Every race fan loves to see photos posted on their favorite team’s profiles, from Danika Patrick to Scott Tucker to Sebastian Vettel. Doctors and other medical professionals have a different reaction to this dangerous sport. While there is some truth to the adage that some fans go to the races in hopes of witnessing an accident, the vast majority admire racers ability to handle these state of the art vehicles while racing against tough competitors. While there will likely always be accidents — and possibly even deaths — the race industry continues to take steps to make it safer for drivers to compete at higher and higher speeds.
The development of the Head And Neck Support (HANS) device in the late 20th century was a major breakthrough for the sport. By bracing the helmet and diverting the flow of energy to the driver’s torso and chest, the device provides additional protection for the head and neck during a crash. It keeps the head from whipping forward during a crash without adding undue stress to the neck. This greatly reduces neck injuries like whiplash.
Suits & Seats
Fire retardant racing suits, gloves and shoes that protect drivers during a fire seem like a no-brainer (and most racers also wear fire retardant underwear). What most people don’t know is that the seats within the cars are designed for safety. Most racing seats actually wrap around the driver’s rib cage and even the shoulders. These support the driver by spreading the g-forces of high speeds around more of the body, instead of concentrating it in small areas. In addition, the carbon fiber construction absorbs far more impact energy in a crash than earlier seat designs. Lastly, each seat includes an elaborate harness system of 5 or 6 points that secures the driver at the shoulders, waist, and legs.
Race car design varies depending on the style of racing and type of car. However, most race cars have window nets and roll cages to protect drivers during a crash. They may also have roof flaps, special glass and additional steel support for the driver’s door. Future cars may have more head room to decrease head impact and smaller fuel cells to reduce the chance of fire.
Many race tracks around the world have installed safety barriers to help reduce crashes. The SAFER barrier was designed to replace concrete walls and they absorb the energy of a crash significantly better than their predecessors. Speedways also enforce strict pit stop safety precautions to protect both the drivers and the pit crew from accidents.
Safety will continue to be a priority for racers, leagues, and car designers as long as the sport exists. New designs for suits and helmets are being developed with input from medical professionals as well as the drivers themselves. Cutting edge race teams like Scott Tucker’s Level 5 team keep an eye on protecting their racers, not just thrilling their fans.
Hans device demo