HANS Device Integral Element Of GM Racing Safety Program
INDIANAPOLIS, Aug. 17, 2004 - It's an essential safety mechanism that has become more and more visible on the shoulders of an increasing number of NHRA professional drivers, and a valuable piece of equipment guarded the same way an all-star second baseman might protect his prized ball glove. But for the competitors that have experienced the benefits of using the HANS (Head And Neck Support) Device, it has become a fundamental, highly accepted security instrument they will never again race without.
"You wouldn't race without a helmet would you," asked two-time NHRA Pro Stock champion Jim Yates? "Since I started wearing the HANS I don't think I'd ever drive again without it. When you realize just how secure you are with your head and neck, the HANS gives you a tremendous level of comfort in the car. Once you watch the videos that GM Racing has produced, and see what kind of damage you can do to yourself in just a 50 - 60 mph crash, and then consider we're driving these cars at over 205 mph it should be mandatory to wear a HANS. I almost feel unsafe driving my street car anymore because I feel so safe in my Pontiac Grand Am Pro Stock Car wearing the HANS Device."
The Racing Safety Program has been a key element in GM Racing's research and development program since its inception in June 1992. In the past 12 years, the safety program has expanded from its initial focus on Indy Cars to encompass stock car racing, drag racing, sports car racing and off-road racing.
GM Racing engineer Tom Gideon manages the GM Racing Safety Program. Gideon worked previously on production-car safety, including early air-bag technology, before he joined GM Racing in 1992.
"Safety is our No. 1 concern at GM Racing," said Gideon. "We're looking at driver safety, we're looking at car safety and we have an eye on spectator safety as well to the point that we can. We're making large strides now. I think we're moving in the right direction and we've accomplished a lot in the past couple of years, but it's a never-ending process and we intend to lead by example."
Gideon and the GM Racing Safety Program have conducted safety seminars for all competitors regardless of their manufacturer affiliation at NHRA POWERade and NHRA Sport Compact events. GM Racing has also made a concerted effort to convince more drivers to wear the HANS Device in NHRA Drag Racing competition, and during this year's 50th annual Mac Tools U.S. Nationals, Gideon and his associates will be visiting with teams to answer questions about the HANS, and other related issues to help further promote safety in the sport.
"The HANS Device prevents the whipping motion of the head, and then prevents the centrifugal force in the neck," explained Gideon. "As you go forward, and then suddenly stop the body, the head and the helmet continue in an arc. The only thing that will restrain that mass is your neck. When the centrifugal force gets up to 900 pounds, you're in an area of fatal injury. The HANS keeps the head from starting on that arc and it keeps the head moving with the shoulders.
"On NHRA cars, drivers benefit from the HANS in other ways as well. On a typical safe, normal run when the drivers deploy the parachutes at the finish line, you get a big G-pulse that jerks your head forward. The HANS tends to soften the blow to the point where the guys don't really feel it."
Since he began wearing the HANS at the end of 1998, Skoal Racing Chevy Monte Carlo Funny Car driver Ron Capps has cut down on the number of visits he has made to the chiropractor. Capps was one of the first NHRA drivers to start using the HANS and the beneficial results have been a blessing for his neck and back.
"You just can't imagine the kind of strain that reverse Gs put on your body when you pull the parachutes at 320 mph," said Capps. "The first time I wore the HANS, the first run I made with it was only 303 mph, and when I pulled the chutes, I instantly heard and felt the tethers bottom out. That told me that if they were bottoming out like that, that is how far my neck and back were stretching before I started wearing the HANS. Any driver in a Funny Car or Top Fuel Car that wears it now, the first time you wear it, and you hear that thing bottom out, that's quite an eye opener. I've only been back to the chiropractor once in the last four years when before I would go after every race. The HANS has been unbelievable in saving my body on just normal wear and tear."
