If You’re Headed to the Track, Protect Your Hearing

[Editor's Note: This article is from May, 2014. Some information may be different, but the message remains the same: Protect your hearing.]

Whether you’re involved in racing as a driver, crewmember, corner worker, flag marshal or even spectator, those whining engines, thundering exhaust pipes and rat-tat-tatting air wrenches are always within earshot, waiting to pound on your eardrums.

According to Dr. Lori Ann Halvorson of Lake Forest Hearing in Lake Forest, Illinois, you should consider ear protection whenever you’re off to the races. Halvorson’s practice is the official hearing safety partner of Road America. She also sets up her tent at events like the Meadowdale International Raceways Preservation Association’s annual Motorsports & Memories show, where enthusiasts gathered to celebrate the Illinois ghost track’s 55th birthday.

Halvorson collects classic sports cars and enjoys auto racing, so many of the products she offers are specifically for the racing community. She points out that modern audio science has created hearing protection products with specific applications among motorsports spectators, drivers and track workers, as well as babies and pets that are taken along to a race track.

The good doctor models a headset designed for babies. It includes a strap to keep the “earmuffs” on a child’s head. They come in pink, blue and camo. Camo? “Oh, hunters buy them for their kids,” Halvorson says. “The models have compression circuits that compress gunfire shocks.”

High-end products are best for drivers who live in their noisy environments for hours. “Drivers– especially during enduro races– may want a custom-molded product with electronic noise filters and cables that plug into their helmets,” Halvorson explains.

These allow communication with pit crews and include a sensor that measures head speed so that if a crash occurs, safety workers will know if they’re likely to find a cervical injury.”

Drivers told Halvorson that traditional, solid-foam earplugs made everything muffled, so they felt unsafe. Custom-molded earplugs are made of medical-grade silicone and include a speech filter so the driver can remain aware of other cars and crew communications without hearing other noise. Drivers are also less stressed and more awake when better-quality hearing protection is used. “They could focus on driving and also liked that they could keep a custom-fit device in their ear all day instead of constantly removing it,” Halvorson says. “Some keep the plugs in when they go into restaurants.” Halvorson’s regular private practice is busy, but she wants to expand her specialization in the motorsports market by attending trade shows, such as the Performance Racing Industry Trade Show and the Racing & Performance Expo. “A lot of drivers say they don’t have a lot of time while racing to come by and get custom molds made,” Halvorson explains. “They said it would be easier and better to get fitted at other venues.”

Halvorson says it’s extremely important to provide hearing protection to the racing niche. “If you get some damage to your ear, no matter how small, there’s no repairing it,” she emphasizes. “Also, an ear that’s damaged is susceptible to further damage because it has already been compromised.”

Lake Forest Hearing most recommends ER-20 Universal Fit Earplugs and the ER-Racer 500 Earphone. The ER-20 is a one-size-fits- all earplug that replicates the human ear’s natural frequency response, reducing sound levels evenly and across all frequencies.

Speech and music sound clear and natural, but the levels are reduced by 20 decibels for high-fidelity hearing protection. The ER-20 uses secure, triple-flange earphones for a secure seal and a comfortable fit.

The ER-Racer 500 Earphone uses custom-molded supersoft gel silicone for insulation from track noise. Inside the custom earphones, tiny micro speakers reproduce pit crew communications. Integrated within the earphones is a Delphi sensor system that constantly monitors the forces exerted on a driver’s head.

Halvorson says her customers are getting more aware that foam earplugs are not the best option when better technology is now available and good hearing is priceless: “At Road America and a few other tracks, we have been providing educational help and information about hearing safety.”

Lake Forest Hearing


(847) 295-1185

Join Free Join our community to easily find more hearing protection and Ear Protection articles.
View comments on the GRM forums
MadScientistMatt UberDork
5/29/14 10:46 a.m.

Nice, I could use a set of kiddie headphones for my toddler!

Advan046 UltraDork
5/8/17 11:54 p.m.

Well not much in commentary about hearing protection for kids. This is the only post I could find in my searches on the topic. Planning to take my 5 year old to the next ALMS or INDY event that I attend.

So far I am leaning towards the Peltor Sports.

Has anyone purchased earmuff for their kids? What did you get?

SkinnyG SuperDork
5/9/17 12:01 a.m.

I have ear muffs for everyone at home. I wear ear muffs every time I mow the lawn, and with any machine in the shop. I want to protect my hearing.

My Nissan Hardbody was 102dB of wind/road noise alone.

My Locost Super 7 is 119dB of wind/road noise. I wear form-fitted ear plugs always. I keep a box of Deci-Damps under the seat for any passengers.

