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Safety, belts and Michael Henderson's part...


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#1 Ray Bell

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Posted 25 March 2007 - 23:43

This was posted by Dr Michael Henderson in the thread about Lotus safety:

This thread has raised several interesting safety issues: the development and use of the six-point restraint system, the reason(s) for the death of Jochen Rindt, the safety of Lotus racing cars, and the general philosophy of risk acceptance. I will comment on each, but not all at once, for fear of boring everyone to death.

First, then, the six-point harness and the death of Jochen Rindt.

In relevant summary, the history of seat belts is as follows. In 1903 a French patent was issued for a system of seat belts and upper torso restraint. The concept was applied to aircraft before, during and after WW1, but to stop pilots falling out, not for crash protection.

Colonel John Paul Stapp in the late 40s was among the first to document the potential for aircraft restraint systems to increase human injury tolerance. He noted that what he called an “inverted V strap” could balance shoulder-belt loads and keep the lap belt in place.

In 1955, Stapp and others began to promote seat belts for motor vehicles, mainly through their effect in preventing ejection, and they began to be fitted to road cars.

In racing, however, ejection was widely regarded as a good thing, contrary to the emerging research on road car crash research. During the 50s, some drivers of sprint cars in America were using rudimentary lap belts and Sam Browne shoulder straps, but simply to keep them in their seats during the racing. Protection by the belts was at first not an issue, but became one in the 60s when some European drivers at Indianapolis objected to their mandatory use.

In Europe, as late as 1967 practically no driver in any category was wearing a restraint system in an open car. Two exceptions were Max Mosley and me, racing against each other in MallockU2s.

Early that year I had decided to get some real data to resolve the issue, and followed up 221 crashes in England, about 80% of those that were reported to the RAC. I came up with statistically significant evidence that it was far better to stay within a crashing race car, whether open or not, and even whether it rolled or not.

I also used my experience with a team working on combat aircraft harnesses and as a rescue parachutist to present the concept of crutch restraint using two additional straps, but not as an inverted V.

Their unique feature was that they were routed via the pubic bones and then outwards, returning to the buckle via D-rings. These additional straps had the twin advantages of balancing the load of the shoulder belts, thus preventing ride-up of the lap belt, and taking much of the crash loading through the pelvic bones. Drivers of formula and sports-racing cars were super-reclined, and the use of simple four-point lap-shoulder belts presented a real risk of “submarining”.

I think DCN may be able to confirm that I first published my crash and injury data in “Motor Racing” magazine. I then included them in a book that covered a lot of other considerations, “Motor Racing in Safety”.

Louis Stanley, whose work with the GP Medical Service I greatly admired, wrote the foreword, and having reviewed my figures in late 1967 told me one night at his home in Cambridge, “I’ll put belts in Stewart’s car”. The book was published by Pat Stephens in early 1968, just as I moved to Australia. JYS was very supportive, and by the end of 1968 every F1 driver, and the majority in all other categories, were using belts.

I met Jochen Rindt at Warwick Farm during the 1969-70 Tasman Series, and had the pleasure of a wonderful dinner with him, Nina, and Piers Courage. Rindt told me that he had read my book and had come to agree with using a harness. However, he could not come to terms with the use of the crutch straps, and I could not convince him that they would not cause harm to a young lad in a crash.

That the lack of crutch restraint, and the resulting submarining effect in frontal impact, was a factor (among others) in his death at Monza is well documented. Not so well documented (at least publicly) are the details of his injuries, but they certainly included injuries to his legs and neck.

The belt buckle caught him under his chin and may even have prevented his complete ejection. I would not be surprised if the lap belt had caused abdominal injuries including internal bleeding. Both Jackie Stewart and Louis Stanley have written extensively about how the GP Medical Service was by-passed, and I can’t comment further in the absence of detailed information on Jochen’s injuries and medical status.

