Like many motorsport safety devices, the HANS Device was developed out of tragedy.
In 1981, driver Patrick Jacquemart collided head-on into a dirt bank during a test drive. The bones at the base of his skull broke, severely damaging the brain. Jacquemart passed away.
According to an article by Don Sherman on Car and Driver, this tragic racing accident prompted Jacquemart's fellow driver Jim Downing and Downing's brother-in-law Dr. Bob Hubbard to develop what would become the HANS Device, to prevent similar head and neck injuries.
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According to the article by Sherman, the HANS (Head and Neck Support) device works by anchoring a driver's helmet to a tall, stiff collar. That way, during an impact, the driver's head and neck move in tandem with their torso instead of whipping forward.
The HANS Device catches on
Jim Downing and Paul Newman were some of the first drivers to use the HANS Device in 1986 and 1988, and according to Pegasus Auto Racing, the device out-performed air bags by the end of the 1990s.
However, one major racing name did not like the HANS Device. Dale Earnhart hated it, reportedly referring to it as "that **** noose."
He felt like it restricted his movement within the race car.
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Many wondered whether a HANS Device would have saved Earnhart's life during his fateful 2001 crash at Daytona, but according to the LA Times, the investigation led the officials to conclude that a faulty seat belt was responsible for Earnhardt's death.
Despite its gradual road to common use, most major motorsports require the HANS Device today. Dr. Hubbard was able to see its success before he passed away in 2019.
Although the HANS Device's story began under tragic circumstances, it now prevents tragedy. Many credit the HANS Device with the much safer racing we enjoy today.
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