The Safety Helmet
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The Safety Helmet / Brain Bucket / Mellon Protector.

The head is probably your most important asset and the most vulnerable part of your body during an accident. While the driver's body is strapped in very tightly to the seat, the head can jerk around uncontrollably. The helmet is designed to dissipate impact energy over the entire helmet and prevent debris from puncturing it.

Every professional and amateur race car driver is required to wear some type of protective safety helmet. Most choose a full-face helmet, which covers the entire head and wraps around the mouth and chin. Others wear an open-face helmet, which only covers the head. Drivers who wear the open-face helmet usually wear protective goggles or face shields as well. Some claim that a full-face helmet restricts their peripheral vision or that it’s too hot inside the car.

There are three main parts to racing helmets:

Outer shell

BeadALL liner

Inner liner, padding and hardware

Once a shell design has been approved, a custom-made nickel model is created for that particular helmet. Construction of the outer shell begins with a thin layer of gelcoat. Then a special resin, consisting of several types of glass, carbon, Kevlar and other exotic fibers and weaves, is added to the shell. This all combines to make the hard, glossy outer shell.

Just underneath the outer shell is the BeadALL liner, which is a special foam layer in the crown of the helmet. The purpose of this liner is to absorb the energy that the outer shell has not absorbed. This layer is made of polystyrene or polypropylene.

The inner liner of most helmets is a form-fitting layer that is made of either nylon or Nomex. Nomex is a special fire-retardant material made by DuPont. It doesn't melt, drip, burn or support combustion. Helmets are also equipped with cheek pads, chin straps and visors. The visor is made of a tough Lexan plastic. Lexan, which is also used in many racing cars’ windshields, is commonly known for its use in bulletproof glass.

All helmets go through some sort of testing before they are considered safe enough for high-speed racing. The Snell Memorial Foundation is an independent organization that sets voluntary standards for auto-racing (and other application) helmets. The standards set forth by Snell are more stringent that the DOT standards, and are the ones used for auto racing in the USA. To test the impact resistance of a racing helmet, Snell places the helmet onto a metal head form and drops it onto various types of anvils. If the peak acceleration impacting the metal head exceeds a magnitude of force equal to 300 Gs, or 300 times the force of gravity, it is rejected.

This level of impact is hard to conceptualize -- a head-on impact at 30 mph into a concrete wall is measured at 80 Gs. Most impacts on a race track are between 50 and 100 Gs. A 100-G impact for a 160-pound man would feel like 16,000 pounds pressing on top of him.

There are several types of motorsport safety helmets available on the market:

SA: Sports Application

M: Motorcycle

K: Karting

Each one must meet specific and unique safety and protective requirements.

Snell "SA" (Sports Application) rated professional helmets are designed for auto racing and provide extreme impact resistance and higher fire protection.

When I’m doing tech inspection at any of our events which require certified helmet approval, I always get asked: “Why can’t I use my motorcycle (or karting) helmet?

Well, here’s what I tell tem:

The Key differences between SA, M and K Rated Helmets are:

SA standard requires flammability test while the M and K standard does not.

SA standard has rollbar impact tests while the M standard does not.

SA standard allows narrower visual field than the M standard (Some SA helmets aren't street legal).

To identify there standards, each manufacturer of a certified safety helmet must include the official Snell sticker inside the helmet.  Snell revises and updates their standards every 5 years, so the newest standard available is the 2010 (just made available on 4/1/10).  Most of the manufacturers will have SA2010 – stickered helmets  on the market by September or October 2010.

This is what those stickers look like:







For DE and Club Racing applications,

Porsche Club of America (PCA) and most auto clubs accept the last two Snell certifications for Sports Application (SA) helmets.

So, as of today, you may participate in a PCA Driver Education or Club Race event if your helmet has a Snell SA2000 or SA2005 sticker.  By the end of the year, your helmet must have SA2005 or SA2010 and the SA2000 will no longer be accepted at DE events.

For Autocross the standards are a bit more relaxed and older Snell certifications are accepted, such as SA2000 and SA1995.

If you have an SA2000 or older Snell-certified helmet you will not be able to use it PCA DE or Club Race events, but we welcome your donating it to the Gold Coast Region PCA for the AX Helmet Loaner Program.

Many newcomers to the sport come to their first AX events without any helmet protection and the Club provides loaners for them so they can participate and get themselves into motorsports.  Because AX is run at much slower speeds, older Snell-certifications are still valid and accepted at AX events.  But we can only accept SA–certified helmets, not M or K.

If you would like to donate your old SA-certified helmet, please contact our AX Chair, Alex Ortega, Jr.

For more information on safety helmets, please visit our website:

And as I mentioned before, your

safety helmet is manufactured to

protect your most important


Keep your chin strap tight and ...

Happy Porsche’ing,


© 2010 Technolab/

Published in the June 2010 issue of “Die Porsche Kassette”