There were crutch straps in the Lotus, but they were not secured. Most drivers were by then using the crutch restraint (and they probably all were, afterwards). I still feel personal regret that I was not able persuade either him or Jimmy Clark that a full six-point harness could be life-saving, with no real negative effects.

Enough! More later. As a teaser, I do have some data on the contribution of mechanical failure in F1 crashes from 1966 to 1972, sorted by chassis manufacturer, and I’ll post them when I have time.


It's my belief that there is a great deal to be learned about these events and how they contributed to the relative safety that came into racing at that time.

But I also believe that events in Australia need to be included in the narrative for the purpose of injecting some more pertinent information into the overall picture.

Michael mentions that he came to Australia early in 1968. He had taken up a post on the editorial team of the Medical Journal of Australia and continued his involvement in racing when he arrived.

His passion for the wearing of safety belts was to be the most public of his interests here, however.

In the May 1968 issue of Racing Car News a double spread story by him covered much the same ground as the story in Motor Racing the previous October, but with a couple of extra (and very topical) inclusions. This was the same issue of the magazine that carried the report on the Bathurst race meeting in which John Harvey was seriously injured and Leo Geoghegan less seriously so.

Neither had worn belts. The only cars practising that day with belts fitted were those of the Niel Allen team, Niel's McLaren M4a (to start from third on the grid) and Fred Gibson in the 2.5 FPF Brabham that Frank Gardner had raced in the 1967 Tasman. He was eighth on the grid.

However, according to Bill Tuckey's book, The Rise and Fall of Peter Brock, Harvey should have had them in his car. Tuckey wrote:

At the time there was an argument raging in motor racing about whether or not full harnesses should be worn. This was old stuff for Harvey; he had lived through the roll-bar and full harness arguments in speedway. Jackie Stewart, who would later spearhead (etc)... had been wearing full harness; Denny Hulme was arguing it was better to be chucked out of the car. The general feeling was against full harness; from his speedway days Harvey knew damn well it was better to stay with the car. He had been using full harness from the first day in the little F2 Brabham.

Harvey was still living in Sydney and the new car was being prepared in Mdelbourne. For Easter at Bathurst... they didn't get to Bathurst until Saturday night. Said Harvey: 'They rolled out the car on the Sunday morning, and I said: "Where's the belts?" They said: "We've got them, but we weren't sure where you wanted them fitted, and this cockpit's different to the last car. It's only a matter of drilling more holes and getting the adjustment right". The suggestion was that we practise without them and fit them that night for the race the next day and I said 'OK, my decision, I'll practise without them'.


I'm not so sure that Harvey had belts 'from the first day'... I'll have to find and check my photo of him on that 'first day' (sitting in the marshalling area at Lakeside with Peter Molloy alongside him waiting to go out for practice) before I'm convinced of that point.

As you'll read in Michael's RCN article Kevin Bartlett's car was fitted with belts that night, and that could well have been fortuitous as it had a similar suspension failure to Harvey's during the race the next day. Fortunately KB was able to keep it from crashing and merely retired from the event.

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From this point there was really little movement towards 'belting up'... until Niel Allen crashed at Lakeside in July.

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#2 David Shaw

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Posted 26 March 2007 - 07:36

Great thread Ray and thanks for getting Dr Michael Henderson to contribute to this important subject, as I think most of us didn't realise how quickly safety inside the racing car changed from where protection for the driver consisted solely of a helmet. I keenly await your installment on the Lakeside accident and how everyone's mind opened after that incredible incident.

Thank you too to Dr Michael Henderson, for it is his efforts as documented that have saved us from so much more death, pain and anguish.

#3 275 GTB-4

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Posted 26 March 2007 - 08:08

Originally posted by David Shaw
Great thread Ray and thanks for getting Dr Michael Henderson to contribute to this important subject, as I think most of us didn't realise how quickly safety inside the racing car changed from where protection for the driver consisted solely of a helmet. I keenly await your installment on the Lakeside accident and how everyone's mind opened after that incredible incident.

