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NASCAR has mandated that the HANS device will be the only head-and-neck restraint device permitted for use for the 2005 season in most of the its series, including Nextel Cup, Busch Series, Craftsman Truck Series and regional touring series. NASCAR no longer approves the Hutchens device conceived by and named after BOBBY HUTCHENS, veteran Modified driver and team manager for Richard Childress Racing.

The HANS device is a safety collar attached/tethered to the helmet, worn around the neck and shoulders outside the driver's suit, designed to reduce the chance of injury caused by unrestrained movement of the head during crashes. The Hutchens device is a system of straps worn over the driver's suit, which tether to the helmet and seat belt.

In October 2001, NASCAR mandated the use of an approved system and the HANS and the Hutchens were the only approved restraints. It took a while before the idea was accepted by the drivers but, as time went on, most drivers switched to the HANS device, with the notable hold-outs being TONY STEWART and the Penske drivers, RYAN NEWMAN and RUSTY WALLACE. Even DALE EARNHARDT Jr started wearing a HANS, although not all the time.

In May 2003, NASCAR joined SFI after previously using the SFI Laboratory independent testing.

Last October, NASCAR, in conjunction with the SFI Foundation, ran performance tests on both the HANS device and the Hutchens system. The Hutchens restraint did not pass the performance standards, apparently having failed two of the three tests. The standards test was the result of almost a year-and-a-half of research and analysis with experts to determine performance specifications for head-and-neck restraints, as part of NASCAR's ongoing safety initiative.

NASCAR's Safety Initiative came about after a series of unfortunate stock car racing accidents - five deaths in 17 months including four NASCAR drivers, three in a five month period. ADAM PETTY died in May 2000, KENNY IRWIN in July 2000, and TONY ROPER in October 2000. Then DALE EARNHARDT died in February 2001 at the Daytona 500. In October of that year, ARCA driver and NASCAR aspirant, BLAISE ALEXANDER died.

SFI recently released a new minimum performance specification for head-and-neck restraint devices for use in motorsports applications, which has been adopted by various sanctioning bodies for use in the 2005 racing season. The process took a year-and-a-half and culminated with a specification committee review meeting Saturday morning of the 2004 Performance Racing Industry trade show. It was one often such meetings that weekend.

ARNIE KUHNS, president of SFI, said "We developed this spec with the help of many industry experts, at the request of our member sanctioning bodies. They needed a test procedure that would define whether a given system was acceptable for the purpose intended."

SFI has listed the manufacturers whose products have successfully passed the test requirements needed for certification. At this time, only the HANS and the LFT Technologies R3 Device are certified.

"It is important to remember that SFI is not like consumer reports and does not compare products against one another; however we can provide a listing of acceptable products to help the public make informed decisions," said Kuhns.

NASCAR is evaluating the R3, which - according to R3 website - comes "from the Engineer that invented the Hutchens Device." That would be TREVOR ASHLINE, who also designed the D Cell restraint.

Most major racing series in the United States now mandate the HANS device with many of them also approving the Hutchens. One notable exception is Indy Racing League, which has recommended, but never required, restraints. However, it is to the credit of IRL director of medical affairs, Dr HENRY BOCK, that, according to Dr TERRY TRAMMEL, Champ Car medical consultant, all IRL drivers wear a restraint.

The HANS device was conceived by IMSA racer, JIM DOWNING, who went to his brother-in-law, Dr ROBERT HUBBARD, an engineering professor at Michigan State University. The two came up with the HANS - Head And Neck System - device in 1985. For a long time, Downing was the only one or part of a very small select group of drivers who wore it. Over the years, it has continually been modified to become safer, smaller, lighter, and easier to adapt and wear. There now are different models for different kinds of racing, including a model now for wee drivers in quarter-midgets and go-karts.

Hubbard has since become an active, visible proponent of motorsports safety and often makes presentations at motorsports safety gatherings such as the upcoming annual Congress in Miami conducted by the International Council of Motorsports Sciences. Last month, he was a presenter and active participant at the Society of Automotive Engineering Motorsports Engineering Conference in Detroit.

"I worked very hard for many years so that HANS would be the best head and neck support that I could conceive," Dr Hubbard said on Tuesday, "I have always believed that every racer who wears a helmet and double shoulder harness would benefit by using a HANS. The work over many years of many people in our company and others to develop HANS has made it perform better than any other head and neck restraint. We are very pleased that NASCAR has recognised that using HANS is the right thing to do."

Now that SFI has certified the HANS device, HANS Performance Products will retro-certify HANS devices that meet strict age and condition requirements.

The first such restraint I ever heard of was the HANS device. I've been told there could have been something earlier, devised by a GEORGE WHITE years ago, but I have no further information on the subject.

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