Racing Past the Truth.
February 20, 2001 9:25 PM   Subscribe

Racing Past the Truth. A new perspective on Earnhardt's death, the purpose of which is to question the supposed cause of death and general lack of research in the reporting thereof.

The most interesting part, though, is pointing out how the makers of the Head and Neck Restraining System (HANS) are milking his death for all its worth, even though it probably would have done nothing to save him.
posted by thebigpoop (10 comments total)

Hey "HANS" is my name; don't knock it!

But really: people, tell me if this is ghoulish, but before Earnhardt's death this weekend I had never paid any attention to NASCAR racing but now I'm eating the stuff up. I'm reading pages and pages of info about racing, looking at profiles for famous NASCAR drivers. I even added one of those little MyYahoo modules for NASCAR news!
posted by hanseugene at 10:11 PM on February 20, 2001

It is the MEDIA who are all pointing to HANS device and "speculating." I do not think the HANS people (one of them is a professor at Michigan State) actually put the media up to it. The media North of Mason-Dixon line (and also CNN, which is in Dixie, but, acts like a "Yank.") is trying to speculate on "what might have been."

I have been a racing fan for a few years now. I jumped on the bandwagon way after Senna died. I have no "where were you" memories of Senna. I never saw him drive, could care less. (On the other hand, if Schumacher were to die in an accident, I personally think it would be a "heavenly payback" for all those times he drove into Damon Hill and Jacques Villeneuve.) I do have a "where were you" memory of Dale E. It was weird and sad to see him go.

Many stock car drivers point out that because of the way the cars are built, a HANS device might not be the best safety device in a stock car. Immobilizing the head and neck might hinder a driver's ability to get himself out of a car if it catches fire. It also reduces his ability to turn his head to look around. I still think it should be up to the driver to decide if he wants to wear a HANS device or not and NASCAR is right in not making it mandatory.
posted by tamim at 1:06 AM on February 21, 2001

What an intriguing article. I was struck by the "eight-inch-long steel sliver" he'd been walking around with, lodged in his head near the left temple, for 24 years. What the hell kind of workshop accident did he have?! And why wait 24 years to remove it?
posted by evixir at 6:18 AM on February 21, 2001

It pays to read carefully if you're an author and you're quoting sources. If you check the Detroit Free Press link in this article, the piece of metal was an eighth of an inch long, not eight inches. What a difference an "h" makes!
posted by iceberg273 at 7:03 AM on February 21, 2001

Tamim: I'm guessing that you're right about the media being responsible for speculation about HANS. The inventor, Robert Hubbard, a professor of biomechanics here at Michigan State, patented this thing back in 1985. Hubbard and Downing (his brother in-law) formed their own company in 1991, after being turned down by major corporations. So they're not really newcomers to the auto safety business.
That being said, it's probably true that the HANS system could prevent a stock car driver from escaping from a burning vehicle. Of course, Hubbard's a pretty ingenious guy - and seems to be interested in protecting drivers from injury (instead of just making a buck): he can probably figure out a way to adapt the device.
And , of course, in all of this the student newspaper here at State hasn't noticed that Hubbard exists.
posted by iceberg273 at 7:49 AM on February 21, 2001

hanseugene: It's not ghoulish, but it's the nature of people. Unfortunately a tragedy like the one last weekend will draw more of a TV audience. On the flip side, actual race attendance will most likely be down.

As for the HANS device: It works well in open-wheel cars where drivers have two side-view mirrors and are fit snuggly into their cars. In stockcars, such as those run in NASCAR, drivers are able to move freely much like you can in a regular passenger car. Not only is fire a major concern to drivers wearing the HANS device, but flipping is as well. Drivers tend to "curl up" and brace for the impact, making themselves as small as possible, and less susceptible to injury. With the device on, drivers can't "curl up" and protect themselves. Their head will be back on the seat, and for the most part, unprotected.

posted by moural at 12:56 PM on February 21, 2001

Dear all,

Just a note to announce that our copy-editing eyes need to eat some crow.

Thanks to Lilly for the very friendly reminder that the physics of removing an eight-inch -- as opposed to an eighth-of-an-inch -- sliver from one's skull are quite dramatic.

Nota Bene: the writer submitted the piece correctly, our copy editing made it wrong.

The line as it originally was supposed to read has been fixed.

posted by OJRjosh at 2:40 PM on February 21, 2001

Thanks Karl (iceberg273) for pointing out the error, because I almost ended up propagating it further in my weblog. I wrote OJR about it, but iceberg273 should get the credit.
posted by girlhacker at 3:17 PM on February 21, 2001

I love the way MeFi threads get writers (or editors) to show up.

Speaking of ghoulish, I immediately thought of the Onion story about the auto industry recalling its innovative "neck belt", which had approximately the same intent as the HANS device -- but had resulted in several, well, decapitations ...

I don't think the HANS people could "capitalize" any more on this. It's not like there's a huge market for this, and NASCAR had 21 devices on hand for the Daytona drivers -- mostly unused.
posted by dhartung at 3:34 PM on February 21, 2001

Oh god, the "Chrysler Neckbelts," what a terrific graphic they had to go along with those... businessfolk all suited up smiling at each other in their car replete with neckbelts safely buckled. There was some stunningly gory bit near the end about the decapitated heads' tendency to feel pain for a full 3 minutes after decapitation.

Thanks for the update on the "eight"-inch steel piece. I figured something was a bit askew with that factoid but didn't have the ganas to investigate it myself.
posted by evixir at 8:28 PM on February 21, 2001

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