Q: “What is your opinion on hearing levels and controlling them? In my Radical, I usually don’t wear ear plugs. Even though I don’t think I am picking up on all the sounds available, I do notice that if I do use ear plugs, I think I’m missing something. But I do feel calmer while driving. I did say “feel,” as I don’t have anything to back that up. What is your opinion?”
A: What? Pardon me, what did you say? Sorry, I’m hard of hearing. J
Seriously, we participate in and hang around a noisy sport. Over time, no matter how quiet your car, it will affect your hearing. Trust me on this one. You don’t have to spend your life around pro racing to have your hearing impacted.
I’ve said it a million times, and I’ll say it again, the more quality sensory information you take in through your vision, kinesthetic/feel, and auditory senses, the better you will drive. So, it would then seem logical to not wear hearing protection that would restrict what you hear, right? But here’s the thing: ear plugs filter out the sounds that are too loud. They actually help you focus on the sounds that are important. I’ve tested this back-to-back with enough drivers (myself included) to know that some hearing protection can actually help your driving. And this may also be why you feel calmer when using ear protection.
Not long ago I was coaching a driver on a test day, and he’d gotten to a very good baseline lap time, one that he could turn fairly consistently. After a short break, he went back on track and was nearly a second slower. We couldn’t figure out why, at first, but then he mentioned that he’d forgotten to put his ear plugs in after the break. He said it sounded fast, but he wasn’t, so he put the ear plugs in and went back out. You can guess what happened – he was faster again.
So, it will come as no surprise that I think all drivers should use some form of ear protection. And this is another super-important point: be consistent with it. Your brain calibrates the sound with speed and grip levels, so if you wear ear protection some times, and not others, you won’t drive consistently.