My father-in-law is basically a squeaky-fart away from stone deaf. I don't want that for me or my family.

Huckleberry MegaDork
5/9/17 6:03 a.m.

In reply to Advan046:

$10 shooting muffs from Wal-Mart. 28db, adjustable fit, disposable price tag.

In car or on my bike I wear custom molded plugs I made myself from a kit. They work the same as the jar of orange foam plugs but are more comfortable. $11/kit and they last a year or so before they stop sealing.

jimbbski Dork
5/9/17 8:51 a.m.

As far as protecting your hearing I feel it's more important to do it at home when working with power tools, etc. You spend more time there then at the race track. How about mowing your lawn? Blowing snow? Using a grinder? I wear muffs or use plugs, not hitech but they do help.

Dr. Hess
Dr. Hess MegaDork
5/9/17 10:05 a.m.

I have a set of ear muffs hanging over my work bench. Anything noisy, from the shop vac to various metal cutting and grinding tools, gets the muffs put on. I also keep a pair of foam plugs in a little plastic baggie in my wallet in case I'm out somewhere and loud noises happen and I forgot to bring ear protection. Like at a bar with a band cranked up to 11, for example, or at an autocross track with rotary motors or 4AGE's with little for exhaust systems. When shooting, I use ear plugs and muffs. I have hand cannons that still hurt my ears even with that.

Driven5 Dork
5/9/17 10:52 a.m.
Advan046 wrote: Has anyone purchased earmuff for their kids? What did you get?

The number of parents who bring their infants and children (and dogs for that matter) to auto racing events without any prior consideration for their hearing (or comfort) astounds, saddens, and slightly infuriates me. Some kids don't seem to mind the loudness, not that that makes it much better in my opinion since permanent damage occurs before physical discomfort. But others very obviously do. That's why I always bring an extra set or two of whatever cheapish children's-size earmuffs I can find, to hand out whenever I see children in obvious discomfort from the noise at the track. It's great to see their entire experience change right before your eyes.

When preparing to take our daughter (2 at the time) to the Vintage races for the first time last year, and after doing a bit of research, we purchased both the the Peltor Sport/Kids and the Baby Banz earBanz to decide between. I don't recall why, or even if it was her choice or ours, but we ended up sticking with the earBanz for her and giving away the pink Peltor to a little boy at the track who greatly appreciated it.

For myself, I've been using the Peltor X4A. Nice low profile design, but still with good attenuation.

java230 SuperDork
5/9/17 11:08 a.m.

I have a set of SureFire EP4's that I like. They have a "flap" for lack of a better term that blocks high level sounds( 86DB IIRC) below that let it in, its muffled a bit but you can still talk to someone with them on if needed. They also have a plug you can put in to keep them fully muffled.

snailmont5oh HalfDork
5/9/17 1:16 p.m.

At work, I use Plugfones earplugs. They have a hole in the middle, and a tiny speaker module plugs into the hole. I found the factory earplugs a bit big for my ear canal, but I also found that 4 seconds and a hot paper clip converts regular foam earplugs to Plugfones-ready. Now, I can wear them 8 hours a day with no more discomfort than the same earplugs I've been wearing every day for the last 15 years.

84FSP Dork
5/9/17 1:22 p.m.
MadScientistMatt wrote: Nice, I could use a set of kiddie headphones for my toddler!

We recently picked up some Bebe muffs from Amazon for our 9mth old and were really impressed at how well they worked and how comfortable she was wearing them.

Learned that one the hardway when I took my 3yr old son to the first F1 race at Austin (when the cars still made good noises). Adult earmuffs and ear plugs were really uncomfortable for him and he was not a happy camper.

Tyler H
Tyler H UltraDork
5/9/17 1:35 p.m.
iceracer UltimaDork
5/9/17 5:21 p.m.

I wish the Air Force ha been more aware of hearing protection years ago. Not even thought of.

Standing on the wing of a P 51 while a student ran it up. Six open pipes not far away. Then running B25's with open stacks. Lots of noise. Then years at the dirt track.

Hearing aids help but not as good natural.

So keep that protection.

TeamEvil Dork
5/10/17 6:00 p.m.

"If You’re Headed to the Track, Protect Your Hearing."

WHAT ! ? ! ? ! ? ! ?

Way past too late for me, but a good over all practice for sure—

Crxpilot New Reader
5/10/17 10:17 p.m.

And whatever you do, don't settle for cheap hearing protection. Go ahead and spend money so you'll be more motivated to use it. Anything you buy will be cheaper than the cheapest Beltone hearing aids. It really stinks being 38 and already wearing Beltones. Listen to words of wisdom while you can still hear them.

Our Preferred Partners