the helmet as it is rotated, congratulations, you've got step one of proper fit completed. If the skin on your brow does not move, the fit is too loose.

On to step two: remembering that a good fit and a properly fastened chin strap are all that keeps the helmet on your head during an accident. Make sure the chin strap is correctly fastened and pulled snugly up against your throat each time you wear your helmet. Do not use chin cups or wear the chin strap on the point of the chin. This will increase the risk of the helmet coming off in an accident.

With the helmet properly positioned, and the chin strap fastened, try to remove the helmet from your head. Grasp it securely and make a serious effort to roll it off your head in both the forward and rearward directions.

If you can remove the helmet, or are able to roll it backward far enough to expose your forehead or forward far enough to block your vision, the helmet either fits too loosely or the straps are not properly adjusted. If you can still remove the helmet, it's too large. Do not use it. Replace the helmet with a smaller size.

If you can't remove the helmet and it doesn't roll either backward far enough to expose your forehead or forward far enough to block your vision, you have a proper fit.