Dr. Robert Hubbard, the co-inventor of the Head and Neck Support Device (HANS), died Tuesday.
A former professor in biomechanical engineering at Michigan State University, Hubbard created the HANS Device in the mid-80s with Jim Downing, his brother-in-law and a champion IMSA driver.
“Bob’s invention truly changed the world of auto racing safety and he was a kindhearted person who would help anyone in need,” HANS stated on its website. “He will be missed greatly.”
Hubbard and Downing set out to create the HANS device after the death of a racing friend as a result of a skull fracture. The duo began to develop, produce, sell and market the device in 1991, with Downing becoming the first driver to use the device when he wore an untested prototype in IMSA races.
Brett Bodine and Kyle Petty became the first Cup drivers to use the HANS device in July 2000, weeks after the death of Kenny Irwin Jr. from a basilar skull fracture in a wreck during Cup practice at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
Petty’s son Adam was killed by a basal skull fracture in a crash during a Xfinity Series practice session at New Hampshire in May of that year.
Bodine first wore it for the July 23 event at Pocono Raceway.
During Speedweeks at Daytona International Speedway in 2001, only five drivers reportedly planned to use it during the Daytona 500 qualifying races.
Only two more drivers, Ricky Craven and Jeff Burton, reportedly planned to wear the device for the Daytona 500, where Dale Earnhardt would die from head injuries in a crash on the last lap.
NASCAR mandated the use of the HANS Device and another safety device, the Hutchens, in October 2001.
According to Michigan State University in 2014, more than 200,000 HANS devices had been used by drivers since 1990.
No NASCAR drivers have been killed in on-track action since 2001.
In April 2017, Hubbard, Downing and Hubert Gramling were presented with the inaugural John Melvin Motorsport Safety Award by the Society of Automotive Engineers for their work on the HANS device.
“(Hubbard’s) development of that device was hugely important to motorsports,” said Burton, now a NASCAR on NBC analyst. “Clearly, it greatly helped the advancement of safety. The combination of the HANS and the head surround system, that combination of safety implementation revolutionized safety in motorsports, especially in stock cars. Neither works as effectively as it can without the other. Together they are an unbelievable advancement in safety.”
Other NASCAR drivers observed Hubbard’s passing on social media.