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Words and photos by Darr Hawthorne

At the 50th U.S. Nationals I met Tom Gideon, Director of Safety for GM Racing who was handing out copies of a video graphically showing photographic evidence of a helmeted crash test dummy in a simple 30-mph crash. That video changed my view of drag racing safety forever. While walking in the pro staging lanes I began to notice the rituals and safety procedures for most of the popular drivers in our sport. Some drivers I consider friends and some are acquaintances, but without a HANS device all are taking an unnecessary chance with their life and family.

Pro Mod driver Troy Critchley, who owns a HANS Device but wears a foam neck donut in competition confessed, "You know -- it's stupidity," as to his reason for not using his HANS.

After the April Burk's Blast, we thought it was time to document the head and neck restraints used by some of our professional drivers competing on the NHRA POWERade tour at Las Vegas. Some used the padded neck support donut; a much smaller percentage utilized the HANS Device. Some of the foam neck donuts looked as though they'd been through fires and oil baths, and some had frayed thread seams with exposed foam. I even spotted one funny car driver who was not wearing fire retardant underwear beneath his firesuit.

When asked, some drivers said they felt uncomfortable wearing a HANS Device, and some thought it would limit their ability to get out of a burning funny car hatch.

Cory McClenathan, who along with Gary Scelzi was one of the first to regularly use the HANS Device in drag racing said, "I tried it and just got used to it."

Larry Dixon

One comment was chilling, "You can't reach for your HANS Device in the middle of a head-on crash with the wall."

It's clear that the HANS Device will save lives. However, getting your favorite driver to wear one will, in some cases, be very difficult to achieve without a mandate from the drag racing sanctioning bodies.

Here are some photos from the Las Vegas staging lanes. Next time you're waiting for an autograph from your favorite driver ask him if he wears a HANS Device.

ED. NOTE: See Q & A: The HANS Device for some questions and answers about use of the HANS Device.


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