Motor Racing has always been a dangerous sport, it will continue to be, it is part of the attraction. Pushing a machine to its limits against others has been done for centuries and Henry Ford is quoted as saying that motor racing was invented 5 minutes after the second car rolled off the production line. However, over recent years as it has got faster and faster, it has also got safer. One of those safety developments was the HANS (Head and Neck Support Device)
A HANS device is a head and neck support system designed to reduce the effects of violent collisions. It connects to the driver’s helmet and in a crash mitigates the forward momentum of the head keeping it in line with the rest of the torso. This reduces the chances of basilar skull fractures which are often fatal.
As cars have gotten faster the consequences of accidents and crashes have become more serious. The HANS device was created to help reduce the impact of, well, these impacts. We look at this in more detail below.Embed from Getty Images
What Is The HANS Device?
The HANS Device stands for the Head and Neck Support Device, and it is used in many modern motorsport series. It is made of carbon fibre, and it acts as a collar that sits around a driver’s neck and between their shoulders.
It is connected to the driver’s helmet using mounting points and flexible tethers, and it is also attached to the seatbelt. It is a type of frontal head restraint. It was the result of over 30 years of development, some of which were funded by the FIA, who are the biggest auto racing governing body.
To date, over 150,000 HANS Devices have been sold to racers worldwide, and they have prevented many serious head and neck injuries due to the fact that it is designed to limit the forward motion of a driver’s head during a crash.
It also aids in the reduction of stress and tension on the neck during impacts, as it transfers the tension away from the neck which is a very fragile area. It keeps a driver’s head level with their spine, and in doing so this helps to prevent the hyperextension of the neck, which can cause severe and even fatal injuries.
It also ensures that the driver’s head, neck and thorax move as a unit, which helps to prevent whiplash. It took a long time to develop, but it is now a very efficient device that is trusted by the world’s top sanctioning bodies and drivers.
Why Does NASCAR Use The HANS Device?
NASCAR brought in the HANS Device to stop the driver’s suffering from basilar skull fractures, which is where a bone is broken in the bottom half of the skull. This can often be fatal, and nine drivers have been killed as a result of a basilar skull fracture during a NASCAR race.
The condition has caused tragedies in NASCAR in the not-too-distant past. The year 2000 saw the tragic passing of two young drivers, both within two months of each other and at the same circuit. Adam Petty was just 19 at the time when he was scheduled to race in the Busch 200 at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway on May the 12th 2000.
During the practice session for the event, his throttle became stuck open, causing him to hit the wall head-on. The teenager was killed instantly due to a basilar skull fracture. Kenny Irwin Jr was 30 when he took part in the practice session for the thatlook.com 300 at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
During the session, his throttle became stuck causing him to hit the wall at the same spot where Petty was killed. Irwin Jr died due to a basilar skull fracture on July the 7th.
Dale Earnhardt was a legendary NASCAR driver who won the Cup Series seven times. He died as a result of a basilar skull fracture that he suffered on the final lap of the 2001 Daytona 500. These two years of tragic deaths caused NASCAR to change the safety rules, and they made the HANS device mandatory just a few months after Earnhardt’s death.
How Does The HANS Device Work?
The HANS Device works like an airbag in a road car, stopping the occupant’s heads from slamming forward. G-force is loaded onto cars when they suffer large forward impacts. The HANS Device helps to combat the effect of this by protecting the vulnerable neck and skull bones by moving the helmet with the rest of the body.
The device can reduce neck tension by 81%, reduce sheer by 72% and reduce the total neck load by 78%. This ensures that the head experiences a maximum force of 62G, which is tolerable for most drivers. Early HANS Devices were heavy and large, but modern versions are made of carbon fibre and weigh just 630 grams.
They now measure in at just 315 x 279 x 165 millimetres. Modern racing seats are moulded to the driver’s proportions, and so the drivers will feel secure within the car. However, their head and neck are not secure without a HANS Device, so neck elongation could occur.
The straps and buckles ensure that this does not happen, making the driver’s vulnerable head and neck area as secure as the rest of their body.
