Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Simpson Performance Products Field Trip

Today the Force kids and I headed to New Braunfels for a homeschool field trip to Simpson Performance Products. 

I enjoyed the trip so much it inspired me to once again awaken the blog from the dead so that I could share. The big kids each wrote their own posts and you can check them out too.

Addie's - Sunshine Lemonade Blog

Lucas's - Life with Lucas Blog

Simpson Performance Products began with the introduction of the first drag racing parachute in 1959 and continued to add flare and safety elements to the racing sports such as the Firesuit in 1964 and the pre-air breathing hood in 1965. In 1958, the 18 year old Simpson broke both arms in a drag racing crash. Simpson said later, "Until then, I was like most drivers. The only time I thought about safety was after I'd been hurt. This time, I was hurt bad enough to do a lot of thinking."   

Simpson is headquartered in New Braunfels, Texas and has been in since the construction of their 
80k SF manufacturing facility in 1997.  Today the New Braunfels facility is responsible for construction of drag racing parachutes, seatbelts and other safety harnesses, the HANS device for head and neck protection, custom gloves for a few drivers and helmets.  They are also a storage facility for racing items manufactured in California  and North Carolina and home of a good sales team.

Our guide today was Shane, manager of Simpson Engineering and responsible considerably for helmet design.
On our way to Simpson Performance Products!
A drag racing parachute
Our tour began in the front of the facility where parachutes and parachute packs are constructed for drag racers. The ladies were busy today making yellow and black parachutes for racer, John Force (no relation :)) I was impressed and somehow surprised to see how much of this place was dedicated to little women at a sewing machine.  So much sewing in racing!!

Matthew trying the race harness system

After parachutes we moved onto safety restraints. Shane used our buddy, Matthew to show how the drivers are basically in the standard 5 point harness system our kids all love to grow out of around age 6.  Yea they are restrained basically like the best car seat ever.  One exception is that with one tug of that red strap all links are broken.  This safety feature is included for the case that the driver needs to exit the car very quickly.  Like if the car is on fire.
In this photo Shane is showing us the cam type latch for the safety belts.

After safety belts, we learned about the HANS device for head and neck protection.  Each child got to try them on.  The HANS device (Head and Neck Support device) is a safety item compulsory in many car racing sports. It reduces the likelihood of head and/or neck injuries in the event of a crash. They are made of carbon fiber, or plastic.  The carbon fiber model is tremendously light.  The kids took turns trying them on.

Several carbon fiber HANS devices ready to be shipped.

Addie in the HANS device.

Hey Look!!! Simpson also makes car seats.  Well actually the seats are made by GRACO but branded by SIMPSON.  So your little tike can practice race restraint.
The remainder of the tour covered the helmets. Shane first took us to an intro area where he showed the kids the helmet shell and each of the fibers, together with a resin, that it is comprised of along with the psf (styrofoam portion) and the fabric liner. We spent about ten minutes learning about the construction of the helmet itself before moving on to learn about painting and customization.
Addie in the outer shell only

Lucas in the PSF lined with fabric.

Simpson also makes road approved motorcycle helmets.  Shane says the primary buyer of a helmet like this is a race fan that wants to ride with a helmet that is similar to what the racers wear. 

 We learned about motorcycle racer, Angie Smith.  Simpson makes a custom helmet for her called the Bulldog for her.  Angie Smith shares at birthday with Addie Belle (not the same year obviously) This helemt Shane is holding with the pink is hers.

In our family we are fans of the show Arrow.  Addie called these the Slade Wilson helmets.

testing device for impact.
The last technical part of our tour walked the group into a tiny room where the helmets are impact tested.  Impact testing (similar to the creation of the HANS device) was initiated by friends of a driver who sufferred a Brain injury in a racing accident. The testing process was created by the Snell Memorial foundation. Our guide showed us a helmet that had already been tested.  There are markings on the top to show the results of the two drops.  The side of the helmet is delineated with lines to show the critical area of focus to prevent brain injury.  As Shane said,, "this test is designed to ensure the worst that can happen is mild concussion".  I wonder if that is comforting to the mother of a racer.

Our  tour was pretty much done after we pried ourselves out of the tiny room of impact testing.  As we headed back to the front of the facility.  Shane showed Emmy a comfy front lining for the helmets.  We also got to hear a great story about Bill Simpson's fire suit.  See the photo of guy on fire.  To prove his confidence in his product, he doused himself with gasoline and lit himself on fire.  The suit is not fire proof, but fire retardant.  After the driver uses that fast escape with one latch from the seat-belt, he gets out of the on fire car and his crew can extinguish the flame.  All in 5 seconds.  Again I am wondering what those mothers feel like.

And that's a wrap. We ended by the Tony Stewart banner flag.  Tony Races with Simpson Performance products and wears the name on his shoulder and car as well.

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