Capps also appreciates the enlarged roof-hatch escape in the new Chevy Monte Carlo Funny Car that GM Racing engineers purposely incorporated to compensate for the increasing number of drivers wearing the HANS. The new driver roof-hatch opening on the 2004 Chevy Monte Carlo Funny Car measures 399 square inches and it exceeds the NHRA minimum requirement of 306 square inches by just over 30 percent.
"When I first started wearing the HANS we were in the Camaro body, and it was a little bit harder getting out with the helmet and the HANS," explained Capps. "But to be honest, we went to the Monte Carlo this year with Chevrolet and they made a lot of things different, including the roof hatch which they made quite a bit bigger. When I talk to some of the larger guys who run the Monte Carlo, it's now a lot easier for them to get out of the car. I'm a smaller guy so it's a piece of cake for me - I pop right out. The GM Racing engineers were definitely thinking ahead when they installed the larger roof hatch."
After wearing the HANS Device now for three race seasons, Speedco Pontiac Grand Am driver and Pro Stock veteran Bruce Allen looks at it as just another indispensable piece of safety equipment, no more difficult to wear or different than putting on a helmet, fire suit, gloves, and safety and shoulder belts.
"My belief is that if you're interested in your own safety, you should take every precaution that you can," said Allen. "All of the documentation proves how effective the HANS is. There haven't been any neck and spinal injuries in (Nextel) Cup cars since the drivers have been wearing it, and there's no reason in a Pro Stock car, when you're only in there for a little bit of time, that you can't get comfortable. When you put it on for the first time, it's a little more restrictive on how you move your head from side to side, but once you get used to that, it actually feels good and makes you feel more secure. After you've worn it for any length of time at all, you don't even realize you have it on.
"Wearing a HANS is like putting your belts and your helmet on. When I get in the car, I have a lot on my mind. I start strapping on my belts, get all buckled in, put the helmet on, hook up the HANS device, put the gloves on - now I'm ready! I guess the neck collars were better than nothing, but as soon as I saw the documentation which showed how ineffective they were moving left to right or at a 45-degree angle, you don't need a neck collar, you need a HANS Device."
Checker Schuck's Kragen Chevrolet Funny Car driver Del Worsham is an advocate of the HANS Device and has been wearing it since the beginning of the 2002 race season. With the relief in back and neck pain he's experienced from using the HANS, and the comprehensive safety features it provides, Worsham asks his fellow competitors to at least give it a try.
"Besides from the obvious safety aspects of using it , all of the neck and back pain I experienced after a race are gone," said Worsham. "Especially at the end of 2001. At the end of NHRA Finals weekend, I made eight runs, and after the final round at Pomona, my back and neck were in so much pain that the crew had to help me get in the car, get in the tow vehicle and go to winner's circle. That night I hardly slept, so at the beginning of 2002, I started wearing the HANS, and knock on wood, I haven't had the neck and back problems since.
"When you first put it on, it's a little uncomfortable because you've only been used to wearing the doughnut around your neck. After a run or two, as soon as the car fires up, you don't even realize it's on. When the parachutes activate, you definitely know it's on because you can hear the tethers on the HANS catch the helmet and keep your neck from going forward. Definitely give it a shot. Put it on first and see how you feel with it. I wouldn't eliminate it, or not wear it without at least giving it a try. If it doesn't work then do a few things to make it fit your car. I've kind of formed my seat around it - built a little pocket in the back of my seat. Do some things to make yourself comfortable and you'll definitely be happy with it." Capps' views on using the HANS parallel those of Worsham's, and he sees no reason why any driver would ever want to race without it.
"People call me all the time and I forward them either to Tom Gideon at GM or to the HANS manufacturers," said Capps. "I preach like you wouldn't believe about the HANS for the simple reason that I believe it will save your life, it will save your body and it's plain stupid for a driver not to wear it. It doesn't get in the way, it doesn't hurt anything, and if the driver knew how much the HANS Device saved his neck and back, they would all be wearing it. After you wear it, you'll feel a lot more secure in the car and a lot better with it."
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