Thank you too to Dr Michael Henderson, for it is his efforts as documented that have saved us from so much more death, pain and anguish.


Firstly, is Michael aware of this thread ??? I agree, good subject but lets get Michael to give his spin on events....if possible...its only fair rather than possibly quoting him out of context :up:

#4 David Shaw

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Posted 26 March 2007 - 08:15

It's all good. This thread started out as an offshoot of this:
http://forums.atlasf...222#post2664222

but deservedly needed its own thread.

#5 Ray Bell

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Posted 26 March 2007 - 09:58

First, transposing the scans of the Motor Racing article by Michael Henderson published in their October 1967 issue:

Originally posted by M Needforspeed
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So that was the first foray into publicising his findings. No words minced, "You will more likely survive if you are strapped firmly in the car!" was his message.

Some took heed early on... Niel Allen being one. He had the Willans 6-point harness installed in his cars before that fateful Bathurst event and so he was well placed when he ran off the track at Lakeside in July.

Just to set the scene, on the Friday the little McLaren had been the fastest car around the circuit, a couple of seconds inside the lap record if I'm not mistaken and faster than the 2.5s running on the day. Faster, too, than anyone else managed later in the weekend!

In the previous months we'd watched as Niel and the McLaren became a real force in our frontline racing car events. In May he'd scored a big win at Warwick Farm after Kevin Bartlett missed a gear in the Brabham Alfa, but his attention was divided between this car and his Mustang and his sports car. The previous Lakeside he'd gone around the outside of Phil West to look a good thing for a win before the McLaren broke a suspension part.

Warwick Farm just five days before Bob Levett and I set out for the Lakeside Gold Star round we'd seen him shadow Bartlett all the way in the fifteen lapper Geoffrey put on for our number one category. He'd jumped the start, however, so finished only fifth in this race.

So our hopes were high as we headed up the Pacific Highway in my 203. Imagine our glee when, after a cold night of driver swaps, overtaking semi-trailers and listening to the cane toads being splattered under our wheels, we came to Coolangatta. The Daily Telegraph was on sale early and we grabbed a copy, ripped open the sports pages and found a paragraph by David McKay.

We learned of Niel's speedy practice and looked forward to an even greater degree to being on our favourite spot high above the kink in the straight to watch events unfold over the weekend.

Even if we regarded the cost of admission too high, we were able to sneak our way into the pits and through to the grassy slope in time for the first openwheeler session. We'd been in and out of the tents, nodded our greetings to the many drivers we'd come to know, the mechanics with whom we'd shared moments and the others who made up the milling throng on such occasions.

I think this was the time we met up with an official we dubbed 'The Hat'... a very ordinary type of person whose job it was to keep us out of the area we considered our own. 'The Hat' wasn't terribly bright, we concluded, his broad-brimmed felt headcovering being the highlight of his presence.

We made conversation with him and gradually found ourselves accepted into the area requiring a certain pass without having that pass. The three of us, Bob, my wife and me, took up positions ready to watch proceedings.

The McLaren was shining in the winter sun. Glistening from the chromed suspension arms, the polished rims, the gold beading between the maroon and white sections of the bodywork and tub. Niel was beginning to fling it around and we were anticipating great things. Pole position at least.

Then, as we watched, he swept into the sweeper. On the exit he went out of our sight, as the cutaway hill formed an embankment that hid the cars from our view at this point. We would see him emerge in time to go onto the brakes for the Karrussell.

But no. A cloud of dust started to rise, then beyond any form of expectation we saw the underside of the car glistening just as much as the topside did... it was going backwards, it was upside down, it was still travelling at 140mph or so and it was 25' or 30' in the air!

The descent was sickening, dramatic and destructive. And all within our sight, on the grassed area inside the Karrussell. Rotating wildly this way and that, shedding wheels, the engine and gearbox, body parts and more, the core of the car, the tub with the luckless driver inside, came to rest almost upside down in the paddock just down the hill from where we stood in fear.

