Good Ol' Boys - NASCAR

The future of the HANS® Device in F1 and CART
By Frank Ryan
December 1, 2000

Part 3 of a 4 part series

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History has taught us that improvements to racing safety are a long and arduous process, and we have painfully learned that often it takes human tragedies to influence change. Sometimes there are no amicable answers to the problems, but other times there are viable solutions to implement. The HANS® (Head And Neck Support) Device just may be one of these solutions, but how will F1, and CART choose to implement it? (Tomorrow, part 4 of 4 will talk about its future in NASCAR)

The future of the HANS® Device looks bright under the collective guidance of these sanctioning bodies. FIA, CART and NASCAR have all been receptive, inviting and encouraging to the HANS® Device. As Bob Hubbard explains, "We (Hubbard Downing) want to be part of the solution and not part of the problem, and in racing you do not go anywhere you are not invited. You need to respect the decision making process, and the sanctioning bodies will call when they are ready". For the 2001 racing season, both FIA and CART have called, while NASCAR has taken more of a wait and see approach.

Formula 1

As explained in "The History of the HANS® Device - Part 2", Mercedes Benz and Hubbard Downing have a long and rich history between their two companies. Their testing was critical in the development of the HANS® for open wheel racers. 

Mercedes powered McLaren F1 car.  All F1 drivers have been mandated to wear the HANS® Device in 2001

Mercedes Benz (now DaimlerChrysler) and Hubbard Downing worked closely together to develop and test the HANS® for use in the Formula 1 cars. After years of testing with consistent and encouraging crash test results, Dr. Sid Watkins, chief medical director for F1, recommended that the HANS® become a standard part of the drivers safety equipment. The Mercedes effort to test the HANS® Device was such an extensive undertaking, that it was instrumental in Formula 1 approving the use of the HANS® in competition.

FIA announced that for next year, they are mandating that all of their drivers wear the HANS® for all events in their 2001 racing season. 


CART's Franchise Team Owners recently mandated that effective with the first FedEx Championship Series event of the 2001 season, all Champ Car drivers must wear the HANS® for all oval-track testing and racing activities. CART is also recommending the HANS® for road-course events.

All CART drivers have been mandated to wear the HANS® Device in 2001 on oval tracks

Before mandating the HANS®, CART reviewed the crash test data from Hubbard Downing, Mercedes Benz and Formula 1, and then they set about testing the HANS® with some of their own drivers. First to volunteer were Michael Andretti and Christian Fittipaldi from Newman-Hass Racing. Both Andretti and Fittipaldi logged countless laps working with Hubbard Downing in an attempt to refine the HANS®, its fit in the cockpit, and the drivers "feel" for wearing the HANS®. It was important that not only the reliability and durability testing be completed, but also the "fit" of the HANS® had to be accounted for. The HANS® is unique in that it has to be fitted to each driver's helmet, and then the cockpit has to be modified accordingly to account for the HANS®. With the physical difference in size among the drivers, each cockpit has to be modified differently for each driver, which can be a very time consuming and labor intensive.

Once a number of drivers had been fitted and tested the HANS®, it became clear that this was clearly a major breakthrough in safety. With the timing right, CART approached the franchise holders and the drivers to vote on whether the HANS® should be mandated for the oval races in the 2001 racing season. What happened next was outstanding - every single team and driver voted to accept and mandate the HANS®, a unanimous decision.

Hal Whiteford, CART's President Of Racing Operations explains it this way, " We finally got to the point where we could mandate it and we had enough drivers who had used it under various conditions where we could say, clearly this was a major breakthrough in safety. To be able to do it on the ovals first, was what we wanted to do, and we received unanimous to do it both from the franchise holders and the drivers."

The unanimous decision by the drivers may have come in part due to a testimonial of a driver who was wearing the HANS® earlier this year and crashed. Whiteford wouldn't elaborate on who the driver was, as he deemed the information confidential, but he did tell us, "I do know one individual because I personally talked to them and he looked at me after he had his altercation and said the only reason that I am standing here talking to you is because of this HANS® Device".

Whiteford was with Mercedes Benz for 18 years before joining CART and had originally heard about the HANS® while there. "Mercedes had spent millions of dollars investing in an airbag system for their F1 cars and then dropped it after testing the HANS®", said Whiteford. "The other real plus to the HANS® in it's simplicity is the fact that you can take a double hit, which happens a lot of times. You can hit a wall, then get hit by another car, or vice versa". It is very difficult to achieve the same protection with an airbag system unless you use a double threshold triggering system, which is extremely expensive. To properly equip the system, not only is it critical to determine the rate of deceleration, but also the angles that are involved.

Another issue that figured in CART's decision in mandating the HANS® was availability. Only a limited number of HANS® are produced by Hubbard Downing, and with Formula 1 mandating the HANS®, CART did not want to run into a supply problem in obtaining the HANS® for their own teams. If NASCAR had also chosen to mandate the HANS® for 2001, this could have created the inability for CART to properly equip their teams.

With CART drivers testifying to its usage, don't be surprised if the drivers are wearing the HANS®, not just for the ovals, but the road circuits as well. Whiteford was hopeful that the time when the HANS® was worn for every race was in the not too distant future, "We are very, very happy that we were able to get unanimous support to go forward next year on the ovals", said Whiteford, "I look forward to the day that I put into the rule book that it is mandatory on every venue. I think that will happen quickly, and I think the way that we did this protects us from supply issues and also allows the drivers to be the biggest testimonial". 

In our conclusion to our series on the HANS®, we look at its use in NASCAR with a conversation with Kevin Triplet, Director Of Operations for NASCAR.

Part 1 of this series, Should NASCAR Mandate the HANS® Device

Part 2 of this series, The History of the HANS® Device.

Part 4 of this series, The Future of the HANS® Device in NASCAR

Available for sale at Hubbard Downing, Inc, the HANS® Device is available in different models for different race vehicles. At a cost of around $2,000 the HANS® Device is portable and can be used in nearly any type of vehicle. Please visit their website at www.HansDevice.com or call Hubbard Downing, Inc directly at (770) 457-1046 at their Atlanta, Georgia location, or for technical information, please contact Robert Hubbard in Michigan at (517) 353-5013. 

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