IRNLS Keeps Hands Off HANS

With the deaths of Adam Petty, Kenny Irwin and Tony Roper in NASCAR and Greg Moore in CART last season, there has been an uproar concerning driver safety in major auto racing series.

Everything from soft walls to lower horsepower has been suggested as the solution.

Although not the final answer, the Head and Neck Support device, or HANS, is a good place to start.

Designed by a biomechanical engineer, the device is intended to reduce extreme head motions and neck loads that injure drivers during high-impact accidents. The yoke-collar is affixed to the driver's chest by a shoulder harness, while tethers from the collar to the helmet provide support for the head and neck.

In August CART officials decided to make the HANS device mandatory for drivers at all of their oval races. The all-oval IRNLS, however, has not made such a move.

Brian Barnhart, IRNLS vice president of operations, needs more information on the device before mandating it, if at all.

"We’re not comfortable at this point in time mandating it yet," Barnhart said. "It’s just something right now that we’re encouraging our drivers to take a good, hard look at. We’re encouraging them to get as much information on it as there is out there and actually leaving it up to them as whether they want to use it or not.

"We don’t feel there is quite enough information on the big picture to mandate it and make it a requirement; however, we do encourage our driver to find out what they can about it and encourage them to use it."

At least two drivers have started using the HANS device.

Eddie Cheever Jr. and Sarah Fisher used the safety equipment at the IRNLS season finale at Texas Motor Speedway, one of the fastest tracks on the circuit.

Fisher doesn’t mind wearing the device.

"I have no idea that the HANS device is even on when I'm out on the track," Fisher said at the time. "The device is very comfortable, and it even helps sink the driver further down into the cockpit of the car, so it feels like there is a more uniform pressure across my shoulders."

"This is yet another positive step forward in driver safety," said Derrick Walker, Walker Racing owner. "Both on and off the track, the safety developments in racing never stop."

Barnhart didn’t rule out the chance that the IRNLS might eventually make the HANS device a requirement.

"Well, we’re constantly examining all aspects of safety," he said. "The HANS device is a subject that we constantly are updating ourselves on."

As for safety in general, Barnhart sees no significant problems in the IRNLS.

"Obviously we’re never totally satisfied, as I think safety is an ever-evolving issue, but I would say we have made enormous strides and are extremely satisfied with a lot of the changes we made mandatory on our manufacturers for the chassis this year," Barnhart said, citing a wider cockpit with more padding as a big improvement. "The general impression for the 2000 season, I was extremely pleased."

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