We watched as the ambulance supposedly in place to serve that sector of the circuit didn't move. As Niel's mechanic Wayne Eckersley ran up the circuit the half mile from the racing pits. As the ambulance serving the other part of the circuit rushed from place to place looking for a safe way to reach the victim of this horrendous event.

Then, finally, the driver of the ambulance strolled to his vehicle and slowly drove up the circuit to the place he should have been several minutes earlier.

The outcome, of course, was virtually as Michael Henderson had been telling us it would be. Even though the roll bar, anchored securely to the cam cover of the engine, was ripped right out of the tub. The rear section of the tub was ripped away too, fuel bags were exposed but there was no fire.

Niel had concussion and a broken finger. His racing team went into remission, Fred Gibson carrying the flag but not achieving much. By the end of the year, Niel Allen would announce his retirement from motor racing.

At the next major Lakeside meeting, Niel Allen steered the restored M4A to fifth place outright and second Australian home in the Australian Grand Prix. He told us at some time in that period that the 'bang on the head' was something he felt every driver needed.

For the campaign that Michael Henderson was waging, this was an ideal outcome. The same issue of Racing Car News that carried the report on that race we barely wanted to watch had Michael's report on why Niel had survived. Here it is:

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From this point on there was no question that harnesses would be compulsory in openwheelers and sports cars, as they already were in touring cars. The aftermath of this crash was worldwide, not just within Australia.

#6 David M. Kane

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Posted 26 March 2007 - 13:37

Exceptional work, thank you.

#7 David Shaw

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Posted 26 March 2007 - 21:19

It's such a vivid picture you paint Ray for someone that was too young to have been there. It is the atmosphere that posts like that bring to me that is the most enjoyable part of TNF.

#8 Michael Henderson

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Posted 26 March 2007 - 22:32

Wow, Ray, you sure know how to bring a bloke’s past life to his eyes! What a great account you have written.

While I have a few copies of those of my own many early safety articles in my dog-eared scrapbook, they do not include that piece on Niel’s crash. I am so grateful to be able to read it again.

Re-reading it humbles me, but brings two major points to mind. One is that we were working from a low base at that time: practically every useful safety measure would have an early and measurable effect, so that during the 70s the whole picture changed and race crash injury trends reversed. Some may know that I was a road safety researcher and administrator in New South Wales during that period, and there were exactly the same kinds of effect as decent science came to be applied to a problem that had previously been grossly over-simplified or ignored.

The other point that came to mind when re-reading the article is that I could write the whole thing again today, and with only minimal editing it would still be relevant and true!

With seeding support from CAMS, during the AGP week on 15 March we quietly launched the Australian Institute for Motor Sport Safety. I am the inaugural chairman. Jackie Stewart and Sid Watkins were there, and the former gave an inspiring address that presented the old messages that are still so appropriate today. As a still active competitor in “dangerous” old cars, I firmly believe that safety should not be a crimp on the human spirit – but, in the words of Max Mosley, motor racing should not be a blood sport.

I still see Niel from time to time. He believes it was more than just good fortune that caused me to come to Australia in time to help save his life.

#9 Twin Window

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Posted 26 March 2007 - 22:41

Thanks for taking the time to join us here, Michael. We don't get that many true pioneers dropping by...

Well done, Ray; an inspired thread... :up:

#10 Ray Bell

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Posted 27 March 2007 - 06:40

Yes, working with the NSW State Government was another important job for you, even if it was away from the main purpose of the thread...

The device you built to test drunk drivers was a great thing, though I can't find any pictures or story about it at the moment.

But your continued study of the safety aspects of the sport were shown in this article you had in the September issue of RCN in 1970:

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Something a bit different... and containing a gross error about Ian Fergusson's ANF2 car that I couldn't believe slipped by our friend the editor... but undoubtedly it had a purpose.

Perhaps you could tell us more about that too, were the results put to use?

#11 Ray Bell

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Posted 30 March 2007 - 03:09

A bit disappointing that there's not much comment here...

