INDIANAPOLIS, Friday, May 18, 2001 - The 35th annual Louis Schwitzer Award was awarded May 18 to Dr. Robert Hubbard and James Downing, inventors of the HANS® Device. The safety device is designed to reduce the occurrence of basilar skull fractures experienced by racing drivers during high-speed crashes.
"The recognition of the Louis Schwitzer Award is very poignant and positive for Jim and me," Hubbard said. "It's hard for me to explain the joy I feel ... we know we're really helping drivers be safe."
The HANS Device was invented by Hubbard, biomechanics professor at the College of Engineering at Michigan State University, in collaboration with his brother-in-law, longtime IMSA sports car driver Downing. When no motorsports safety equipment manufacturers were interested in the product, Hubbard and Downing formed Hubbard/Downing Inc. to manufacture and distribute the HANS Device. Hubbard holds U.S. and foreign patents for the HANS Device.
Hubbard and Downing received $5,000 from BorgWarner during a press conference at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and their names will be added to the permanent trophy in the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Hall of Fame Museum.
The safety device consists of a yoke that fits around the driver's shoulders and is held tightly to the chest by the vehicle shoulder harness. Extending from up the yoke behind the driver's head is a collar, and tethers attach the collar to either side of the driver's helmet. The HANS Device limits the movement of the head relative to the torso during an impact, significantly reducing the loads on the neck and the base of the skull and reducing the accelerations of the head.
No driver wearing a HANS Device has suffered a severe head or neck injury in a racing accident, Hubbard said. "The concept is simple, just to keep the head on top of the shoulders," Hubbard said. "I can't see any reason why every driver who races cars and boats with a shoulder harness shouldn't be wearing one of these things. I think that day will come some day."
Approximately 600 drivers are using the HANS Device worldwide in many different classes of racing cars and boats, including drivers participating in the 85th Indianapolis 500. Orders for the device have skyrocketed this year, especially since the death of seven-time NASCAR Winston Cup champion Dale Earnhardt in the Daytona 500 in February, Hubbard said. Last year, Hubbard/Downing Inc. took 250 orders for the device while the company already is approaching 1,000 orders this year, Hubbard said.
"Probably our best salesmen are other drivers," Hubbard said. "Jim Downing is back in Atlanta (today), building HANS Devices." Fit and comfort issues remain with some drivers, Hubbard said. But he indicated that the company is working to solve those problems. "We have to make these devices acceptable to drivers," Hubbard said. "That's where I can help. A lot of drivers, once they're comfortable with it, they feel better with it than without it. It holds them up better in the car. "I encourage the drivers not to be apologetic. I want them to hit me with their best shot. There hasn't been anything (so far) that I haven't heard before. These problems are solvable problems."
The Louis Schwitzer Award, named after the dynamic automotive pioneer, has been presented annually in conjunction with the Indianapolis 500-Mile Race since 1967. It recognizes those individuals with the courage and conviction to explore and develop new concepts in auto racing technology.
The award recipient is selected by a committee of seven members of the Society of Automotive Engineers, Indiana Section, and two representatives from the Indy Racing League technical department. Past award recipients include Colin Chapman, Bruce McLaren, Dan Gurney, Smokey Yunick, A.J. Foyt, Robin Herd, Mario Illien and Nigel Bennett. Last year's award was presented to Paul Burgess for his design of the G Force GF05 chassis that Juan Montoya later drove to victory in the 2000 Indianapolis 500. BorgWarner, sponsor of the Borg-Warner Trophy, presents the award. BorgWarner enjoys a long-standing tradition of engineering excellence and product leadership, and the company sponsors this award to highlight its appreciation of superior design and implementation.