We'll cut to the chase. The most important part of racing is your life. Your helmet protects your head in the event of a crash. It is designed to take the impact off of your skull, and you may walk away from your dilapidated car unscathed. That's it—the end.
Except we are still to explain what makes it essential. And why you absolutely must have one if you wish to go racing. One thing you wish you never will need is a helmet. Many people call this safety device "crash helmet," something that you never want to use it for, but for which it is meant to be used. Such helmets are crucial to shield the brain during a crash.
You think that the engineers who certify helmets spends their days smashing stuff. The certification got its name when a racer by the name of Pete Snell died in a crash when racing in 1956. Since 1957, the Snell Memorial Foundation has been certifying helmets.
Manufacturers have their own choice in how they build a helmet, and Snell does not mandate a construction process, they only designate the tests the helmet must pass to be certified. The goal at Snell is impact energy management. That means when the outside of your helmet stops, the inside of the helmet should let your head "ride down" the impact by compressing the inner layer of the helmet, so your brain doesn't feel the heavy hit.
And just how do they test these helmets? They smash stuff all day.
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