HANS creator receives innovation award at Indy
INDIANAPOLIS (CNNSI.com) -- The term "HANS device" hasn't always been at the forefront of auto racing.
Robert Hubbard remembers when he struggled to get people to notice his invention, the Head and Neck Support device.
That is no longer the case.
Friday, Hubbard, a biomechanics professor at Michigan State, won the Louis Schwitzer Award for innovation.
"The recognition of the Louis Schwitzer Award is really very, very poignant and positive for me and Jim [Downing]" Hubbard said in accepting the award that's presented in conjunction with the Indianapolis 500. "Obviously, the tide is turning."
Hubbard and his brother-in-law, Downing, a sport car and sedan driver, developed the HANS device to limit the movement of the head and neck in an accident. Hubbard said no driver using the device has sustained a head or neck injury.
Still, it was a hard sell. In the first 10 years, Hubbard said, he sold just 200 devices. Last year, he sold 250, and this year -- in the wake of the Feb. 18 death of Dale Earnhardt from head and neck injuries in the Daytona 500 -- Hubbard expects to sell more than 1,000.
CART is the only major racing circuit requiring drivers to use the device, and that is only on its oval tracks. Formula One has announced the HANS device will be mandatory for all its races next year.
On the Indy Racing League and NASCAR circuits, where it is not required, more drivers are using the HANS.
Of the 33 drivers expected to race in the Indy 500 on May 27, about half the field is expected to use the device.
"The concept is simple, just to keep the head on top of the shoulders," Hubbard said. "I can't see why every driver who races cars and boats with a shoulder harness shouldn't be wearing one of these things. I think that day will come."
A.J. Foyt can laugh about it now.
But Sunday during qualifying, Foyt was not so nonchalant when everything went wrong on Eliseo Salazar's qualifying attempt.
"They were teasing me down there and I said, 'You know, it's never over till the last lap,'" Foyt said. "I damn near never got the words out of my mouth ... "
Salazar blew an engine on the last turn of the last of his four qualifying laps.
Foyt said Friday that waiting to send Salazar out at about 5 p.m. was a mistake -- one he doesn't intend to repeat Sunday, the final day of qualifying.
"I'm not waiting," Foyt said. "If we can run the car at speed in the morning, we're going to go get in line and try to get it qualified."
Scott Sharp won the pole last Saturday.
Since then, Sharp has been hard to find. While he has done his share of interviews, he has not turned a single practice lap.
That was supposed to change Friday, but the session was canceled because of rain.
Sharp isn't worried, though.
"We're probably one of the only teams who came here with a focus on the race," Sharp said. "Right at the beginning of last week, we did a couple of full tank runs very well, so we feel pretty confident. But it is our intention to run quite a bit tomorrow and even Sunday if we have to."
Tom Kelley already has won the pole, and his second car is on the inside of the second row.
So what's Kelley going to do with his third car?
"I'll let you know at 6 p.m. Sunday night," Kelley said with a chuckle. "We've had a tremendous number of inquiries about help, but I don't know what we're going to do."
Kelley didn't discount the idea of trying to qualify with another driver, but one thing is certain.
"If the situation would be good for Kelley Racing, we may consider it," he said. "But my main concern is these two cars right here."
Kelley isn't the only team owner debating what to do with his cars.
Foyt had Donnie Beechler in Eliseo Salazar's backup car Thursday, and also will wait until Sunday to decide whether he'll send Beechler out in the car.
Meanwhile several other drivers, including Richie Hearn, P.J. Jones and Alex Barron, are still looking for a ride.
Friday's rainout was the first time this May an entire session has been canceled at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway -- and the first time it's happened since May 3, 1997. ... The weather has been relatively good at Indianapolis this month. The only problems came May 6 and May 7 when practice ended early, and on Thursday when the start of practice was delayed 3 hours, 37 minutes. ... Billy Boat, who posted the fastest speeds of any non-qualifier Wednesday and Thursday, said a new engine was going in his car on Friday.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.