Local drivers support NASCAR decision

By Anthony Rhoads

Earlier this week, NASCAR announced that the HANS device will be the only approved head-and-neck restraint system for all its series and that's just fine with some local race officials and drivers.

All other head-and-neck restraint systems such as the Hutchens device are now banned from all NASCAR series.

McDonough's Doug Stevens, who was involved in a serious accident during qualifying for an American Speed Association race last May at Kentucky Speedway, wholeheartedly supports the decision.

"I think it's great that they made the decision," he said. "I started out with the Hutchens devices and switched to the HANS. If I hadn't have had the HANS, I would have been more seriously injured in my wreck. I think it's a great thing."

Atlanta Motor Speedway president and general manager Ed Clark also supports NASCAR's new policy. Clark, a competitor in the Masters Division of the speedway's summer racing series, uses the HANS device.

There was some concern when the HANS was first introduced that it would restrict movement but Clark said he has had not problem with it.

"Wearing the Hutchens is better than wearing using nothing but the HANS is a much better method," Clark said. "It's universally accepted that it's better. If it makes racing safer, I'm all for it. I wear one myself and I don't notice it. It's like second nature to me. I don't see why anyone wouldn't want to use it."

Another local driver who supports NASCAR decision is Hampton's Chris Dilbeck.

Dilbeck recently got a HANS device as he has been doing some ARCA test sessions at several tracks, most notably Daytona International Speedway.

"I do think it's a lot better," Dilbeck said. "HANS is a lot safer. IRL and CART already require it; (the decision) was coming no matter what. The good thing about the HANS is it doesn't confine you; you don't know you've got it on."

Drivers have had a choice of restraint systems since 2001, when NASCAR began requiring all competitors to use such devices at all times.

But NASCAR spokesman Mike Zizzo said Monday that the Hutchens failed to meet minimum standards from testing by SFI Foundation Inc. The HANS device was approved by SFI, a California-based nonprofit organization that sets standards for specialty/performance automotive and racing equipment.

The HANS (Head and Neck Support) resembles a collar and slides on like a football players' shoulder pads, then hooks onto the helmet. The Hutchens device is a series of straps that connect across the chest and at the waist.

Most drivers preferred the HANS, but Ryan Newman and Tony Stewart have been known to race with the Hutchens.

NASCAR mandated use of a restraint system in October 2001, following an investigation of Dale Earnhardt's death the previous February. Earnhardt died of a skull fracture, the same thing that killed NASCAR drivers Adam Petty, Kenny Irwin and Blaise Alexander in a one-year span.

Many experts believed the fractures could have been prevented with use of a restraint system. But with drivers reluctant to use restraint systems and lingering questions about their effectiveness, NASCAR did not require their use until Earnhardt's death made the issue a top priority.

After numerous studies, the sanctioning body required the use of a restraint and allowed drivers to choose.

Last season, NASCAR evaluated several different systems, hoping to approve new ones before the 2005 season.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.