In 1971, George White would have never imagined that pushing a broom around Bobby Allison’s race shop could lead to such a life long career. From the first day in that shop, George began amassing an amazing amount of racing knowledge of all sorts. He eventually became a valued and seasoned member of Allison’s crew.
Over that time, George witnessed so many car crashes. Driver’s were then, as now, dying of head and neck injuries…what is now called basal skull fracture.
The crashes with these types of injuries and death, those of Friday Hassler at Daytona in 1972 and Tiny Lund at Talladega in 1975, George recalls personally and vividly. Those, along with countless others, gave him the idea that restraining the head and neck could conceivably assist drivers in surviving these devastating crashes, while helping to eliminate some of the injuries these drivers were experiencing.
In 1979, with these thoughts in mind, George White developed the FIRST head and neck restraint system. He had so much confidence in his device, that in 1980 at New Smyrna Speedway in Florida, George put on his head and neck restraint device, strapped himself into a Cadillac and crashed head on into a concrete barrier. Local law enforcement officials in attendance clocked the car at 59 miles per hour! George survived with a severely broken leg, however he sustained no head or neck injuries of any kind! This video clip is a must see. It is absolutely shocking!
White made these devices available to his friends and family. In fact, when Bill Elliott left the Melling Racing #9 in 1992, Dave Mader III, of Alabama, drove 13 races for that team and wore White’s Head and Neck Restraint Device. I spoke with Dave last week about his time at Melling Racing and his use of that device.
Dave informed me he wore George’s device at “…every superspeedway race, but I didn’t wear it at Martinsville.” Dave has been racing for 30 years. He has four NASCAR National Championships (All American Challenge Series now the All Pro Series) in 1985, 1986, 1987 and 1988. He stands 6th on the list of championships in a row. He still maintains track championships and track records at various tracks. He has a varied racing career having driven in ASA, ARCA, Busch, Winston Cup and many other series.
“In, I guess, ’89 I drove for Dick Bahre at Atlanta in Winston Cup….and I did wear George’s head restraint deal there for the first time,” said Mader. “George and I are buddies from way back. There were several people that George had been around when he worked for Bobby Allison. He was seeing people get injured (and killed) and he realized what the injury was…a neck injury. He came up with this thing and everybody thought “aw you’re nuts.” But, George basically did some research on this deal. Neck injuries were very common and (everyone thought) race car drivers are liable to get killed. It just wasn’t a big thing until Earnhardt. (Before that) it was all acceptable.”
“Back then when drivers died, they didn’t really research it like they do now. So many people have died over the years and they just didn’t understand why. Now, you know, NASCAR has the telemetry in the car. It depends on how you hit. I know, after a wreck several times, I wondered how people live through that.”
“So, he saw what was happening and came up with that device and I wore it at all the superspeedway races that I ran. And I had a lot of people ask “What is that?” It hooked on my helmet and no body thought anything about it. It is so sad that that man came up with something like this that long ago. And he crash tested that himself. I can’t believe he did that!”
“My daddy (Dave Mader, II) was a brick mason and he was a very good race car driver. He won 430 races over 24 years and he beat everybody’s name you can mention in the country (from that era). He was one of the first members of NASCAR in 1949. People have given their lives to this sport. So, there have been so many drivers over the years who have died from these same injuries. The reason I say that is because I have experienced some terrible impacts and I’ve been fortunate that I’m still here. I’ve lived through them.”
“But, George knew about these injuries, figured it out and did something about it. To think of it being worse than what I lived through really gets your attention. No wonder people died. I wore that thing (George’s device) in Winston Cup, Busch and ARCA…anytime I ran a super speedway. I wore it at Charlotte, Daytona, Talladega, Atlanta, Pocono, Michigan and I was fortunate. The only time I did wreck with it on was in the 125 at Daytona. There was a wreck in the tri-oval and I spun out and hit the inside wall and ended right on the end of pit road. The way I hit was right front, right rear which was a good neck out to the right crash. It wasn’t near the hardest impact I ever took, but it was the fastest one.”
Dave is 47 years old and still racing to this day. He saw the potential for George’s device when he ran the superspeedways and can see it’s potential to this day. He still has the original device George gave him so many years ago and hopes someday to return it to him, as a momento.
The 1980 crash test video clip says it all. I have watched it over and over again and am amazed that George survived that crash! To know this device was developed so long ago…23 years ago, is even more astonishing. It has been reported that these devices, small enough for stock cars, have only been around for 10 years or so. That information is obviously incorrect.
There is easy entrance and exit of the race car with the use of this White Head Restaint Device. Five crash tests have been completed at Wayne State University in Michigan to date. And George White’s device is much more affordable than other such devices to drivers from all racing series.
Bruno Tropeano, associate to George White, had this to add. “The tests [at Wayne State] accelerate a crash sled carrying a dummy and a race car cage into a fixed wall and measure the forces acting on the dummy from the start of the acceleration to the runs conclusion.”
“We were told that our neck forces could not exceed 3000 Newtons in order to have viable head restraint system, a Newton being a metric measure of force. The 3000 Newton level is apparently the level at which a driver will sustain a fatal neck injury.”“Our tests, run at Wayne State University on June 11, 2002, achieved results well within the 3000 Newton limit. The maximum force with the White Head Restraint Device was 1929 Newtons. We maintain a file of the test results in chart, spreadsheet data and video format for any interested parties.”
George truly believes, “I have as much confidence today in our current restraint device as I did when I crash tested the original device in 1980.”
As technolgy advances you can bet George will be right there with it. To learn more about the original and current head and neck restraint device please visit speedwaysafetyequipment.com. Be sure to witness for yourself the shocking crash video clip of 1980, under the FOX 6 News Crew link. Or you can call George at 205-491-2109.
Thank you George White, Bruno Tropeano and Dave Mader for your time and knowledge. I’ll keep in touch, for certain!
all photos courtesy of www.speedwaysafetyequipment.com