The winner of 200 races, former NASCAR driver Richard Petty has survived numerous crashes, but the sport-related injury that truly lingers is his severe hearing loss. Petty wears bilateral hearing aids and still experiences difficulty hearing conversations around him. But for this legendary driver and others, the roar of the engines makes up a big part of the sport’s allure, and drivers and pit crews may not want to lessen that overwhelming noise—even to protect their ears.
In a recent Florida Times Union article, audiologist Carolyn Hall shares exactly how sustained exposure to such high noise levels damages delicate nerve endings in the ear:
“Sensory neural hearing loss is when the damage is in the inner ear,” says Hall, adding that “…when it gets to the inner ear the nerve cells have been damaged. We don’t get the nerve cells back. Noise-induced hearing loss is most definitely sensory neural hearing loss.”
For comparison, the decibels in a NASCAR car or pit often get to 130, while a Boeing 747 engine produces around 125 during takeoff. However, the FAA requires people working on airport tarmacs to wear hearing protection. NASCAR has no rules regarding reducing engine noise or using hearing protection.
Still, of their own volition, some drivers—like David Ragan—use noise-cancelling radio headsets or wear earplugs. Ragan sees his father struggle with hearing loss after racing only part-time for 10 years, so he wears fitted earplugs and a helmet with noise-reduction technology. Yet Ragan admits that even with protective equipment, he experiences ringing in his ears long after leaving the racetrack.
Learn more about dangerous noise exposure and the benefits of using hearing protection in these recent Leader articles: