Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Would a HANS device have saved Dale Earnhardt in 2001 Daytona wreck?

HANS Performance Products released a question-and-answer transcript on Tuesday with Jim Downing, co-founder of HPP, dealing with a number of safety issues surrounding the death of Dale Earnhardt in a last lap wreck in the 2001 Daytona 500.

Here are some of the most relevant questions.

   Q: If Dale Earnhardt Sr. had been wearing a HANS Device during his crash at Daytona in 2001, would that have prevented a fatal injury?
   Downing: "We have learned over the years at HANS Performance Products that re-constructing accidents is an extremely difficult and complex chore. We rely on the professional experience of others and in this case there were different opinions by experts about the cause of the fatal injuries. With that in mind, I believe that when Dale Earnhardt Sr.’s car hit the wall and the belts from his safety harness were loaded by the impact that a HANS Device would have kept his head back. That likely would have produced a better outcome under the different scenarios that have been proposed by experts. This is what it seems like to me, but we don't really know for sure."

   Q: People may not be aware that the fatal crash of three-time world champion Ayrton Senna in 1994 also influenced the development of the HANS Device. How did that come about?
   “The Senna crash started a really serious re-evaluation of safety in Formula 1 much as what happened later in American racing in 2001. This crash led to cooperation with Daimler Benz to get the HANS Device to fit into an F1 car and more independent testing which also confirmed that it worked. Through that development, we were able to reduce the size of the HANS Device and get a better fit for drivers in all types of cars, including stock cars.

   "The HANS Device would have been recognized as a safety breakthrough without the catalyst of the unfortunate crashes of Senna and Earnhardt Sr. It just would have taken longer. In America, the legacy of Earnhardt Sr. includes not only the HANS Device, but soft walls, better seats and cockpit safety and the ‘Car of Tomorrow.’ Even now when I think of Dale Earnhardt Sr. I think of safety instead of the macho driving style he was known for."

   Q: The high-speed crashes get a lot of attention, but isn't it accurate that low-speed crashes can also cause serious or fatal head and neck injuries?
   “There's a misconception that almost everyone has, that you're safe at 30 or 40 miles per hour. Earnhardt Sr.’s actual change of velocity caused by hitting the wall was 43 or 44 mph. To many observers it looked like a fairly routine wreck and they never expected the outcome. This happens on a regular basis on the street or in racing. A car’s speed may not be very high but if it stops suddenly you can be in real trouble.

   "It’s not how fast you go, but how quickly you stop. Trying to get that message across to short track racers and drag racers has been especially difficult. A short track driver can easily get turned into the wall by another car. If a drag racer has a mechanical problem and turns into the retaining wall, the vehicle can come to a very sudden stop. Both circle track and drag racing are relatively underserved when it comes to frontal head restraints."

The King is ready to move past football

   Richard "The King" Petty is ready for some racing.

   After all the problems the Richard Petty Motorsports organization went through at the end of the 2010 season, you might think Petty would like some time off. Not so, with a more streamlined RPM run by new ownership, Petty is ready to return to the track.

   “For the last three or four months it’s been football, football, football, so now that football is almost over, we’ve got you all out here to carry the ball forward into next season. I think everybody here and everybody I’ve talked to is really looking forward to a new season," Petty said.

   "It’s been a couple of months since we’ve raced and racers want to race all the time, so with your help to get the spectators and the fans and help us please those people, all of our sponsors that have helped us all this time, you do your job and we’ll try to do our job and work together and make all of this a lot bigger operation."

   Petty said the financial problems were a great distraction at the end of 2010 but he looks forward to a fresh start.

   "You’ve got to give our crew a lot of credit the last five or six races because they didn’t know if they were gonna have a job when they came in the next week or not, but they stepped it up – the drivers stepped it up and the whole crew stepped it up and we ended up with a pretty good season," he said.

   "Our sponsors stayed with us all the way through the winter and came back this spring and we’re getting ready for the new season. It was really good to have all of those people say, ‘OK, guys. Stay in there and keep digging and we’re gonna be ready for the next year.’ "