If you’re planning on running your car at your local drag strip, you’ll want to show up with the right protective gear in order to race. There are different helmet and safety requirements for different classes, but for most street cars that don’t break the 9.99 second mark on a quarter mile the requirements for helmets can seem a bit vague for newcomers. For any sanctioned drag racing in the United States, the rules are set in place by the National Hot Rod Association - NHRA.
Different tracks will have different rules and regulations depending on the car you are running, and what quarter mile times or top speed you can expect to achieve. If you are planning to show up to a test and tune day at your track for the very first time, it would be a good idea to contact someone at the track ahead of time.
Snell vs SFI Helmet Ratings
The NHRA requires every driver, in every class, to wear a helmet. These helmets must be approved and meet SFI or Snell safety standards.
Snell and SFI both have similar safety ratings, however, some testing protocols can vary.
All Snell approved helmet models must be tested before being labeled as Snell M, SA, or K rated helmets. The Snell Memorial Foundation performs testing, and random testing annually on helmets with these ratings.
Snell M - “M” for motorcycle, or motorized vehicle. This rating requires helmets to have a wider eyeport that benefits motorcyclists, but does not require fire retardant materials to be used for all parts of the helmet such as the lining, and head restraint (chin strap)
Snell SA - “Special Application”. Helmets with the Snell SA approval are more specific for auto racing applications. These helmets must use fire retardant materials in the helmet lining, and rigorous testing is done to simulate roll bar impacts. SA approved helmets are available in full face and ¾ shell designs.
Snell K - “Karting” helmets. These helmets meet very similar testing requirements as SA rated helmets, but these helmets are not required to use fire retardant materials.
SFI allows manufacturers to label helmets with SFI ratings under the condition that the helmet has been tested and meets their requirements.
SFI 31.1 (current standard) - Adult auto racing helmets. Similar to Snell SA.
SFI 41.1 (current standard) - Adult motorcycle racing helmets. Similar to Snell M.
SFI 24.1 - Youth racing helmets
NHRA General Helmet Regulations by class
9.99 second quarter mile or faster - A full face Snell SA or SFI 31.1 approved helmet is required. This class does not require a face shield, and permits open face helmets. You will need to check with the governing body at the track you plan to race as many tracks will require a full face helmet for the 9.99 class. Some individual car classes may have different requirements. Cars running in this class must have head and neck restraints.
7.49 second quarter mile or faster - The full face rule applies, but a face shield is required.
9.99 and slower - Slow isn’t something that most associate with a 9.99 second 1/4 mile run, but most street legal cars will be running in this general class. This is where some tracks will slightly vary on rules. If you’re running in this class you may have the option of wearing an M or SA rated helmet, or SFI equivalent.
Drivers of NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series and E.T. cars (13.99 or quicker) must use a helmet meeting Snell K2015, SA2010, SAH2010, K2010, M2010, SA2015, M2015, or SFI 31.1/2010, 31.1/2015, 41.1/2010, or 41.1/2015 Specs. Drivers in supercharged, front-engine, open-bodied cars and Funny Cars must wear a helmet meeting Snell SA2010, SA2015, SAH2010, or SFI 31.1/2010, 31.1/2015 Specs. See Class Requirements.
Take a look at the NHRA General Regulations Index
IHRA Helmet Rules
The International Hot Rod Association requires either a Snell SS, SN, M, or K2005 (or newer) helmet for all classes, including cars running 0-9.99 second 1/4 mile.
Take a look at the IHRA Official Rulebook
Helmets with any kind of structural modifications to the shell, head restraints, or face shield are not permitted by the NHRA. Graphics and decals are allowed unless they obstruct field of view or the functionality of the helmet. Taping the edges of a face shield or decals on the face shield may be permitted once inspected. Some tracks may have restrictions on narrowing the field of view.