Finally, the moment we’ve all been waiting for… Tomorrow we will have a meet at the regularly scheduled time and location. If we’re lucky the weather will be nice next week and we can resume regular meets! I’ve personally missed hanging with the crew and eating chipotle, and I’ve also missed being outside without five layers of clothing on to protect me from the Arctic blasts we’ve been having.
We hope to see you there! If you have any questions about the meet details check the location page.
It’s almost time for meet season once again! I hope you’ve made good progress on your winter project, I know I haven’t. Be on the lookout for announcements regarding Thursday meets in the near future depending on weather and soon enough (probably no later than the beginning of April) we’ll be back to your regularly scheduled programming!
The meet is now in winter mode! We will now meet on the first Thursday of the month until it gets nicer outside, probably in April. We will post the meetup plans on the facebook page and probably vortex so follow us there for the most up to date information. We occasionally meet for chipotle, burgers or other tasty foods to avoid freezing outside. We look forward to seeing you there as well as to the warmer weather so we can have have normal meets once again!
Once upon a time, motor racing was one of the most dangerous activities you could voluntarily participate in. If you were a racing driver between about 1950 and 1970, you stood a pretty good chance of dying in an accident. Case in point – out of the 43 drivers that participated in the 1969 Formula 1 World Championship, 10 (yes, 10!) would die in accidents before the end of the season.
In an accident, you would have likely been killed after suffering, say, blunt-force trauma, a skull fracture, broken neck or burns from fire. Racing cars during this era were designed to be as strong as possible. However, the safety of its driver was not highly considered in the design. The extreme forces that are imparted during a high-speed accident could not be absorbed by the car, meaning that the driver was subjected to them. And, with the lack of safety equipment in these cars, drivers were being severely injured or killed at alarming rates.
Today, racing cars are designed to intentionally disintegrate when involved in an accident. This disintegration allows energy from the accident to be dissipated. Meanwhile, the driver is protected by a survival cell, be it a full roll cage or carbon fibre “tub” that is prevalent in single-seaters. The driver also has much more advanced and effective safety equipment at his or her disposal. With this progress, a racing driver has a high probability of walking away from an accident that would have been fatal in previous decades.
One specific type of device that I outline here probably has made a bigger impact to racing safety than anything else before it, active or passive – devices which protect the head and neck from injury.
In a racing car, your upper body is strapped tightly to the seat with a 5 or 6-point harness. However, with few exceptions, most drivers in the 20th century did not adequately protect their head and neck. In accidents where the rate of deceleration is abrupt, the head whips forward. This force are magnified even more due to the driver’s helmet increasing the weight of the head. Meanwhile, the rest of the body is restrained by the safety harness. The neck muscles, even in the strongest athletes, aren’t designed to absorb the forces that sudden deceleration can impart in a high-speed accident. Cervical injuries, skull fractures or death were highly likely to occur as a result.
The basilar skull fracture would become well-known as a nearly 100% guaranteed cause of death in a racing accident in the 1990s and early 2000s. With the sudden forward motion of the unrestrained head and neck, blood supply to the brain would be cut along with fractures to the base of the skull occurring. With very, very few exceptions (Ernie Irvan in a Michigan NASCAR race in 1994 and Stan Smith in a NASCAR race in 1993), it was curtains you suffered this type of injury.
Here’s an example of a driver killed by a basilar skull fracture. This video was taken from the 1994 Formula 1 San Marino Grand Prix in Italy. This race is well known for the death of Ayrton Senna on May 1st, but the previous day, Roland Ratzenberger of Austria was killed during a practice session. His front wing became lodged under the front wheels of his car, sending him off track at almost 190mph, head-on into a concrete wall. It is very clear that he suffered severe injuries and was killed on impact with the wall (WARNING: POTENTIALLY GRAPHIC VIDEO).
Later, NASCAR drivers Kenny Irwin, Tony Roper, Adam Petty and Dale Earnhardt would be killed by the same injury. The death of Earnhardt, especially, started the movement for the use of head and neck restraints in racing cars.
Today’s head and neck restraint devices work in a simple manner. The device is attached to the helmet with tethers, then secured to the body of the driver, most likely with the shoulder straps of the car’s safety harnesses. When involved in an accident, instead of the head and neck whipping forward uncontrollably, the device limits this movement. More importantly, the head is kept in line with the neck, which reduces the chance of a skull fracture or neck injury, while not restricting its movement as the car decelerates. As a result, the majority of energy that would have been absorbed by the driver’s neck muscles is transferred to the device itself and the rest of the body.
The most well-known head and neck restraint among racing drivers, both professional and amateur, is the HANS device. Either made of molded polymers or carbon fibre, I’m fairly certain in stating that it has saved the lives of many a racing driver when put to use.
