HomeNews and EventsLifesaver: HANS Device showcased at racing’s hall of fame

Lifesaver: HANS Device showcased at racing’s hall of fame

Our weekly roundup of car museum news and notes


Sebastien Bourdais wears a HANS Device

The newest exhibit at the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America in Daytona Beach, Florida, isn’t a car or other racing vehicle. But it features something even more crucial to a driver’s long-term career: the original head-and-neck support device, the very first HANS Device worn by racer Jim Downing in an IMSA race in 1986 at the Daytona International Speedway.

The device was created by Downing’s late brother-in-law, Robert Hubbard, a professor of bio-mechanical engineering at Michigan State University, after Downing pointed out the need for a way to prevent the basal skull fractures that were killing drivers.

With increased speeds and, ironically, with improved restraints, the fractures were occurring when a driverss body was held in place but the head was not, resulting too often in a fatal head whip. It was such an injury that resulted in the death of NASCAR star Dale Earnhardt Sr. in 2001s.

Still, it took a decade for the device to be accepted to the point of now being mandatory in many racing series. The exhibit celebrates the 20th anniversary of the device being mandated for use in NASCAR and IndyCar. 

The exhibit was curated by Stephen Olvey, a Miami hospital physician and long-time medical director for Indy racing, and Jonathan Ingram, author of Crash! From Senna to Earnhardt — How the HANS Helped Save Racing.  

“Now nearly every serious racing driver wears a HANS device and nearly all professional series have made it mandatory,” Olvey is quoted in the museum’s announcement. “The risk of basilar skull fracture has now essentially disappeared.“

The museum notes that when NASCAR racer Jeff Gordon was introduced to Hubbard in 2008, the racer said, “I want to thank you for saving my life twice.”

Gordon hit the wall at Charlotte Motor Speedway just three months after Earnhardt’s fatal crash at Daytona.  Earlier in 2008, Gordon hit the wall at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, a crash that propelled the radiator from his car more than 100 yards up the track, but Gordon walked away from the wreckage.

And it wasn’t just auto racers who benefited from the device. Boat racer Andy Anderson started wearing a HANS after fellow racer Christopher “Red” Hindman died in a crash. In 1991, Anderson became the first racer to credit the HANS with saving his life after a race-boat crash. 

The ‘Cinderella Collar’

The HANS Device has been modified and made smaller through the years. The first one was made of fiberglass and finished in white gelcoat and was dubbed the “Cinderella Collar.” A later version was called the “Elvis Collar.”

“It was a long struggle to gain acceptance for our head restraint,” Downing is quoted. “But thanks to Bob Hubbard’s experience with safety testing for General Motors in the 1960s and his sled testing that proved a HANS would work without causing any unintended consequences, we finally succeeded. It was unfortunate how many drivers were lost to head or neck injuries in the time it took for a head restraint to gain acceptance.”

Noted Hall of Fame president George Levy, “Few devices in the history of sport have contributed as much to saving lives.”

The HANS display is part of a larger exhibit of motorsports safety equipment, including a Nomex fire suit that racer Bill Simpson wore when he set himself on fire at Indianapolis to show the suit’s effectiveness.

Pedal cars and go-karts

“Pedal Cars and Go-karts” is the newest exhibit at the AACA Museum in Hershey, Pennsylvania. The museum notes that since the 1890s, children-sized vehicles have been popular, from scoot-along toys to pedal cars and go-karts.

Supercars displayed at Audrain

Is the Tesla Model S Plaid a true supercar?

“What’s the Super in Supercars?” is the new exhibit at the Audrain Automobile Museum in Newport, Rhode Island, where the 16 so-called supercars will be displayed from February 19 through May 29.

“Since the first widespread use of the term “supercar,” referencing the Lamborghini Miura in 1966, manufacturers have continued to challenge performance limits in their road cars,” the museum reports. “The Ferrari F40 and Porsche 959 represented two wildly divergent solutions of significant progression in the 1980’s, bringing turbocharger technology to the forefront. Many consider the 1995 McLaren F1 the greatest street car of all time. Many important cars have followed in the 27 years since, most recently the 1000 horsepower all electric Tesla Model S Plaid.”

By the way, one of the “supercars” on display is a motorcycle.

