Hendricks County Flyer, Avon, IN

March 20, 2013

Racing safety pioneer looks to curb football head injuries

NFL star using helmet to highlight upcoming seminars

Bart Doan
CNHI

BROWNSBURG — It was about three years ago when former USAC Championship car series driver and racing safety pioneer Bill Simpson attended a football game and left thinking that he could do something to help the players.

He recalls seeing players carried off the field on stretchers and asking himself “why?”

“That shouldn’t be happening,” Simpson said.

That was the beginning of Simpson-Ganassi Helmets.

Simpson said he obtained a few football helmets and began testing them. He then took the same technology used to make helmets for racecar drivers and formatted it for football helmets, drastically reducing injuries.

“I got a couple of helmets and brought them to my lab, drop tested them, and that gave me kind of a baseline on where they were at,” he said. “I was pretty sure I could do quite better.”

Traditional football helmets are made of poly carbonate. SG helmets are made of carbon fiber Kevlar.

“We’ve been doing studies to make sure what we have is what we think we have,” Simpson said. “So far we’ve had zero incidents. Nothing. Not even a headache. We sawed them up, looked at them, inspected them any way we could (after use), and decided it was time to go forward into production.”

After two years of testing that included 42 NFL players wearing the new helmets, including former Indianapolis Colt Jeff Saturday, Simpson said they’ve found unbelievable success. Not once has his helmet produced a concussion or even a post-game headache.

Simpson developed racing helmets using the carbon fiber Kevlar technology in the mid 1990s and explains the process to creating SG Helmets.

“What you’re looking for is feet per second,” he said of the drop testing. “It’s a guided free-fall wire drop from a prescribed height. The football helmets we tested were 20 feet per second. It measures the severity index when it hits a solid surface that’s flat and there’s zero movement, which is pretty harsh, and it records how many G’s (gravity) went into the brain. We tested more than a thousand helmets.

“We did a baseline with two market leading helmets. If the baseline was 100 Gs in 6 milliseconds and there’s a wave and it has a peak, that’s very bad. What the peak looks like is what determines whether or not somebody got an injury. The impacts were very ‘peaky.’ What we tried to do is what we’ve done in motorsports. We’ve spread that event out to instead of being 4 to 5 milliseconds to 15 to 18. (With SG Helmets) the sign wave is like a pimple on your skin. So instead of all the energy going into one point, it’s spread out.”

Not only are NFL players taking notice, but some high schools are as well. In one of the warehouses where the helmets are made sits a rack of gold-colored helmets that will be used by Noblesville High School players next year.

“If I thought my kid was going to get a concussion, I wouldn’t want him playing either,” Simpson said. “We’re not saying this is the holy grail or anything, but it’s physics 101. It’s weight and velocity equals force. If you have a material sitting there that can absorb a lot, it won’t put a dent in it at all.”

On top of that, SG Helmets weigh less than half of the more conventional football helmets, which Simpson said is perfect for youth football players. Now, he said, not only can children be safer, but they’re not bearing the burden of heavy helmets that he saw was forcing younger players to tilt their heads as their necks became tired of holding them up.

“The football helmet today is made with a poly carbonate. It comes in beads,” he explained. “It goes into a big hopper, it’s heated, and goes into an injection mold machine. Our helmets are hand made. The biggest machine we use is a drill. The carbon fiber Kevlar, the raw material, is one third the weight, but five times stronger.”

Simpson explained that poly carbonate can be altered by extreme temperatures over a period of time, so teams could be getting less durable helmets and never know it. The carbon fiber Kevlar, he said, is not be altered by the elements.

Simpson added that his helmets are also lined with a special foam technology specific to his company that is more capable of absorbing energy caused by a concussion-style event.

“That energy, by the time it gets to the liner which is what protects your head, it’s dissipated by 40 to 50 percent and it absorbs the rest of it,” he said.

Custom padding that can be put anywhere in the helmet to make it snug is yet another feature, one that he said many people don’t think about when it comes to concussions and how they happen.

“If you have a helmet on and you have a quarter inch gap from one side to the other and you have an event, the helmet accelerates like crazy and that can do as much damage as the event itself,” he said.

The youth helmets have additional ridges on the top of them to absorb even more energy than the adult versions.

After extensive research and continually trying to perfect the model, SG Helmets officially opened for sale March 1.

Simpson said the industry is a difficult one to break through when you’re introducing something different.

The creator of Impact Racing was on the cusp of retirement when he decided to delve into making football helmets. He said he sold all of his other companies to devote himself to this venture.

SG Helmets will hold seminars from 9 to 11 a.m., noon to 2 p.m., and 3 to 5 p.m. April 6 that will include demonstrations of the helmets as well as informational speeches from Ashlee Quintero, a concussion expert from the University of Miami-Florida, and Tyler Horn, center for the Tennessee Titans, who used the helmet last year.

Attendees will also have a chance to see where the helmets are manufactured, talk with coaches that have players wearing them, and compare them against current helmets in use.

Simpson said he hopes parents and youth football coaches attend the seminars.

“I’m old,” he said. “I wanted to have an exit strategy, but I’m so into this now, I’d like to see kids start wearing this thing so moms and dads can be confident. If you take one of our helmets and put it beside the leading brand helmet out there, it’s like comparing a rocket ship to a Model T.”

Space is limited for the seminars. Anyone interested in attending may contact SG Helmets by e-mailing to sghelmets@yahoo.com or by calling 350-2256 to reserve a spot.

SG Helmets can also be found on Twitter @SGhelmets.

Just the facts

WHAT: SG Helmets Seminar

WHEN: 9 to 11 a.m., noon to 2 p.m., and 3 to 5 p.m. April 6

WHERE: SG Helmets, 1652 Northfield Dr., Brownsburg