Every so often, something comes along that greatly increases the rate of survival related to stock car racing accidents. The first major improvement was the five point seatbelt, mostly aviation units left over from WWII. Before that, drivers didn't wear belts.

We had the introduction of the firesuit in the 1960s, then the fuel cell replaced the metal fuel containers that always split open and spilled their lethal cargo in a crash. We've seen better designed helmets, shoes, and gloves and better built race cars that help to protect the driver.

The most significant leap in safety technology during the past 20 years has been the development and implementation of the head-and-neck restraint systems. Looking back over the course of time, we find that a great number--maybe most--of drivers who lost their lives in stock car racing accidents died from "brain" injury. I quoted that word because it's a little misleading.

When I heard the term, "brain injury," I always thought it meant the brain was bruised or damaged in some way inside the skull. That may still have occurred, but what really killed many drivers who impacted concrete walls, or other immoveable objects, is a little different. It involved the violent forward motion of the unrestrained head when the car stops suddenly. Up to this point, we've done a good job of restraining the body of the driver with wraparound seats and five- and six-point belts, but what about the head?

I grew up in Daytona, a lucky coincidence, and used to regularly visit the big track. Aided by my father being a local telephone worker, he could always get the highest level passes for whatever was going on out at the track. One day around 1965 I heard some more experienced NASCAR drivers talking to a few rookies about what to do in the event of a crash. The speeds there were approaching 180 mph and these cars were very similar to glorified strictly stock classers that now run at the local half-mile track.

The older drivers told the rookies that when it was imminent that you were going to go head first into the wall, you should move forward into the belts and tuck your head down against the steering wheel. The point was, you're going to go forward anyway and it's best to be tight against the belt rather than fly forward and strike the belt.

The head, inside the helmet, being put against the steering wheel created a restraint whereby the wheel absorbed the impact and restrained the head, much like the current breed of head-and-neck restraints. That, my friends, is why many stock car drivers going 180 mph, and upwards of 210 mph later on, survived high-impact crashes at Daytona. We can do much better now.

One of the things that I really like about my job is that I get to inform racers about how to better enjoy this sport, and more so, how to survive it. Read on and take this information to heart. It's probably the most important thing you can learn in your entire career.

Some Crash Facts We've previously researched the leading suppliers of head-and-neck restraints and also the SFI Foundation to nail down the specifics of head and neck injury dynamics. We wanted to know where the threshold lies between survivability and injury in relation to speed versus impact. Here's what we found.

The SFI certifies safety equipment for racing. The following was copied from its website: "The SFI Foundation Inc. (SFI) is a non-profit organization established to issue and administer standards for specialty and performance automotive and racing equipment." Many top sanctioning bodies require SFI certification for driver suits, helmets, and more, including head-and-neck restraints.