You don’t need much to get started in motorsports. A working car, a driver’s license and a Snell-rated helmet will pave the way for more than a few beginner HPDE events in your local area. But what exactly is a Snell-rated helmet and why do you need one to participate in HPDE?

The Snell-rated or Snell-certified helmet is the gold standard for safety helmets worn for motorsports like HPDE, autocross and karting. Helmets are an important piece of safety equipment for both new and experienced drivers, and most motorsports organizations, tracks and event organizers require them.

Here’s a closer look at what Snell helmets are and why you should have one.

What Is a Snell Helmet?

When motorsports enthusiasts refer to a Snell helmet, they don’t mean a particular brand of helmet. In fact, many different brands of helmets can be called Snell helmets. The name simply means that a particular helmet has been tested and certified to meet specific safety standards by the Snell Foundation.

The Snell Foundation is a nonprofit organization founded in 1957 in memory of William “Pete” Snell, an amateur racer who died the year before from a head injury during a motorsports event when the helmet he was wearing failed to protect him during a crash. Since its founding, the Snell Foundation has been dedicated to research, education, testing and development of improved helmet safety standards.

Snell certification is often thought of as a key standard for helmet safety. In fact, Snell helmets meet more rigorous standards than those required by the U.S. Department of Transportation or the Economic Commission for Europe. The Snell standard is also recognized by top auto organizations, including the Sports Car Club of America, National Auto Sport Association and NASCAR.

Why Do You Need a Snell Helmet?

The main purpose of a helmet is to protect your head from injury when it contacts a hard surface or object. In HPDE, that could be a window, side pillar or flying object. The sudden stop your head experiences on contact can not only cause cuts and fractures, it can also cause serious brain injuries. Helmets work by using a cushioning impact liner to absorb the impact and minimize the shock of sudden stops. Helmets reduce the risk of injury, making HPDE an even safer sport.

Snell-rated helmets are considered some of the safest available because of the testing and certification processes they undergo. At a manufacturer’s request, Snell purchases a random sampling of a helmet model for testing in its ISO 17025 accredited California facility. Helmets are put through their paces, with impact, roll-off, penetration, chin bar and flame resistance testing. After a helmet has been certified, it’s added to Snell’s private helmet archive for design verification. If a manufacturer wants to make a design change to the helmet, they’ll need to submit the new design for a separate certification.

Snell certification is required for HPDE helmets partially due to the rigors of certification and its third-party testing. In contrast, DOT-certified helmets are certified by the manufacturers themselves to meet minimum standards, which in most cases are lower than Snell standards.

Which Snell Certification Is for HPDE?

If you look up the certification charts for Snell helmets, you’ll find there’s more than one type of certification label. Besides motorsports, Snell actually certifies safety helmets for bicycling, snowboarding, horse riding and more.

For HPDE, you want a helmet with a Special Application or Snell Auto certification, abbreviated as SA on the label. Labels that start with M for Motorcycle certification are also acceptable in most HPDE events. Note that if you will only be doing karting events, a label that starts with a K is acceptable.

Each Snell certification label ID also contains a year, such as SA2020, SA2015, M2020 and so on. The certifications obtained by helmet manufacturers last five years, with certifications more than two standards old being decertified. That means that, for now, SA2020 is the latest standard while SA2015 labels are also acceptable, but SA2010, M2010 and other older helmets have been discontinued. When the next standard is released in 2025, you’ll need to upgrade any 2015 helmet to either a 2020 or 2025 helmet to participate in HPDE events.

To find which brands, models and sizes have been certified for HPDE, see the comprehensive guide available on the Snell website.

Where Do You Get a Snell Helmet?

To maintain impartiality, the Snell Foundation doesn’t sell any helmets or other safety equipment. Snell-rated helmets for HPDE can be obtained at any online or brick-and-mortar stores that sell safety helmets.

Note that even though you can buy Snell-rated helmets online, it’s better to visit a store where you can try them on for size. Not all helmets fit all head shapes and sizing is meant to be more snug and secure than most novice drivers realize. Snell also advises to be careful of imitation Snell stickers on helmets. It’s another reason a reputable brand from a trusted local dealer will probably be your best option.

Another great resource on helmet advice is your HPDE instructors, mentors and friends. HPDE event organizers can also offer advice on helmets approved for use during their events.

How Do You Protect Your Car on the Track?

With your trusty Snell-rated helmet you’ll be ready to enjoy many years of HPDE events while protecting your head from injury. However, your head isn’t the only thing that can get damaged in a crash. Much more common than head injuries are fender benders that occur when your track car goes off track.

To protect against the risk of damage to your vehicle, Lockton Motorsports offers HPDE Insurance. Unlike standard auto policies that often exclude HPDE coverage, HPDE Insurance specifically covers your car against damage on the track for the entire event. Coverage for car mods, instructor laps and a second driver are also included.

Learn more and find your policy at or call us at (866) 582-4957.