Open or Closed…Which Helmet Would You Have Chosen?

By David G. Firestone

[Editor’s Note: Originally, this week was a post dedicated to primary sponsor logos. However, I had this column on the shelf for a while, but given recent events in the NFL, which fellow uniform blogger Paul Lukas has covered in depth, I felt that this article concerning helmet safety in NASCAR would be appropriate to run this week, with the primary sponsor logo column running next week. DF]

lepagePrior to the tragic events of the 2001 Daytona 500, drivers had to make a choice that in this day in age seems absolutely absurd. From the beginning of NASCAR to that tragic day drivers had their choice of helmets, and they were open-faced,lepage94-2or full-face.lepage99-2

To examine the merits and demerits of both helmets let’s take a look at one example of each, both worn by the same driver, Kevin Lepage. First, the open-faced helmetlepage94-1 lepage94-2 lepage94-4 lepage94-3 lepage94-6 lepage94-5

Worn in the Nationwide Series in 1994 and 1995 during his rookie and sophomore seasons, this helmet bears a decal from high-end plush toy company Vermont Teddy Bears. It shows very heavy use, with scratches and scuff marks, has had the microphone equipment removed, and Lepage has signed the back of the helmet in black Sharpie.

Now let’s look at the full-face helmet,lepage99-1 lepage99-2 lepage99-3 lepage99-5 lepage99-6 lepage99-7 lepage99-8

Worn by Lepage in the 1999 Winston Cup season, this helmet was painted for the combination Primestar/TV Guide #16 Ford. Like the open-faced helmet, it shows scratches and scuff marks, and Lepage has signed the top of the helmet above the visor. Unlike the open-faced helmet, this helmet still has the microphone equipment.

Now on to the comparison…

Looking at the helmets from the inside, there was no real difference between the two. Both are the same basic design, with the same inner liner and filler.lepage7

The left sides of the helmets differ greatly. Notice that there is a hose attachment near the Ford logo on the full-faced helmet. This is to accommodate the “hotbox” attachment. Hotboxes are designed to force air into the driver’s face to help keep them cool. This is not a luxury, as driver compartments can reach as high as 160 degrees Fahrenheit, and drivers typically wear 3-4 layers of Nomex during a race. Keep in mind that in-car drinking systems are not standard as of 2000, and the hotbox is a great tool for driver comfort.lepage5

Microphone equipment is added to the helmet on the right side. The only difference between these two helmets is that the microphone has been removed on the open-faced helmet.lepage1

The back of the helmets are virtually identical except for the paint schemes and the liability tag present.lepage6

The front of the helmet is the key to making the decision. Everything else thus far is a minor issue. The question was asked then, and is asked now, why were these helmets legal for as long as they were? These pictures should answer that question:lepage3 lepage4

The bottom of the helmet underneath the visor gives an extra bit of safety in case of fire, BUT takes away about 2-3 inches of visibility. That 3 inches might not seem like that much, but in a race car, trying to keep situational awareness of what the car is doing, those 3 inches are as critical as you can imagine. NASCAR at the time had the opinion that if they had the restriction in place, that the obstruction could cause a driver to lose that situational awareness, and lead to a wreck. NASCAR felt that any rule that could cause a wreck is a bad idea, and rightfully so. How often in the wake and investigation of accidents does it reveal that a rule, regulation, or guideline cause an accident? It happens quite often. NASCAR at the time felt that imposing a rule that all helmets should be full-faced that is could very easily lead to an accident, and as such, allowed open-faced helmets to avoid that from happening.

It was a rule that was easy to understand, but would lead to tragedy. It led to this design, which itself is now becoming obsolete:mcdonalds-1 mcdonalds-6 mcdonalds-7 mcdonalds-4 mcdonalds-3 mcdonalds-9 mcdonalds-10 mcdonalds-12Now, even the best full-faced helmet designs from the 1990’s are now a distant memory and the current helmet design has taken over. It might seem like unfair, but if these rules were in place at the 2001 Daytona 500, we would have never lost a true legend.

Paint Scheme Reviews!

Jamie McMurray #1 Linksys Chevy SS Clean lines and a great color scheme make for an A+ scheme!

Matt Kenseth #20 Husky/500th Start Toyota Camry The gray-scale design does not work here at all. The rest of the car looks very good, but the black and dark gray color scheme needs work. If the Husky red is where the gray is, it would work better, but the best grade I can give is a C-

Michael McDowell #51 SEM Chevy SS Classic design with a great color scheme, A+

And we have a 2014 leak…

Austin Dillon #3 Cheerios Chevy SS This is the best Cheerios scheme I have ever seen! The goofy bagel design is gone, and has been replaced with a couple of racing stripes. I also love the black around the #3. If this is the final design, it will be a great car, and I give it an A+!

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