Auto Racing Safety Equipment Pioneer Bill Simpson Passes Away

Dec 18, 2019 2 min read
Auto Racing Safety Equipment Pioneer Bill Simpson Passes Away-690x450

He was 79 years old.

E.J. "Bill" Simpson saved many lives over the course of his 79 years. Born in Hermosa Beach, California, Simpson was a racer turned safety advocate, and he manufactured racing safety gear. In fact, it is safe to call him a safety pioneer in the racing world. Unfortunately, he passed away due to a stroke.

No stranger to the drag strip, Simpson started his racing career back in the late 1950s. He raced on drag strips and Indy tracks, and he came in 13th during the Indy 500 back in 1974. He owned an Indy car, and he put Rick Mears, a desert off-road racer, into the driver's seat. Mears proved his talent and soon was piloting cars for Roger Penske, and he set a record by winning the Indy 500 four times.

Auto Racing Safety Equipment Pioneer Bill Simpson Passes Away-690x450

When Simpson was just 18 years old, he broke both arms in a car accident. After that, he came up with the idea of mounting a parachute to the back of a race car to help slow it down after reaching the quarter-mile. Soon after, NHRA was on board with Simpson's chute idea.

While that was a big step for safety at the track, Simpson really made a name for himself in the 1960s. He began making safety equipment for NASA, and this is where he met astronaut Pete Conrad who introduced him to a fire retardant material called Nomex. Once he got his hands on the material, he began creating Nomex suits for race car drivers and incorporated the material in glvoes and shoes as well. By 1967, 30 out of 33 drivers were wearing Nomex suits at Indy. Simpson was at Indy's Gasoline Alley when he lit himself on fire to prove the effectiveness of the material.

Around this time, drivers competing in the NASCAR, Indycar, and F1 races were losing their lives due to fire. Back in these days, there was minimum protection with many just wearing t-shirts or chemical-coated uniforms.

We undoubtedly lost a bright light in the automotive world. This man has done a tremendous job keeping everybody safe with his brilliant mind and safety products. Rest easy, Mr. Simpson.

Source: The Classic Cars Journal


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