Good Ol' Boys - NASCAR

Should NASCAR mandate the HANSŪ Device?
Part 1 of  4
By Frank Ryan
October 31, 2000

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Safety has become a paramount concern this year in NASCAR. Restrictor plates, throttle limiters and soft walls have all been hot topics in an effort to find an answer to a single question, "What else can be done to limit driver injury"?

One unique approach to help answer this question is the HANSŪ Device. Mandated by both CART and Formula 1, the HANSŪ Device will be a required piece of safety equipment for their 2001 racing seasons, with CART mandating the HANSŪ Device for all oval track races and F1 mandating the HANSŪ Device for all of their race circuits. With the racing world slowly learning of, and accepting the benefits of the HANSŪ Device, we feel it should become a standard piece of safety equipment for not only NASCAR, but for all racing series.

The HANSŪ (Head And Neck Support) Device was originally designed to limit the extreme front to back and side-to-side movement of the head and neck during a violent crash. Using a collar and yoke system made of carbon fiber and Kevlar, the device is connected to the helmet with a series of quick connect tethers. The HANSŪ Device is worn around the neck and down the front of the shoulders, underneath the safety belts of the shoulder harness. This allows for normal movement of the head and helmet, but limits the extreme movement of the head and neck that is so common in the rapid deceleration during a crash.

Robert Hubbard invented the HANSŪ Device in association with IMSA driver Jim Downing in the early 1980's. Having worked at General Motors as a biomechanical crash injury expert, Hubbard led the development team that created the Hybrid 3 crash test dummy head and used that experience in designing the HANSŪ Device. Hubbard is a PhD, and currently a Professor at Michigan State University's College of Engineering. Jim Downing, who is also Hubbard's brother-in-law, has a long history as an IMSA sports car driver and was the first to identify the problems associated with a restrained torso and an unrestrained head in sudden deceleration impacts. Working together, their goal was to create a device that would reduce the chance of a serious injury caused by the violent movement of the unrestrained head and helmet during a crash. In a high-speed impact, the amount of loading, sheer and tension that a helmeted head places on the neck can be tremendous. In the worst-case scenarios, like those of Adam Petty and Kenny Irwin, it can cause a basalar skull fracture and almost certain death. Hubbard and Downing hoped to minimize these injuries by designing a piece of equipment that would restrain and stabilize the head, while still remaining in relationship to the driver's torso. With that design in mind, the HANSŪ Device slowly took form. 

(Left) Note neck without the HANS Device vs. (Right) with HANS Device.  To all the drivers who read AutoRacing1.com - which would you rather be?

The HANSŪ Device has undergone extensive testing at Wayne State University by General Motors using crash sleds and a full 5-point racing harness. Addition crash tests by Mercedes Benz, now DaimlerChrysler, have shown similar results. Their tests have shown that the HANSŪ Device significantly limits the amount of stress and potential injury to the neck and head. These tests and real life examples have been persuasive enough to warrant both CART and Formula 1 to mandate the HANSŪ Device as a standard part of their safety equipment for next year. 

Michael Andretti with HANSŪ Device at Fontana as father Mario looks on.

In addition to the CART and F1 mandate, a number of NASCAR drivers have been fitted for the HANSŪ Device. This should come as no surprise since the tragic death of Tony Roper at Texas Motor Speedway. While Roper did not die of a skull fracture, his injuries stopped the supply of blood to his brain, rendering him essentially brain dead. This weekend at Fontana at least 6 Craftsman Truck Series drivers were spotted racing with the HANSŪ Device, and others have already ordered it.

Perhaps the most compelling fact about the HANSŪ Device is that not a single driver who has worn one in a crash has suffered a neck or head injury. With more than 250 units currently in use, the HANSŪ Device works every time according to its co-creator Bob Hubbard.

The HANSŪ Device sans helmet
Photo by Bruce D. Basura

Available for sale at Hubbard Downing, Inc, the HANSŪ Device is available in different models for different race vehicles. When purchasing a HANSŪ Device the driver's helmet is shipped to Hubbard Downing for the installation of the unit. Normally, the seat and padding around the driver's seat must also be minimally reconfigured to account for the addition of the HANSŪ Device. At a cost up to $2,000 the HANSŪ Device is portable and can be used in nearly any type of vehicle, including powerboats. Please visit their website at www.HansDevice.com or call (770) 457-1046 to contact Hubbard Downing Inc. directly, or for technical information, please contact Robert Hubbard in Michigan at (517) 353-5013. 

Next week, Part 2 of this series will discuss the history of the HANSŪ Device via an interview with Bob Hubbard.

In the future, Part 3 & 4 of this series discusses the present and future of the HANSŪ Device.

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Comments can be sent to the author at contacts@autoracing1.com.

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