As Michael has stated, he worked with the NSW Department of Motor Transport on safety issues. I cannot find reference to the experiment they conducted, including building a special vehicle that did strange things to tempt inebriate drivers to make mistakes, but maybe someone else can find it?

Here's the item from RCN about his appointment in May, 1971:

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#12 Frank Verplanken

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Posted 30 March 2007 - 03:41

Fascinating thread Ray, thank you :up: In the 1968 RCN article, Michael mentions the "mountings for the rollover bar were merely pop-riveted to the monocoque shell". How fast did this change compared to the rapid general adoption of harness ?

#13 Ray Bell

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Posted 30 March 2007 - 03:49

What, really, could change?

Monel rivets are fairly strong if used in a decent size, and they are usually used in greater numbers in points of high stress like that. Remember it is only 18swg (or so...) aluminium sheet that they have to tear to rip away, the whole thing relied on a decent mounting area.

Where this one really copped it is that it was wrenched sideways by the departing engine, if you can get the picture. Instead of simply copping a compression blow, they were torn away and I suspect it was this that tore away the back part of the tub.

This issue comes up anywhere a mounting point has to be attached to a monocoque tub...

#14 Frank Verplanken

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Posted 30 March 2007 - 04:02

Sorry. I thought the "merely" in M. Henderson's sentence implied that the roll bar implementation on the car was not as well done as it could have been. As if it was not the manufacturers' main concern when building the cars. As fascinating as they are, these threads are dense and though to follow when written in a foreign langage. I once again over-estimated myself in these early morning hours :blush: .

#15 sandy

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Posted 26 March 2009 - 12:45

The title should read "1950's " not "1960s".

When looking at the You Tube film of Jochen Mass, sliding off the track in a Lancia D50 and rolling after bouncing off the imbedded tyres that formed a protective barrier, it makes one realise just how easy it must have been to be killed in F1 in the 50's. Jochen was very lucky that he never broke his neck. And if he hadn't been strapped in (ala the 50's) he would have probably been half thrown out and crushed under the upturned Lancia. It wasn't a particularly spectacular crash, just a quick slide on the grass and a relatively gentle bump onto the tire barrier but it was enough to create a potentially lethal situation. Has anyone analysed the GP accidents of the 50's (and perhaps the 60s also? - when did they start to belt themselves in?) to determine whether, on average, it would have been safer to have worn seat belts than not? Recalling some of the BRM crashes would make it appear that it was best to have been thrown out, that way avoiding the subsequent fires but overall could some lives have been saved either one way or the other?

On reflection, answering my own question, it would be a pointless exercise, as what happened, happened and on thinking of the crashes that I can recall, for every driver saved by being thrown clear (Brooks / BRM) there is another saved by staying in the car (Mantovani / 250F) and vice versa.

Still, getting back to the original theme of the thread, the Mass crash in the D50 brings it home as to just how much the drivers of the time lived on a knife edge in terms of danger.

#16 Ray Bell

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Posted 26 March 2009 - 14:19

You must have missed it...

There was a thread recently about the adoption of belts. 1967 saw the first tentative steps (in the modern idiom), with 1968 seeing the incident that led to compulsory wearing of harnesses.

#17 f1steveuk

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Posted 26 March 2009 - 15:49

There was some fairly comprehensive research done by the Jim Clark Foundation, who published a paperback book with the entire season summarised, nearly every spin, the outcome etc etc. I have a copy somewhere, green A4 size thing, but can I find it?

#18 Ray Bell

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Posted 26 March 2009 - 21:50

Guys... here it is:

http://forums.autosp...&threadid=93673

Yes, the Jim Clark Foundation did some research, but it was Michael Henderson's research that directly led to the use of harnesses. Other improvements came from the Foundations research, but belts were the big saver.

