After reading post after post about racing in the 24 Hours of LeMons you've finally drunk the Kool-Ade and you're thinking about doing some crap-can racing. You'll need a brain bucket, Jalopnik is here to help.
You've looked into buying a helmet, but there are a lot of model choices out there as well as different certifications, and you're not sure what to do. A helmet is not the place to go cheap on your safety equipment since this particular item can actually save your perverted little mind.
What does all this crazy certification stuff actually mean? Here is the Readers Digest version: Pete Snell died in a motor racing accident in 1956 from a rollover collision. Afterwards, a team of doctors, engineers and scientists got together, and in Snell's memory, dedicated their work to certifying safety standards in helmets. Since 1957 the Snell Memorial Foundation has been certifying helmets and making racing safer for all of us. Why do you care? Because unless your helmet has their certification sticker, you ain't racin'.
Not all certifications were created equally. If you have one of these Snell DOT stickers on the back of your helmet that means you can cruise Main Street on your Vespa all day long without getting a citation from the local police department. However, don't even think of heading to the racetrack with that helmet because it won't pass technical inspection. The simple word "Snell" doesn't mean you're good to go. Even if you see a fancy sticker which reads "M2005" you still have the wrong helmet for road racing (M indicates a motorcycle certification). You need an SA Snell rating.
In order for your helmet to be approved by NASA, SCCA, the 24 Hours of LeMons or ChumpCar, you need to find the SA rating sticker deep inside the helmet. SA2005, which stands for Special Application 2005, is the highest current rating the Snell Foundation has to offer. Most racing governing bodies require that a helmet be rated to at least the SA2000 rating.
However, expired helmets, i.e. SA90 or SA95, can still be useful. For instance, NASA and ChumpCar allow these helmets to be used on pit crew members who are fueling cars, as long as there are two-inch tall orange stickers that read "FUEL" on each side and the back of the helmet (Figstone Graphics makes a set of these). If tech inspectors find an expired helmet without the "FUEL" sticker, the helmet might be seized by The Man.
Other things to consider when buying a helmet: make sure it is a full face model (which is required by a lot of sanctioning bodies now, including ChumpCar and LeMons) and that it comes with the HANS device anchor holes pre-drilled (this saves you the grief of taking a drill bit to your shiny new $500 helmet). If all of this certification stuff confuses you (it certainly did me), just call or e-mail Ken at I/O Port Racing Supplies and ask him a million questions (that's what I do). Good luck and always wear protection on your head.