Seal Cove has new executive director

The penbaypilot.com website reports that the Seal Cove Auto Museum in Maine has hired Ethan Yankura as its new executive director. Yankura had been executive director of the General Henry Knox Museum but previously was education and curator during two decades at the Owls Head Transportation Museum, which like Seal Cove is in Maine.

Special events this weekend

Lord Montagu will share the history of his local Totton to Fawley railway in a special presentation February 19 at the National Motor Museum in Beaulieu, England. The presentation, which also will feature filmmaker Nick Lera, launches the museum’s spring lecture series.

Formula 1 racing with a family focus will be featured during the “half-term” school break at the British Motor Museum in Gaydon, UK, February 19-27. Featured will be arrival at the museum of the V16 BRM Type 15 chassis IV from the early 1950s.

Jay Follis, museum curator and Tucker expert, will present “Uncovering the Mystery of the 1948 Tucker Legend” as part of the 2022 lecture series at the Gilmore Car Museum in Hickory Corners, Michigan, at 3 p.m. February 20.

Mark your calendar

The Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles and the Ferrari Club of America stages the Enzo Ferrari Cruise-In from 8 a.m. to 11 a.m. on February 27.

The Blackhawk Museum in Danville, California, opens its car show season February 27 with the Loma Prieta Region of the Porsche Club of America. Upcoming events are May 1, NCCA 40th annual all-Corvette show; June 4, Alfa Romeo car club; June 19, Fathers Day show; August 7, NCCA Vette Magic 46 show; September 10, East Bay Street Dreams show.

“Driving After Sundown,” an exhibit sharing the history of automotive lighting, officially opens March 1 at the AACA Museum in Hershey, Pennsylvania.

One of the hidden gems among car museums, the Martin Museum in Phoenix, opens in its new location on March 5 with a car show. The museum’s new and much larger location is at the corner of 43rd Avenue and Thunderbird on the west side of Phoenix.

It’s “Free Museum Weekend” March 5-6 at the California Automobile Museum in Sacramento, with admission free to those who pre-register.

Third Thursday presentation at 7 p.m. March 17 at the Canadian Automotive Museum in Oshawa, Ontario, is by Dale Johnson on “General Motors Canada and the Star Blanket Cree Nation.”

John Oates and Guthrie Trapp perform March 26 in a concert in Newport, Rhode Island, to benefit the Audrain Automobile Museum. 

“Drive-In Theaters: An American Institution” is the subject of a presentation March 26 at 11 a.m. at the AACA Museum in Hershey, Pennsylvania. The program will be presented by Jeffrey Bliemeister, the museum’s executive director, and Tim Neal, manager of the Sky Vu Drive-In, which has been operating since 1948 in Gratz, Pennsylvania. The program will be presented live at the museum’s drive-in theater and via Zoom.

The Mustang Owners Museum in Concord, North Carolina, launches its car-show calendar on March 27 with a “Fords on Sunday” event.

National Mustang Day will be celebrated April 15-16 at the Mustang Owner’s Museum in Concord, North Carolina, with the opening of the museum’s newly expanded exhibit area and a driving cruise, car show, seminars and a Shelby panel presentation and more.

The spring lecture series at the National Motor Museum in Beaulieu, England, continues April 23 with Alan Chandler discussing petroliana collecting.

The LeMay Collection at Marymount in Tacoma, Washington, will offer Driver’s Ed: Model T Experience events May 14, June 11, July 9, August 14 and September 11.

A second wave of vehicles arrives September 22, 2022, and run through May 14, 2023, in “The Allure of the Extreme” supercar showcase at the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles.

The AACA Museum in Hershey, Pennsylvania, opens three new exhibits on May 21 — Orphan Cars, ATVs, and AMCs.

The Revs Institute in Naples, Florida, hosts a combined meeting of the World Forum for Motor Museums and the National Association of Automobile Museums from November 9-12.

Does your local car museum have special events or exhibitions planned? Let us know. Email [email protected]

Larry Edsall
Larry Edsall
A former daily newspaper sports editor, Larry Edsall spent a dozen years as an editor at AutoWeek magazine before making the transition to writing for the web and becoming the author of more than 15 automotive books. In addition to being founding editor at ClassicCars.com, Larry has written for The New York Times and The Detroit News and was an adjunct honors professor at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University.


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