Bill Simpson’s SG Helmets take racing expertise to football helmets

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With his life and career dedicated to safety enhancements, the legend that is Bill Simpson didn’t need to shift from motorsports into creating a safer football helmet.

But because the concussion threat is impacting the next generation of football players, it’s a cause Simpson felt he needed to commit to based on his 40-plus years of motorsports safety innovation.

SG Helmets, or Simpson Ganassi, has come to life over the last several years as Simpson’s research into the new industry has began.

The research began following a chance meeting between Simpson and then-Indianapolis Colts offensive line coach Tom Moore.

“I’d watched people got taken out on stretchers; that aspect largely went away from automobile races a long time ago,” Simpson told MotorSportsTalk in an interview last week.

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Photo courtesy SG Helmets

“As I looked into it, I’d see these kids out there that couldn’t hold their heads up. It made me look into this whole deal. After I did some tests, we saw we could make huge improvements and bring (racing technology) to the athletic field.”

Simpson spent roughly 1.5 years on research and development and a further 1.5 on field tests, with what he deemed to find “perfect results.” Testing was conducted by Purdue University researchers, which found these helmets to be at least 50 to 100 percent better at attenuating forces reaching the head than any other helmet they studied.

The key to the SG Helmets is their weight, or rather, lack thereof at as little as 2 pounds per.

Created and built with a carbon fiber and Kevlar composite, the SG Helmets are half the weight but offer twice the level of protection. They’re stronger, lighter and more absorbent than polycarbonate shells.

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Photo courtesy SG Helmets

A number of high schools in Central Indiana have already begun utilizing these helmets, as have some NFL players. Ex-Colts and Green Bay Packers C Jeff Saturday switched and reported no further headaches, a unique experience after a 15-plus year career.

Center Grove High School in Greenwood, Ind. switched from 2012 to 2013. In 2012, the team reported 24 concussions; after the switch in 2013, the whole team had only 2 minor ones. Numerous parents have offered thanks for the new technology.

The Ganassi element of SG – Chip Ganassi is a minor partner in the company – stems from his own horrifying accident in a CART open-wheel race at Michigan in 1984, and the helmet technology utilized then that saved the legendary team owner from serious injury.

“I was at Ann Arbor hospital then with Chip’s dad (Floyd), and the neurosurgeon wanted to know what that (helmet) was,” Simpson recalled. “Without that helmet, he wouldn’t have come to hospital; he would have gone to a mortuary. The guardrail hit him in the helmet.”

Dr. Steve Olvey, who has spent his entire career on the front lines of racing and authored “Rapid Response” several years ago, praised Simpson’s work and transition to these helmets.

“What Bill Simpson has done is put 40 years of safety innovation in manufacturing motor sports helmets into the most modern and innovative football helmet made today,” Olvey said, via the SG Helmets website.

Comparing G-loading in football to auto racing is something of an apples-to-oranges comparison. But impacts in a racing accident could run anywhere from 75 to 80 G’s (that amount times a driver’s body weight) in 5-6 milliseconds.

There isn’t a real number yet for concussions, but there is an estimation of 90 to 95 G’s on football impacts over 6 milliseconds.

Simpson, who thinks this technology could eventually revolutionize the helmet industry, said the target for the next generation is key.

“I want to go after the 5-year-olds, so they don’t have a head injury that’s not repairable,” he said. “The horror stories you hear now are scary. Guys in their 40s who have their lives upside-down, with anger and stress, simply from repeated concussions.”

On Sunday at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif., Simpson was awarded The Justice Brothers-Shav Glick Award for his contributions to motorsports in California. Glick was a legendary automotive journalist for the Los Angeles Times, who passed away in 2007. The award is below, as Simpson accepts with Ed Justice, Jr.

Said Simpson, “I could think of a lot of people who have done a lot more in this sport; I’m doing just my job.”

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Photo courtesy SG Helmets

Tony Kanaan’s “New Reality” in IndyCar

Photo by Stephen King, INDYCAR
Stephen King, INDYCAR
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AUSTIN, Texas – Tony Kanaan is one of the most popular drivers in the NTT IndyCar Series from the fans who love his aggressive racing style and his fearless attitude. His team owner is the most popular man in the history of Indianapolis 500 – the legendary AJ Foyt, the first driver to win the famed race four times in his career.

