Safe and Sound
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.
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.
Taming the Taurus
Cutting a Winner Down to Size
NASCAR may soon have a standard body configuration for all Winston Cup cars, regardless of make. A hush-hush effort to research such a move is under way at the compound of Richard Childress Racing, which fields Chevrolets for Dale Earnhardt and Mike Skinner. Engineers are studying the three models now competing in Winston Cup: the Pontiac Grand Prix, Ford Taurus and Chevrolet Monte Carlo. The goal is a standard body so that there can be one template used to measure every car's silhouette.
Uniformity is the only logical way to end the bickering about which make has an aerodynamic advantage despite NASCAR's efforts id maintain parity by constantly changing car specifications. The standardization would cut the expense that conies with rebuilding cars to meet new rules.
On March 1 at Las Vegas, Tauruses swept 13 of the first 14 positions; NASCAR responded b) reducing the height of the Taurus's spoiler, which affects the aerodynamic downforce that improves driver control through turns. A week later Bobby Labonte won at Atlanta in a Pontiac, but Tauruses still finished second through ninth; NASCAR whacked two inches off the width of the Ford's spoiler. On Sunday, in the Tran-South 400 at Darlington, Tauruses led every lap in a race won by Dale Jarrett. Jeff Gordon got Chevrolet back in the hunt by finishing second, but Tauruses took seven of the next eight positions.