Driver fatalities on short ovals and drag strips have been increasing in the U.S. due to the lack of proper safety equipment. That conclusion was presented by HANS Performance Products president Jim Downing at the International Motorsports Industry Show's Safety and Technical Conference on Wednesday in Indianapolis.
“There was a significant increase in deaths at U.S. racetracks in the 10 years after Dale Earnhardt's fatal accident at Daytona – compared to the 10 years before his fatal crash,” said Downing. “This is a fact that escapes most people involved in motor racing, because they mistakenly believe all the safety improvements have trickled down to the weekend warriors. That is not the case.”
Downing's presentation was based on the Charlotte Observer's landmark study of racing deaths in the U.S., undertaken after Earnhardt's fatal crash at Daytona. According to the Observer study titled “Death at the Track,” in the years 1991 to 2001 the total number of driver deaths from crashes was 144. During the 10-year period after Earnhardt's death, the total rose to 171, an alarming increase of 27 driver fatalities due to racing accidents.
The presentation included a sled test demonstration performed at the Center for Advanced Product Evaluation that confirmed a Head and Neck Restraint is needed at lower racing speeds. The first test (ABOVE) demonstrated how a low-speed impact at 42mph can result in a serious or fatal head injury. A subsequent test (BELOW) at the same speed demonstrated the effectiveness of a HANS Adjustable in reducing neck tension and head excursion.
“These tests are important,” said Downing, “because they directly correlate to what's happening at the local short tracks and drag strips. These deaths are occurring with an alarming regularity, but because they are spread over so many different tracks all across the country, the problem hasn't really registered in the racing community.”
The safety needs to improve on short ovals and on drag strips where weekend warriors are participating and where the most deaths are occurring, said Downing. Of the 171 deaths during the years 2001 to 2011, 126 occurred on these types of tracks. SAFER barriers may not be feasible, conceded Downing, but his presentation documented that 34 of the deaths involved the type of head and neck injuries prevented by Head and Neck Restraints.
“When weekend warriors die on short tracks or drag strips, it doesn't get the kind of media coverage that takes place in major series,” said Downing. “But we've identified the same type of head and neck injuries that killed drivers on superspeedways are also killing them at lower speeds on short ovals. On drag strips, drivers are hitting the walls head on. A Head and Neck Restraint can prevent these unnecessary racing deaths.”