The HANS Device also has a practical benefit for the drivers. Driving at fast speeds through corners where drivers will experience high g-force will mean that the drivers have to train and strengthen their neck muscles to remain comfortable, however, the HANS Device ensures that the driver doesn’t need to try as hard, increasing their ability to concentrate on the driving.
Do Other Motor Sports Use the HANS Device?
The HANS device, or other similar systems, was in use prior to NASCAR adopting it in October 2001, we have the Motorsport and the year adopted in the Table below. it was resisted by some drivers initially but when Ashley Tilling* designed a quick release strap after taking the idea from sailing, THe HANS device became much more driver friendly and accepted.
|Motorsport||Year HANS Became Mandatory|
|National Hot Rod Association (NHRA)||2004|
|CART||1999/2001 (oval) 2001All tracks|
|World Rally Championship2005||2005|
|Australian V8 Supercar||2005|
Should I get a HANS Device?
If you are racing cars then a Head Neck Restraint is something you should consider even if not mandated in the regulations. Although there is some debate in the karting community about head and neck restraints there is almost universal agreement across all other motorsport that HANS type protection if not already mandated is strongly recommended.
HANS themselves highlight the following point.
Although the risk is less if you are racing autocross, short tracks or slow machines on open runways or parking lots accidents can happen. More safety is always the better option. As these systems can be expensive we have some suggestions below on how to mitigate this.
How Much Does a HANS Device Cost
A HANS ( Head and Neck Support) device can cost upwards of a 1000 dollars for adults and 500 dollars for juniors. This is not an insignificant amount of money, however there are ways to spread this cost around.
You can share the cost between a racing club. Some clubs will have helmets, gloves and Neck protection to rent or borrow while you decide if racing, in whatever form, is something you would like to take more seriously.
Drivers will team up to buy one between themselves, HANS are fully aware not all of us have teams and sponsors behind us to cover costs and have actually included the fact that HANS devices can be shared between drivers.
“Provided that you are of similar physical size and shape to your partner, chances are good that you can share a HANS Device. Both of you will need to have HANS anchors installed on your helmets.” – Taken from HANS Device FAQ section.
Who Invented The HANS Device?
The HANS Device was designed by Dr Robert Hubbard, an American scientist and researcher, in 1981. Hubbard, who at the time was a biomechanical engineer at Michigan State University, was the brother-in-law of professional racing driver Jim Downing.
After Downing’s friend, Patrick Jacquemart, passed away due to the head injuries that he sustained in an IMSA crash at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, he consulted with Hubbard and suggest that the pair worked together to develop a safety device.
After five years of developing and testing prototypes, Downing wore a HANS Device at an IMSA race in 1996. At the time the HANS Device was very large and bulky, and so the pair found it hard to get others to use it.
However, in 1988 Paul Newman became the second HANS Device user. Many major companies refused to produce the product, so Hubbard and Downing formed their own company to sell and promote the device, but they failed to sell many due to the impracticality and the cost, which at the time was over $3000.
In 1999 Hubbard and Downing developed the second-generation HANS Device, in collaboration with M-B engineers who had connections to Formula One. The new HANS Device could fit in an F1 car. The following year the device became mandatory in the CART Series.
The device was mandated in NASCAR in 2001. Hubbard and Downing’s company reinvested all of their profits into research and development for over 20 years, until 2001 when they posted their first profit. Hubbard passed away in February 2019.
The NASCAR senior director stated in a tribute that “Hubbard’s contribution to NASCAR safety remains unrivaled.”
Ernest Hemingway once said “There are only three sports, Motor racing, bull fighting, and mountaineering.” The rest are merely games.” In fact we have this in our quotes article here as well. he was talking about the danger involved of course, and the quote remains true today.
Motor Racing is dangerous, and although there is no getting away from that fact, like all things in motor sport it is possible to stay ahead of it.
The HANS device is one of those systems that has saved lives, not just under the bright lights of Daytona and Monza, but every weekend on race tracks up and down the country, when drivers push their cars and their skills to the limit, the HANS device helps protect them when the limits decide push back.