Besides the updated Snell rating, one of the other biggest changes when it comes to helmets used by Saturday night racers is the proliferation of lightweight models using carbon-fiber shells. Simpson's Debbie Bishop says that the carbon-fiber helmets are held to the same safety standards as helmets with the more standard fiberglass/kevlar shells and can be trusted to provide the same levels of protection. When mounting anchor points for a head-and-neck restraint, the same methods that are used with standard helmets will work without worry of fraying the carbon-fiber strands or otherwise weakening the helmet.
"Carbon fiber is stronger and lighter weight when compared to composite shells," she explains. "All racing helmets are certified to current Snell or FIA standards, but if you are looking for a light-weight helmet, consider carbon-fiber construction."
The lighter weight helmets can be very helpful, especially for younger racers, because it places less strain on the neck. Just sitting on your head a helmet may not feel very heavy, but the g-forces created when rolling through the turns in green flag conditions can turn ounces into pounds and that adds up quickly.
Simpson has five carbon-fiber helmets in its line from the top of the line FIA 8860 Approved X Bandit Pro Carbon to the more affordable Carbon Devil Ray. Most helmet manufacturers today have carbon fiber offerings and often times they can be had over a wide range of price point and usually feature some very advanced construction techniques. Take for example, G-Force's new CFG helmet is a carbon fiber helmet that features a multiple density, ConeHead impact liner made to react to differing impact situations. The impact liner is covered by a soft knit, hypoallergenic, padded CoolTec, flame retardant liner for comfort and fit. The CFG helmet carries the Snell SA2010 rating and at an average of 48 ounces, this is the lightest helmet in the GFORCE line.
When things go wrong
When a helmet does its job of absorbing the impact of a crash, the immediate damage might not be noticeable. Remember in an accident there could be upwards of three separate impacts. The helmet against the roll bar, your head against the inner liner of your helmet and then you brain against the inside of your skull. For more on that last one refer to Bob Bolles' article One Hit Too Many in the October 2012 issue of Circle Track featuring racer Jeff Vochaska. We're going to deal with the first two here.
This is G-Force Racing Equipment’s new carbon-fiber racing helmet which is significantly l
If you smack your helmet against a roll bar it is possible that you'll end up a huge crack in the outer shell. That's obvious damage and the helmet is junk and needs to be replaced. But it's not the savage hit we have to concern ourselves with, it's that one that is just hard enough to "ring you bell". The damage to the outer shell might not be obvious. You could have a small hairline crack barely noticeable to the eye, but that crack could be hiding a bigger problem, damage to the inner liner. The first line of defense to your head is that inner-liner and if it gets damaged it can't perform the job of keeping you safe should you have a second crash. Now you can inspect an inner liner on many helmets by removing the internal fabric liner but often times it is better and safer to send it back to the manufacturer.
Now, you wear a head-and-neck restraint? Don't forget to also inspect the anchor points after a hard wreck, particularly if you mounted the anchors yourself (meaning you drilled the holes into the helmet). A hard enough hit could compromise the holes where the anchors are attached. Like the inner liner, once those points are damaged they are now useless.
It almost goes without saying that after any accident you should always thoroughly inspect all your gear, helmet, belts, head-and-neck restraint, and so on. If there is any question, send it back to the manufacturer. After all, they built it and they are the ones who will be able to tell you whether or not it is still functional.