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Safe and Sound

by Ed Hinton

Posted: Wed March 25, 1998

In-helmet microphones have contributed to the injuries of at least two Winston Cup drivers in the past eight months, prompting Simpson Race Products, NASCAR's biggest supplier of safety equipment, to rethink the design of the area of its helmet that protects the lower jaw.

It might seem that two broken teeth and a split lip were the least of rookie Steve Park's worries after he also suffered a broken femur, collarbone and shoulder blade in a crash in Atlanta on March 6. Or that David Green's broken tooth was nothing compared with the broken shoulder blade that also resulted from his wreck at Bristol last August. Still, NASCAR drivers are the most visible representatives of companies putting up as much as $7 million to sponsor a team, and a spokesman with a smile like a hockey player's doesn't cut it.

Dale Earnhardt
Earnhardt's open-faced helmet protects his winning smile.    (Jim Gund)

When they suffered those mouth injuries, Park and Green were wearing full-face Simpson helmets with radio microphones supplied and installed by Racing Radios. The disk-shaped microphones, mounted on the inside of the lower jaw piece, are an inch wide and half an inch thick and weigh almost three ounces. Because the inside of a running Winston Cup car is so noisy, drivers place their mikes right up against their mouths to ensure that their teams can hear them, and that's what causes the problem. Should the helmet hit the steering wheel, the mike could go into the driver's teeth.

To accommodate mikes more safely, Simpson is working on a new piece of helmet padding. "It's about an inch and a half thick, and there's a hole in the center into which the microphone can be recessed," says Bill Simpson, owner of Simpson Race Products.

Another possible solution is to let drivers take their chances with the open-faced helmets favored by tough guys like Dale Earnhardt. Drivers who use these helmets leave their jaws exposed, but their mikes haven't caused dental problems.

Issue date: March 30, 1998

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