Good Ol' Boys - NASCAR

The Future of the HANSŪ Device in NASCAR
By Frank Ryan
December 7, 2000

Part 4 of a series

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NASCAR sets forth rules that every team and driver must follow. These rules are carefully constructed to allow for fierce competition, yet they also provide a level of comfort and safety to the driver and all those involved with the sport. In this delicate balance, NASCAR has to decide which changes to mandate, and which enhancements to allow. In the 2001 racing season, NASCAR will not mandate the HANSŪ, but will allow the drivers to wear the HANSŪ as NASCAR continues testing the product.

Brett Bodine displays the HANSŪ prior to the Southern 500.

In fact, NASCAR has allowed their drivers to use the HANSŪ for a number of years. Unfortunately, even though the HANSŪ has been available since 1991, it has only started to become common within NASCAR over the last year or so. Some of the drivers who tested the HANSŪ this year included Brett Bodine and Scott Pruett. At the season ending Craftsman Truck Series race in Fontana, six drivers were wearing the HANSŪ, and 15 other CTS drivers have contacted Hubbard Downing to be fitted for the HANSŪ. 

Bob Hubbard explained how they first made inroads to the NASCAR community, "NASCAR has been very inviting and encouraging to Hubbard Downing and myself personally. We have been introduced to the teams through the GM and Ford guys, and they have asked their drivers to try the HANSŪ . We have had meetings with Gary Nelson and Steve Peterson and other NASCAR officials, but I am not sure what decisions have been made".

The HANSŪ has been thoroughly tested for both Formula 1 and CART, but the open wheel cars are quite different than the NASCAR stock cars. Since Autoracing1 was interested in what HANSŪ testing NASCAR had performed, we contacted Kevin Triplet, Director Of Operations for NASCAR. As is the policy in NASCAR, Triplet politely stated that their testing is confidential and he wouldn't be able to disclose specifics, "Our research and development we don't really talk a lot about. We do a lot of things and we run a lot of tests and have conversations with manufacturers and with other sanctioning bodies, but we don't really openly discuss our research and development".

Scott Pruett has also tested the HANSŪ this year.

With NASCAR's testing of the HANSŪ kept under wraps, we inquired as to what are some of the issues that NASCAR is looking at? One major issue is the position of the driver in the race car. Open wheel cars place the driver in a reclined position, while stock car drivers sit upright in a more traditional driving position. Triplet explained the difference in the configuration and some of the problems associated with it. "Its kind of apples to oranges, with the way a driver sits in a car, and the way that it fits. Our drivers are up in a seat instead of down in a seat, or reclined. They (NASCAR drivers) have neck rests and head rests and things like that, some do, some don't, none of which is required. It's all for driver comfort level, and some drivers have been able to use the HANSŪ very comfortably, and others have had to adjust their seat or not use it at all, because it doesn't work with their seat. There are challenges that would have to be overcome or looked at in mandating it, because every driver has a different style seat".

Prior to NASCAR, the majority of the HANSŪ testing and refinement has been for open wheel cars. Not only are the cars and their cockpits quite different, but so are the types of races they run. Both Formula 1 and CART cars are much quicker than the stock cars, and most often their races are shorter in length. While a CART race may last 2 hours, it is not unusual to see a NASCAR race at 4 hours in length. Obviously, the NASCAR drivers need to be comfortable wearing the HANSŪ. "When you are talking about stock cars and the way they configure their seats, you are talking about a huge adjustment in a comfort level where a driver gets in that seat," Triplet said, "and it's kind of like an old tennis shoe, you know the way it's going to fit, you know the way its going to feel, and to mandate something that hasn't been universally tested among all the drivers, because not only do they have to be safe, they have to be comfortable, or at least as comfortable as possible, and comfortable in a stock car for 500 miles in the middle of July, that is a relative term".

NASCAR has demonstrated that their first concern is safety, but it isn't always an easy process. Triplet talked about some of the rule changes made earlier this year, "Even the aerodynamic changes we made this year at Talladega in the fall, if they reduce the speeds by a couple of miles an hour and make the cars more drivable, then that also enhances safety." 

It is a difficult process for any sanctioning body, as Triplet stated, "you need to make sure the cure is not worse than the cause".

The HANSŪ harness with the helmet removed

But NASCAR is gaining experience with the HANSŪ and other safety improvements, "We have also taken some feedback from people who are working in conjunction with us who have some good ideas, a lot of conversations week to week with the teams, because we feel very fortunate to have some of the best minds in the sport working in that garage".

Another issue not to be taken lightly is supply and fit. The HANSŪ is not as simple as one size fits all. Instead, each helmet is fitted for the HANSŪ, and then the helmet and driver must be fitted in each vehicle they would be driving. It's not an overly burdensome task, but with 13 NASCAR divisions and nearly 1000 drivers, it is a huge undertaking. 

With the HANSŪ gaining acceptance, would NASCAR indeed mandate it? 

"A lot of research has to go into it, we are certainly open to the feedback from drivers who want to try it, but I think right now that is where we are" Triplet stated. "We applaud people who take measures, and hopefully some of the measures we have taken throughout the season that we thought were proactive, and you can always try to continue to work, but what works for one may not work for the other".

Triplet also confirmed that the HANSŪ has been an allowed piece of safety equipment for quite some time, and even though it is not mandated, any driver may use the HANSŪ to enhance their personal safety and level of comfort. 

Brett Bodine tested the device at Indianapolis and then used it during the race season.  He summed up his experience with the HANSŪ by saying, "NASCAR has allowed us to use the device and it sure makes me feel a lot safer."  

Looking towards the future…

If we use Formula 1 and CART as a guide, is the timing right for NASCAR to mandate the HANSŪ Device? Quite frankly, the answer would be no, at least not for a year or two. While on the surface it may seem to make sense for all of the sanctioning bodies to mandate the HANSŪ , there are many other variables that go into the equation. While we applaud both Formula 1 and CART for mandating the HANSŪ we also applaud NASCAR for moving forward with their testing and development of the product.

While improvements in safety can be mandated, the drivers must first become familiar with, believe in, and desire the use the product for it to become truly accepted. Both Formula 1 and CART gave their drivers time over the past few years to become acclimated to the HANSŪ. During the next year or two, I expect to see many more NASCAR drivers welcoming the HANSŪ as part of their racing safety gear. With the sad memories of several tragic accidents in NASCAR this past year, this is a giant step forward for the safety of the racing world. 

Part 1 of this series, Should NASCAR Mandate the HANSŪ Device
Part 2 of this series, The History of the HANSŪ Device
Part 3 of this series, The Future of the HANSŪ in Formula 1 and CART

Available for sale at Hubbard Downing, Inc, the HANSŪ Device is available in different models for different race vehicles. At a cost of around $1,275 for a NASCAR unit (Model 4), and $2,000 for one used in CART (Model 3), the HANSŪ 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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