For your use, we have compiled information that will save your, or someone you knows, life. What we present here must be read and understood by anyone who races or helps anybody who races. Along with the information, we provide a product guide showing and explaining the various types of head and neck restraints that are on the market today.
While everyone who drives a race car is at risk of injury to the head and neck, we have found that drivers who are younger are more at risk than a fully developed adult. Jim Downing, the co-inventor of the Hans device, tells us recently, “There’s no question kids’ neck muscles are not fully developed until their mid-teens.”
Trevor Ashline, inventor of the Hybrid series of head and neck restraints also stated that “I’ve said for years after conversing with doctors that children’s bone structure, tendons, muscles, and so on are not fully developed and not as strong as an adult.”
The neck muscles and connecting tissue are what attach the head to the body. They are stressed in a frontal impact when the body is restrained, as when seatbelts are in use, and the head continues to move forward unimpeded. This often results in serious injury to the driver and in too many cases, death.
I spoke with Gary Milgrom, the vice-president of Hans, and he said that the company that owns the Hans device, Simpson, is and has always been, deeply involved in all aspects of driver safety. He explained to me that the younger drivers need the H&N restraints as much or more than older drivers.
The company believes that every driver needs all of the basic systems that are proven to protect the driver including driver suits, containment seats, restraint systems such as seatbelts, netting, and so on, racing helmets and a strong rollcage. The one important item that completes that package is the H&N restraint.
Make no mistake, we’ve come a long way since the Hans first hit the market in the early ’90s. Most will agree that the real turning point came when we lost Dale, Sr. That single event, in retrospect, probably saved tens or maybe hundreds of lives by demonstrating what can happen. The reason is because not only NASCAR, but other sanctions have since required the drivers to wear H&N equipment. But we’re not all the way there just yet.
Getting back to the younger drivers, all of you parents and guardians out there who support children who race need to have some important knowledge. That is, the human child who is less than eighteen years old is not fully developed in most cases. The muscles and connective tissues have not strengthened or developed to the point where adults are physically.
So, we who are observers in racing, and the medical community, have concluded that younger drivers are more at risk of injury from trauma, including basilar skull fracture, than the average adult. That is why we are pushing for rules that will require all drivers under the age of eighteen to utilize all of the proper safety equipment or not be allowed to drive a race car.
East Bay Raceway Park recently amended their rules package to include a requirement that says, “All drivers ages 14-17 will be required to have an SFI-38.1 approved head and neck restraint system in place and fully operational at all times that they are on the racing surface at East Bay Raceway Park.” It goes on to say this is mandatory for all racers under the age of 18.
Jim Downing published a paper in December of 2012 that was alarming. He states that the Charlotte Observer did a study on motor racing deaths in the U.S. in the ten years before “Dale” and the ten years after that event. Pre-Dale deaths on small ovals and drag strips numbered 99 driver deaths and post-Dale, there were 126 deaths. The increase in fatalities tells us that things are not getting any better.
Studies and tests have concluded that a 42 mph sudden decrease in forward velocity is enough to cause a fatal head and neck injury. We have physical confirmation of that here in Florida, where I live. Two teenagers recently died from frontal impacts with walls going, according to witnesses, less than 50 mph. It’s beyond unfortunate, it is tragic.
We are well past the point of wondering if the use of the H&N is worth it or if it does any good. It is imperative that it be used and a small price to pay. Just think of the alternative. At the very least, there is loss of income and hospital expenses from non-life threatening injuries that result in torn neck muscles and damaged arteries. At the other end, there are funeral expenses, loss of a loved one, and always the question, “What could I have done to prevent this.” Well, this article and the information contained herein is your answer.
The other very interesting aspect of the use of a H&N restraint is one of everyday benefits, not just with catastrophic events. Trevor Ashline, who has been another key player in the H&N industry over the past ten years and more relayed a story about how a youngster was over-heard telling his friend that since he started wearing his H&N device, on Mondays at school his neck wasn’t sore anymore.
Evidently, in Quarter midget racing where it is common to run into the back of other cars many times, it was making his neck sore, so some damage was being done. When he wore his H&N, that soreness went away as did the damage.
Trevor also told me that drag racer John Force noticed when he started wearing a H&N device years ago that his neck stopped being sore. The high deceleration forces from the drag chute and braking at the end of the runs put a lot of stress on his neck and all of that went away after wearing the device. So, he ended up loving it.
The manufacturers of the H&N devices are now catering to the smaller drivers by designing and offering youth equipment. They are adapting to what we know is needed in this sport. There are even youth helmets available from a few companies and soon all helmet manufacturers will need to offer these smaller and lighter units.
When your kid outgrows their equipment, I’m sure there will be another upcoming youngster who will be glad to buy your smaller H&N and helmet so you can use that money to buy larger equipment for that growing driver. You never want to buy something that your kid will “grow into”. It’s not pants or shirts we’re talking about, these items must fit well in order to do the job they are designed to do.
The happy news is this. If you do what you know you need to do, and you know what that is if you’ve read this far, then everyone will be safer and your family will enjoy motor racing and all that goes into that. You will have every expectation of returning home after a night of hard racing to tell stories and look back at all of that enjoyment, as long as you prepare properly. And that is why we make this effort. Now you need to do your part.
The following are all of the known head and neck restraint models that are available as of this writing. We hope advances will continue in this market and more and less expensive products become available. With increases in volume in the market place, the prices usually do come down.