This first video illustrates a crash test dummy hitting a “wall” at only 42mph. If the movement of the dummy’s head and neck is that extreme at such a “slow” speed, it can only be worse at the triple-digit speeds racing accidents can occur at:
This next video illustrates the same crash test dummy hitting the “wall” also at 42mph, but now using a HANS. The lack of movement of the head and neck compared to above is eye-opening:
A third example of the effectiveness comes from a Rally event in Europe. The co-driver in this car is wearing a HANS, while the driver, inexplicably, isn’t. The forces even in this “low-speed” crash into a ditch are shocking.
Other head and neck restraints besides the HANS are available from from companies like Simpson Racing Products and NecksGen, and offer similar protection.
Like wearing a helmet, fire suit, gloves and shoes, I could never imagine myself getting into a racing car without using a neck restraint. While somewhat uncomfortable initially, it becomes second nature to use. For something relatively “simple” compared to other safety equipment for the driver and car, a neck restraint has the greatest potential benefit; put succinctly, it can save your life.
However, we must realize that racing, even with advances in car design and driver protection, will never be 100% safe. It’s, I guess, part of the reason why some folks, including myself, are drawn to it. Injuries can still occur even when a driver is protected by the best equipment available. Racing drivers, teams and tracks must continue to be vigilant on safety and make the necessary improvements wherever required to ensure the well-being of drivers when going for the win.
I remember when I first started meeting other VW owners in 2011. Honestly, being in my own little bubble at that time, I thought that the VW community that I know today didn’t, and couldn’t, exist. I had started racing that year and got involved with that group of people. But, to me, a local VW community just didn’t seem possible. However, the very first VW owner I met and got to know them changed that completely.
At the Cherry Hill Mall sometime in mid-2011, I met a guy named Patrich, who had a Mk6 GTI. It was the two of us in a parking lot. But, who knew that that particular moment, insignificant as I felt it was (I was pissed more people didn’t show up) would have such a tremendous impact on me, because of what it would start.
A group of people who share a common interest in something, whatever that is, eventually develop this “familiarity” and “trust.” The members of the group can come from any sort of background (racial, financial, educational, etc), have different upbringings and things each likes. But, that bond around a single common thing can transcend pretty much most of, if not all, these differences.
Some of the people that I met during some of the organized meets back then (in the same Mt. Laurel, NJ location) are still around today. This includes Patrich (a salute to you, sir, for serving our country – he is currently deployed right now), Johny (I never realised how young you were, and still are) and Dave Bonell (who re-joined us in 2013).
As mentioned, the meets organized by Patrich and myself were rag-tag efforts. We would occasionally get a decent turnout some Thursday nights, but for the most part, it didn’t really grow. But, when I returned in May of 2012, things had flipped 180 degrees. The meet had a whole new look and feel; an identity, if you will. What was missing from both of our initial attempts had been added.
I had quite severe apprehension about pretty much every new person that came out to the meet from that point on. I remember sticking with those I knew and being quite shy about meeting the others. It took quite a bit of courage and effort to do so, but, looking back on it, I openly think about why I felt that way. I think those still being in my life to this day, almost 2 years later only makes me laugh at how timid I was.
In those 2 years, I think pretty much everyone has seen my good, and for some, unfortunately, my bad side. While I’m a nice and pleasant person a majority of the time, I’ve always had anger management problems as far back as I can remember. Because I’ve always been a perfectionist with everything I do, I got easily frustrated and angry when things don’t go right. When that happened, instead of venting about it, I let it sit and smolder inside, which resulted in outbursts that I’m embarrassed about. I felt my main reason for not expressing those feelings was that I didn’t want to waste people’s time. I thought that people wouldn’t want to hear about my problems; and who would, really, when we all have our own issues to deal with on a daily basis?
I think I’ve gotten better at not holding feelings of anger and frustration in over the time I’ve been with this group, but I still struggle. I have moments where I question whether I really want to say what’s on my mind, because of past incidents where doing that got me into trouble. But, actually having true friends who are willing to listen when I need to vent is something that has comforted me. Frankly, I still can’t understand how everyone I’ve met the last two years still actually gives a shit about me.
I guess the word that I started this whole thing out with – camaraderie – really is present amoungst all of us, and it goes beyond just cars.
I can’t imagine myself meeting and getting to know a better group of people than the guys and gals of Fahrenhart. I’ve been accepted, flaws and all, somehow. Even doing something that 99% of the group doesn’t do – racing – didn’t affect how I was perceived. In fact, I think it probably gained me a few brownie points, really.
To the group – thank you.
To those of you who read this and wonder if you should join up with us, or even come to a meet – don’t question it, just do it. You will not regret it.