The HANS device—or Head and Neck Support device—has revolutionized motorsport safety since it was first designed in the 1980s. This one simple piece of equipment has managed to reduce concussions and basilar skull fractures, which can be fatal, in the event of an accident in a race car. And now CRASH! by Jonathan Ingram, a book dedicated to parsing out safety in auto racing, has been selected for inclusion in the Library at the Smithsonian’s Museum of American History, according to Jim Donnelly, RacingNation, and ClassicCars.
After IMSA racer Jim Downing lost a close friend of his to a basilar skull fracture sustained in a crash, he knew motorsport needed to change. So, he teamed up with his brother-in-law, the late Dr. Robert Hubbard, to come up with a solution.
They developed the HANS device, which is essentially a raised collar the driver wears around his neck. The collar features straps that attach to the driver’s helmet. So, when that driver makes contact with something, the HANS device prevents their head from jerking forward and wreaking havoc on the brain.
It took a hell of a long time for most forms of motorsport to come around to the idea of the HANS device, though. It started out as a personal choice, something that drivers could opt into purchasing and wearing. In an interview with Alanis King, Downing confirmed that they only sold 250 HANS devices in the first ten years of its existence.
It wasn’t until Dale Earnhardt Sr.’s fatal crash at the 2001 Daytona 500 that the racing world realized it needed a change. Since then, HANS devices have been made mandatory in pretty much every major racing series around the world.
CRASH!, published in 2019, talks about both the science and research that went into the development of the HANS device as well as the political complexities that inevitably arose with its adoption. It’s a great read about one of the most important driver safety devices ever introduced into motorsport. That it’s been recognized for inclusion into the library of the Smithsonian Museum of American History is a huge deal.
It may be part of the Smithsonian’s inclusion of the HANS device, which was announced as starting in 2021 after Dr. Hubbard’s death.