The story of how a fundamental technical advance saved the lives of racing drivers

Ayrton Senna. Dale Earnhardt. Manfred Winkelhock. Scott Brayton. Adam Petty. Kenny Irwin Jr. All of these racing drivers, and several others, had their lives snuffed out by basilar skull fractures, the result of a vicious whiplash-like impact that accompanied a crash, severing the spinal cord at the base of the skull. For a long time, nobody knew quite what to do about it. Then, road racer Jim Downing and his brother-in-law, Dr. Robert Hubbard, brainstormed a relatively simple combination of carbon fiber and high-tensile fabrics that would immobilize a driver’s neck and skull in a high-g accidents. The HANS device, standing for Head and Neck System, was the restrain system they created, and today is standard driver protection in virtually every form of professional-level motorsports. Along with the SAFER impact-absorbing wall system, it’s the greatest advance in personal driver safety since the invention of the flame-resistant coverall driver’s suit. This is the amazing story of how it came to be.

Auto racing is very big business today, but old traditions, including the one that drivers sometimes die, can be hard to retire. The award-winning motorsports journalist Jonathan Ingram here tells how Downing and Hubbard not only had to invent the HANS, but convince skeptical sanctioning bodies and many drivers (most notably Tony Stewart) of its lifesaving value. In 182 hardcover pages, Ingram traces the commonality of driver deaths that led Downing and Hubbard to their mission, describes the outcome of their investigation, and recounts the development of the HANS, including biomechanical data of the forces acting on drivers in a crash. Beyond any dispute, the creators’ work has saved lives, and won them recognition for engineering advance from Formula 1, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and SAE International, among others. This vital new book retails for $34.95 and can be purchased from Coastal 181 of Newburyport, Massachusetts, which has all kinds of unique titles aimed at racing enthusiasts in their stocklist.

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