Through the Esses: Downing's HANS In Full Production Now
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© Andrew S. Hartwell

Jim Downing has been involved in sportscar racing for a very long time. He championed the Mazda brand for many years, enjoying success in cars built by that manufacturer and later, in his own Kudzu chassis designs, powered by Mazda engines. He knows his way around a race circuit and he knows that sometimes drivers and cars don't complete laps. Tires can fail, or two or more cars can make contact, or even simple driver error can bring on a crash. And that crash can have serious consequences for the drivers involved.

Back in 1986, Downing, working along with his brother in law, Dr. Robert Hubbard, developed a head and neck restraint device they called HANS. (Head And Neck Support). Downing started wearing the new contraption every time he took to the track. He did this to provide a measure of protection against basal skull fractures, the same kind of injury said to have brought on the death of several racers, including Dale Earnhardt.

The first HANS device was not exactly what could be called a compact or comfortable design. It was, simply put, a big and heavy collar that went about down to your navel. For the many skeptical racers out there who didn't yet comprehend the value of wearing one, a HANS device was not anywhere near the top of their list of items needed to go racing. Tires and sundry parts that could make the car go faster were deemed more important elements on which to expend the funds of a limited racing budget.

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