Making stock car racing safer has been a hot button issue since Dale Earnhardt’s passing in 2001. Great strides have been made in that area. The past couple of seasons have seen events that have now led to similar discussions about improving safety in sprint cars.
Certainly the 2013 passing of Jason Leffler, Kramer Williamson and the injury to 3-time Sprint Cup Champion Tony Stewart put this topic on the national stage. Then toss in the effect that Social Media played in spreading the thoughts and opinions of drivers, series directors, sprint car fans, racing media and national media with little racing experience and you had the ingredients to create a big movement for safety.
Saying that racing safety needs to be improved is one thing, but making changes that reduce the risk of injury and help prevent severe or fatal injuries is quite another. For sprint car racers Denny Gross and Dave Wickham, “there comes a time to build these solutions and make them available. We are committed to solving problems and creating quality products.”
802 Solutions, LLC is a company made up of Gross and Wickham- both sprint car racers and engineers. Gross says that the development of the ‘Crash Pad’ is something that has taken at least 3 years of trial and analysis to perfect. With the injuries and high profile fatalities that have taken place in 2013, the Crash Pad has gained traction with racers all across the country.
Gross says, “As the evolution of racing seats has taken place, we found an area that needed to be addressed that stemmed from that evolution. The Crash Pad focuses on head, neck and spinal injuries.” Gross and Wickham discovered that the new wave of full containment seats reduced a healthy list of common injuries. Where the full containment seat comes up short, in terms of open-wheel sprint cars, is when there is an accident with a heavy blow to the bottom of the frame.
“Previous racing seat designs allowed the body to flail more which helped dissipate energy. A full containment seat now keeps the body, primarily the spinal column, in line which creates a greater force being sent through the spine in a hard impact to the bottom of the frame.” Forces that injured several drivers whose stories are featured on the 802 Solutions website at www.802solutions.com
One of those stories belongs to 19 year old Alysha Ruggles. Ruggles was involved in a chain reaction accident that was set off by contact between cars driven by Shawn Donath and Tony Stewart on the front stretch at the Canandaigua Motorsports Park earlier this summer. Ruggles took evasive action to try and miss the accident. Ruggles’ pink and fluorescent yellow 305 sprint car hit the infield jersey barrier head-on, went airborne and landed on all four wheels in the CMP infield.
The force of the landing slammed Ruggles back down into her racing seat. This force allowed her spinal column to compress and create a compression fracture in her back. Leaving the fan favorite sidelined for the rest of 2013 in a back brace. Her car was put back together later in the season- now equipped with a Crash Pad. Her father Darryl, the 2013 305 Sprint track champion at CMP, also had a Crash Pad installed in his racing seat to finish off 2013 after Alysha’s crash.
Another driver who had a vicious crash at CMP this year and now is a firm believer in the Crash Pad is 19 year old Kelly Hebing. Fortunately for ‘Lil Cobra’, she had added the Crash Pad to her 305 Sprint Car prior to her wild ride at “The Land of Legends”. She also made contact with a jersey barrier, knocking it down, flying through the air and coming down on all four wheels. The force of the collision sheared the front half of the car away and did damage to the engine compartment as well.
Hebing said of the added protection, “I love it, I know for a fact that my wreck at Canandaigua would have been way worse if I didn’t have the crash pad in my car with the way I went through that wall and landed.” Other than expected soreness, Hebing essentially came away unscathed. She even took a piece of the jersey barrier home to Ontario, NY to keep as a memento.
Gross told Race Chaser Online, “Our motto with the Crash Pad is ‘Pad your butt to save your neck’. For the price of a right rear tire, you can reduce the risk of suffering a career threatening injury.” Another catch phrase on the site is ‘Cheaper than a helmet but just as important’. “The full containment seat is an excellent concept. We are not replacing the need for full containment, we are just addressing an area of need that arose from the evolution of the full containment racing seat.”
As they often say in sports, the numbers do not lie. The Crash Pad is available in the US, Cananda and even Australia. “The reaction from the race community has been all positive,” said a proud Gross. “In just the last 2 ½ weeks, we have signed on 5 additional dealers for upcoming trade and part shows.”
Pennsylvania Posse star Donnie Kreitz was one of the first customers for the 802 Solutions product. Kreitz now serves as a dealer for the product as well. Kreitz has told 802 Solutions that the Crash Pad not only reduces the risk of injury, but is comfortable for him to drive with too.
“Of course risk reduction was the goal, but one added bonus that we have discovered through our customers is how much the Crash Pad increased driver comfort.” Gross went on to say the seat reduces common pressure points that have ailed drivers for years. “I have had drivers call me and tell me the soreness they felt from racing in general, let alone getting in a wreck, is no longer there since using the Crash Pad.”
Not only is it more comfortable for drivers, that ‘seat of the pants’ feedback that separates great drivers from good drivers is not affected by the product. “Although 2-3 inches of padding is added to the seat, drivers like Donnie tell us that they do not lose that sensation while driving their race car.” This is a major point when trying to convince veteran drivers like Kelly Hebing’s dad Chuck “The Cobra” Hebing. Although he did not run a Crash Pad in 2013, Cobra has ordered a pad for use in 2014.
Racecars are dangerous and there is great risk that is taken every time you hit the track. Gross and Wickham’s product isn’t here to save the world of auto racing from all dangers, but it has surely made an incredible impact (pardon the terrible pun) for sprint car drivers here in the Northeast.