#19 Lee Nicolle

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Posted 26 March 2009 - 22:10

My first motorsport was at a very much 'outlaw' stockcar track in about 1968.And we all had seatbelts, lap sash was mandatory and a lot wore 2 lap sash,myself included, one from the left too.A bit later a lot wore proper [3 point] harnesses that became advailable readily. I had 3 point harnesses in my first road car.

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#20 Ray Bell

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Posted 26 March 2009 - 22:36

I think you'll find that 4-point harnesses were more or less mandatory in stock car racing... and other enclosed speedway cars... well before 1960...

#21 johnny yuma

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Posted 30 March 2009 - 23:05

Originally posted by Ray Bell
I think you'll find that 4-point harnesses were more or less mandatory in stock car racing... and other enclosed speedway cars... well before 1960...


Had a quick look at the oldtimespeedway site,the 50s and 60s photos show early 60s stock cars with belts but its a bit hard to tell on the 50s photos.There are some scary looking shots of ejections from sprintcars!
Even today gokart racing has ejection as the preferred option.

#22 Ray Bell

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Posted 20 July 2011 - 14:11

Originally posted by Ray Bell
.....I'm not so sure that Harvey had belts 'from the first day'... I'll have to find and check my photo of him on that 'first day' (sitting in the marshalling area at Lakeside with Peter Molloy alongside him waiting to go out for practice) before I'm convinced of that point.....


Hmmm... not the one in the marshalling area, but still on that 'first day':

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#23 Hank the Deuce

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Posted 21 July 2011 - 01:58

Hmmm... not the one in the marshalling area, but still on that 'first day':

Ray, IIRC there is a photo of Harves in what would possibly be that car, with Ron Phillips and Peter Molloy crouched behind in The Rise And Fall... which may or may not be the "first day". Seperated as I am from my ramshackle library, I'm not at liberty to confirm it, sadly... but I do recall that the book made mention of John's concerns over the relative measures of safety between speedway and road racing, and the personal protection equipment utlilised.

Perhaps John might pop in and comment further, but can't say I've seen him in here in some time...



#24 Ray Bell

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Posted 21 July 2011 - 04:54

Don't worry, Hank, I have a shot in the marshalling area on that first day...

Ready to go out to practice for the first race he drove in the car, and the photo above is from the same meeting. In my pic Molloy is with him.

#25 GMACKIE

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Posted 21 July 2011 - 06:10

How lucky we were to have such a dedicated man as Dr. Henderson looking after our interests. Even in 1969, when I managed to get between Gary Campbell and Aub Revell at Oran Park, and ended up having a monumental end-for ender, some drivers weren't keen on belts. My Elfin Vee was a mess - but I walked away from it - thanks to my 4 point harness [and a good strong Elfin chassis].

Dr. Henderson was very interested in the results of my crash, as it really showed what a harness can do for you. He said that it would take around 5 Gs to cause the 2" wide bruise that I had on each shoulder, from the harness, so it was a 'big hit'. The car hit the track upside-down [first bounce], and did 3 or 4 end-for-ends, before landing upside-down in the grass. Track marshals gathered around, and when I asked if they would please get the car off me, one yelled "Shit.....he's alive!". My new AGV was cracked, and torn off [first bounce, I think] and I had a lot of bruises, but nothing broken. One marshal though I was 'gone', when he saw my helmet rolling down the track. The landing was hard enough to push the fan-housing into the crankcase, breaking it. Roll-bar and steering wheel were folded down a long way. I think I bought a lottery ticket!

There is no way that I would ever drive a race car without a full harness. My cars [Beetle and 'Cooper' Porsche] are fitted with 6-point, wide belt harnesses.



#26 ianselva

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Posted 21 July 2011 - 08:27

My first motorsport was at a very much 'outlaw' stockcar track in about 1968.And we all had seatbelts, lap sash was mandatory and a lot wore 2 lap sash,myself included, one from the left too.A bit later a lot wore proper [3 point] harnesses that became advailable readily. I had 3 point harnesses in my first road car.

I started racing stock cars in the UK in the early 60s and most of us wore ex RAF 4 point harness.