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.
Earnhardt's open-faced helmet protects his winning smile.
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