CRASH! From Senna to Earnhardt – How the HANS Helped Save Racing


Jonathan Ingram with Dr. Robert Hubbard and Jim Downing



When Ayrton Senna suddenly lost control of his Williams chassis during the Formula 1 Grand Prix at Italy’s Imola circuit in 1994, he careened into a retaining wall and a crash that killed him. Millions of grieving fans found the three-time world champion’s death incomprehensible, while many commentators began questioning a sport that could kill one of its greatest legends.

In response, the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile launched an unprecedented campaign to make driver safety a priority, which soon led officials to consider the HANS Device, motor racing’s first head restraint.

In 2001, Championship Auto Racing Teams (CART) became the first to mandate the HANS and implement its use. When seven-time NASCAR Cup champion Dale Earnhardt crashed and died on the last lap of the Daytona 500 that same year, the problem of basal skull fractures finally came into sharp focus in the mainstream media. After years of trying to gain acceptance for their device, HANS inventor Dr. Robert Hubbard and business partner Jim Downing suddenly became overnight heroes.

CRASH! is the story behind the saga of the HANS Device. It touches every form of auto racing on the planet and several subjects close to all of us: political intrigue and struggle; scientific discovery; tragedy; triumph; and matters of conscience. There’s some romance and bromance, too. Above all, there’s a lot of racing and information that even the most die-hard fan will find new and compelling.

Hubbard and brother-in-law Downing eventually helped four of the world’s major auto racing series, including the Indy Racing League, resolve an epidemic of death that killed 12 drivers in a seven-year span, nine by basal skull fractures. Numerous others were being killed by the same injury in lesser known professional series as well as weekend warriors.

The 20-year struggle by Hubbard and Downing to gain universal acceptance for their life-saving device—now in use by over 275,000 competitors worldwide—is an amazing tale of family, genius, perseverance, tragedy and triumph. It tells how the world’s leading auto racing series shouldered the task of saving their driving heroes—and a sport.