15 Year-Old Niokoa Johnson of Micanopy, FL died while trying to qualify for her first race at Bubba Speedway in Ocala, FL last Sunday. She lost control and hit an unprotected concrete wall, head on. She was not wearing a HANS device.
While an exact cause of death has not been released it is widely assumed that Johnson died from an injury, such as a basilar skull fracture, that a HANS device could have prevented.
News reports indicate that her race prepared Nissan Sentra had a proper roll cage and restraints, and that she had all other required safety gear.
If this is true then Johnson died from the worst kind of injury; a preventable one. It was the perfect storm of a driver with an unrestrained helmet hitting a bare concrete wall at a nearly perpendicular angle. If any one of those details were different, if Johnson were wearing a HANS device, if the track had SAFER barriers installed, if the car had impacted at an oblique angle, Johnson may well have walked away.
The thing is though, drivers only control two of those variables at best, and usually only one; the decision to wear a HANS device. However, as a 15 year old girl practicing for her first race at a local track, she may not have had control of any of it.
It's the racing equivalent of a child unnecessarily dying from an otherwise eradicated disease. We know what causes this and how to stop it from happening. There is no reason for drivers to be dying from these accidents in 2014.
As respected racing journalist Steven Cole Smith implored on Facebook in response to this crash at a track he himself has raced on- "Please, don't let people you love race without a HANS, even if it costs more than the car, even if they are racing on a little dirt track, like she was."
It should be pointed out that this goes for anybody racing a car, regardless of whether they are on an oval, a road course, or not on a race track at all.
HANS vs No HANS in Real Time
It doesn't matter if you're racing Skip Barber, NASA, a track day, or as Smith pointed out, at a little dirt track, this kind of an accident can kill you. Wear a HANS device, or don't race.