In the early days of NASCAR, drivers showed up to the track and raced in their normal clothes. After many severe and sometimes fatal accidents, safety improvements were slowly made to prevent future death and serious injuries. Here are the top five safety devices now being used in NASCAR full time: HANS device, roof flaps, fuel cell, firesuits, and roll cages.
The HANS Device is in the shape of an U, usually made of carbon-fiber material, and is attached to the helmet by two anchors on the sides. The purpose of this device is to keep the drivers head from going forward or “whipping forward” in a crash. The HANS Device was invented in the early 1980’s by Dr. Robert Hubbard , a professor at Michigan State University. A major cause of death amongst drivers during races was through violent head movements, where the body remains in place because of the seat belts but the momentum keeps the head moving forwards, causing a Basilar skull fracture resulting in serious injury or immediate death.
Drivers that have died becuase of Basilar skull fractures include:
Formula 1 driver Roland Ratzenberger in the 1994 San Marino Formula One Grand Prix
Indy 500 drivers Scott Brayton, Bill Vukovich and Tony Bettenhausen
NASCAR drivers Adam Petty, Tony Roper, Kenny Irwin,Jr., Terry Schoonover, Grant Adcox, Neil Bonnett, John Nemechek, Dale Earnhardt, J. D. McDuffie and Clifford Allison
ARCA driver Blaise Alexander
CART drivers Jovy Marcelo and Gonzalo Rodriguez
“We developed them so NASCAR would not slow the cars down more,” said the primary engineer of roof flaps, Jack Roush. Roof flaps were designed to keep the car from lifting of the ground as acting as an emergency spoiler. NASCAR mandates that vehicles have two roof flaps, each measuring 12 inches (30 cm) wide by 8 inches (20 cm)tall, positioned near the rear of the vehicle, with the left flap oriented perpendicular to the length of the car and the right flap angled 45° anti-clockwise (when looking downward) from the left flap. The decision to keep roof flaps on the race cars came after two crashes in 1993. In the first crash, 1989 NASCAR champion Rusty Wallace tumbled across the finish line at Talladega Superspeedway after Dale Earnhardt spun him. Wallace spun around, lifted of the ground, landed in a grassy area of the track, and tumbled down the frontstretch. Then in August Johnny Benson, Jr., spun off turn-two at Michigan International Speedway and flipped down the backstretch.
Nascar started using fuels cells because they are much more safer then a regular fuel tank. A regular fuel tank in a crash would leak and possibly cause a fire. Whenever drivers are racing at high speeds, they do not want to worry about wrecking and their car exploding. Fuel cells limit the chance of that happening. Fuels cells are reinforced with a rubber bladder and foam to absorb the impact of a crash. Nascar is very strict as far as how much foam needs to be used and how the cell is constructed. NASCAR is very strict on how the cell is constructed and how much foam is put in it, also, the cell is built in compartments or baffles to keep the fuel from sloshing at the high speeds. The cell holds up to eighteen gallons of fuel. the fuel line is connected to a check valve, releases the fuel and closes automatically.
In NASCAR early days, drivers wore jeans and t-shirts but soon learned that that was not the best idea to do because of fires. Fire suits maintain the well-being of the driver and crew by protecting them from flash fires in the pits or fires caused in a crash. The fire suit is made out of either Proban or the same Nomex material that lines the inside of the driver’s helmet and that is woven into the gloves, socks, and shoes worn by the driver. “The inner layer is the heart of the suit and the outer layer is more or less for sponsors,” John Schneider, impact racing, said. “The more layers you have the more protection you’ll have.” The suit debuted at the Indianapolis 500 in the late 1960’s and expanded to other series including drag racing and NASCAR.
It was not until 1952 when NASCAR required teams to have a roll bar in a car to prevent the roof from caving in in the event of a crash. Eventually, teams started to build roll cages in the cars. In 1960, John Holman and Ralph Moody, Ford Motor Company, designed roll cages then added bodywork around the complete frame, which remains the same today. During the years, additional bars were added to make the roll cages safer. NASCAR officials require each chassis to be certified for competition and in the event of an accident, it must be re-certified before getting the go-ahead to be used again.
During the many years NASCAR has been around, safety of the driver and the crew has been a very big deal in racing. The HANS Device, Roof Flaps, Fuel Cells, Firesuits, and Roll Cages change the lives of the drivers and crew members for the better. Without these safety devices, many of the current well-known drivers would not be here today, many of them have had crashes that were very serious in nature. Safety devices like these keep the well being of everyone safer then they did when NASCAR first started out.