MSUToday
Published: Feb. 11, 2019

Remembering Spartan Bob Hubbard

Contact(s): Patricia Mroczek College of Engineering office: (517) 432-1303 mroczekp@egr.msu.edu

A memorial service to remember Robert “Bob” P. Hubbard, professor emeritus of mechanical engineering, was set for Sunday, Feb. 24, at Edgewood United Church in East Lansing. Hubbard passed away on Feb. 5 in his home.

Hubbard, dubbed by Racer magazine as “the man who helped create one of the biggest breakthroughs in auto racing safety,” joined the MSU faculty in September 1977. He was a professor, inventor and biomechanical engineer for the College of Engineering until his retirement in 2006.

Hubbard conceived the Head and Neck Support, or HANS, device with his brother-in-law and IMSA SportsCar Championship racer Jim Downing. HANS is a life-saving neck restraint that race car drivers can wear for protection.

The HANS device was created when Hubbard and Downing realized that drivers were being killed in racing accidents because their heads were not restrained, which led to basilar skull fractures. The loss of Downing's friend Patrick Jacquemart, who crashed his Renault 5 Turbo in testing at Mid-Ohio in 1981, was the driving force behind their quest for a solution.

Hubbard and Downing’s creation was a collar-shaped device with a yoke that fits over the driver’s shoulder and is tethered to each side of the driver’s helmet. In frontal impact crashes, the driver always remained secured by the belts while the head is carried forward by the momentum, according to Racer.

According to 2014 MSU report, over 200,000 HANS devices have been used by drivers since 1990.

NASCAR racers like Brad Keselowski and Michael McDowell even give credit to the HANS device for saving their lives on multiple occasions, and others like Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kurt Busch announced their condolences for Hubbard and his work via Twitter.