In 2019, this combination would rather win races than popularity contests.

Kanaan has won 17 races in his career but hasn’t been to Victory Lane since a win at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California when he was driving for Chip Ganassi Racing in 2014. He left Ganassi’s team following the 2017 and joined Foyt’s operation last season.

Foyt always admired Kanaan’s attitude and racing style because it reminded him of his own attitude behind the wheel of a race car. But in 2018, the combination struggled. Kanaan led just 20 laps for the season and finished 16thin the IndyCar Series points race.

“A lot of work has been done because obviously, we struggled quite a bit last year,” Kanaan admitted. “That was the challenge when I signed with AJ was to try to make this team better. It is not an easy task, especially with the competition nowadays.

“It’s a lot slower process than I thought it would be.”

Kanaan believes the biggest keys for him is to “keep digging and be patient.” But he’s also in a results-driven business.

The driver called it a long winter, but he has helped lure some of his racing friends to the team to help improve the two-car operation that also includes young Brazilian Matheus Leist.

At 84, Foyt still has control over the operation, but has turned the day-to-day duties over to his son, Larry. Just last week, the team hired Scott Harner as the team’s vice president of operations. Harner was in charge of Kanaan’s car when both were at Chip Ganassi Racing.

“The second year, we are trying to be better,” Kanaan said. “It’s not an excuse, it’s the reality we have. There are a lot of new teams coming along so we have to step up. Otherwise, we aren’t fighting the Big 3 teams, we are fighting everybody.

“We are working on it. I like the way we are heading. AJ has been extremely open to my ideas.”

Kanaan has moved his family from Miami to Indianapolis to be near the race team’s shop. The team also has another race shop in Waller, Texas and that is where Leist’s car is prepared.

Although Kanaan doesn’t believe it’s ideal to have two different racing facilities, he believes being closer to his team will help build a more cohesive unit for this season.

At one time, Kanaan would show up at the track with a car that could win the race. No longer in that situation, he has had to readjust his goals.

“The biggest challenge is to accept that and understand your limits on equipment and on the people that you have,” Kanaan said. “Being on some of the teams that I’ve been on in the past, with four-car teams and engineers and all the resources you can get and the budget; then to come to a team with limited resources, I have to self-check all the time. With that, comes a lot of pressure as well and block out people’s opinions like, ‘Oh, he’s old or he’s washed up or the team is not good.’

“You need to shield that from your guys, because psychologically, that gets to you. You need people to work well, even if you have a car that is going to finish 15th.

“What is our reality? Racing can be lucky, but we try to make goals. We are greedy, we try to improve, but we are trying to be realistic. I have to re-set and understand this is my reality now, and I have to accept it.”

At 44, Kanaan is the oldest driver in the IndyCar. The 2004 IndyCar Series champion won the Indianapolis 500 in 2013 and if his career ended this year, it would be one of the greatest of his era.

But Kanaan isn’t ready to call it an “era.” He has more he wants to accomplish.

“The mistake I have made in my career is counting your days,” Kanaan said. “The best line I ever heard is when I signed with AJ, he told me he drove until he was 58, so why am I talking about getting old?

“In his mind, I still have 14 years to go.”

There remains one race, more than any other, that Kanaan’s boss wants to win. It’s the one that made Foyt famous.

“For my boss, winning the Indianapolis 500 is all he cares,” Kanaan said. “I could not finish a single race this year and if I win the Indy 500, that would be enough for him.

“We are not in a position to win a championship and I accept that. So, we focus on the Indianapolis 500. We had an awesome car last year and were the fastest on the second day.”

Foyt and Kanaan believe success at Indy may be in the numbers.

“AJ is all about numbers and his number was 14,” Kanaan said. “He found out Dallara was making chassis No. 14 at the end of the year. AJ bought that chassis and said that is the one we are going to race at the Indy 500. I’m not allowed to drive that car until Opening Day at the Indianapolis 500.

“That’s how big the boss is about the Indy 500.”