by Neil Bauman, Ph.D.
Drag racing is exciting! So is watching drag racing. No doubt about it! In her article “Races Give Fans an Earful” (Gainesville Sun, Florida, March 18, 2007) Diane Chun sucks you right into the excitement.
Speed, a blur of colors, the smell of nitromethane and burning rubber. They’re all part of the experience that draws a huge crowd to Gatornationals.
But it’s the overwhelming noise that gets race fans where it hurts.
When a Top Fuel dragster throttles up, a wave of sound strikes your chest like a fist.
The smartest among thousands of spectators for Saturday’s qualifying rounds for the 38th annual Gatornationals at Gainesville Raceway came equipped with both ear plugs and sound- deadening ear muffs.
The neophytes are probably feeling the pain of a day at the races today.
A nitro-powered dragster at full throttle puts out 120 decibels of sound. That’s not quite like standing next to a jet engine, which puts out 140 decibels, but who’d stand next to a jet?
On the other hand, spectators crowded as close to the Gatornationals staging area as they could get Saturday, not wanting to miss a split second of the action.
However the action wasn’t quite what some people expected. It took place in their ears, and it wasn’t fun! Bob’s son was there. Bob writes:
I talked to my son this morning and asked about the noise at the races, and about whether he and the kids wore ear protectors.
“Yes,” he replied. However, during a break in the action, he had taken off his earplugs. They were in his pocket as he was returning to the stands when it happened. Without warning, a nitromethane dragster revved out in full fury. He was about 100 feet from the car.
Before he could clap his hands to his ears, it was already too late. Instantaneously he said, it felt like somebody was pushing a pencil eraser into the ear closest to the car.
The next day he was still complaining of a definite hearing loss in that ear, and is quite concerned.
Unfortunately, this is how it often happens. Noise strikes when you least expect it. and when your have left your ears unprotected, even if it was just for a moment.
The results can be anything but thrilling. First can be the incessant ringing in your ears that may go on day and night, week after week, month after month, year after year—a constant reminder how you foolishly left your ears unprotected. Second is the instant hearing loss from which your ears may never completely recover. Third may be a lifelong sensitivity to normal everyday sounds that now seem far too loud and hurt. (This goes by the fancy name of hyperacusis.)
This is the real legacy of going to the races (or any other extremely noisy venue) that few talk about.
Thus you must not let your guard down—not even for an instant. Put your ear protectors on before you think you will need them and leave them on until you are well away from the noise. The one time you take them off for a few moments is the one time you may live to regret it.
However, if you are serious about protecting your ears, stay home and watch the races on TV. It may not be quite as exciting, but you will live to hear another day—and that is worth it!