On Sept. 11, in a practice session at Laguna Seca Raceway near Monterey, rookie Gonzalo Rodriguez apparently lost control of his Penske-Mercedes, which shot straight off a turn and slammed nose-first into a barrier.
The first layer of the barrier was made of tires bound together. Behind them was a concrete retaining wall. The car hit so hard it drove through the cushion, came to a sudden stop against the immovable wall, then vaulted, rear-over-front, over the wall.
Rodriguez, who suffered an instantaneous basal skull fracture, "bled out before he hit the ground," said Olvey, who was an attending physician at the scene. "Most of his blood volume was on the sign and the wall [over which the car vaulted]."
But where NASCAR had learned little from the fatal crashes of Bonnett and Orr and the near-fatal one of Irvan in '94, CART's recorders gathered enormous information for improvement after Rodriguez's death.
Rodriguez had died of classic basal skull fracture. CART for two years had been studying a device meant to prevent precisely that injury, by restricting the whipping motion of drivers' heads.
It was called the HANS--for head and neck support--and had been around since 1991, developed by Robert Hubbard, a specialist in biomechanical engineering.
At first, it was too bulky for drivers to wear in the tight confines of open-cockpit Indy and Formula One cars. But by 1996, as part of Formula One's all-out war on driver fatalities, Mercedes-Benz engineer Hubert Gramling had seen enormous potential in Hubbard's device. With Hubbard as a consultant, Gramling began testing the device at Mercedes laboratories near Stuttgart, Germany. Together, they refined the HANS until it was small enough to be practical in open-cockpit cars.
Because Mercedes-Benz was involved in Formula One and CART, the technology was shared.
After Rodriguez's death, CART experts created a computer model to be analyzed by Ford engineers. They had the data from Rodriguez's crash recorder. They had the specifications on the HANS. Melding all that information in the computer, they found that "mathematically, the HANS would have saved Gonzalo's life," Trammell said.
Just as they were pondering implementation of the HANS came the tragedy at California Speedway in Fontana that turned CART's steady study of anti-fatality measures into an all-out rush.
Rodriguez was a rookie. Greg Moore was something else entirely--one of the elite fraternity, a proven veteran at 24. He was a budding star, popular with U.S. fans and a major celebrity in his native Canada. And Moore, a paddock prankster and the instigator of virtually every party, was beloved by his peers.
"When Greg got killed, I've never seen drivers that upset, in all the years that I've been doing this," said Olvey, who has been CART's medical director since its inception.
"We've got a highly intelligent group of drivers. They don't accept guys getting killed anymore--especially when it's something that could have been prevented."
Intelligence, unfamiliarity with death and what experts call "small sample" or "cluster" statistics added up to heartsick outrage among CART drivers.
Moore's death on Oct. 31, 1999, was CART's version of F1's nightmare.
"That's the nature of these rare events," said Melvin, the Detroit biomechanical engineer. "You can go for years without them, and then they seem to appear suddenly. The single occurrence, every so often, can sort of fail to get people's attention. But two, close together, can really get everybody's attention."
Olvey said CART's drivers wanted answers, and CART was able to give them.
Moore suffered several sets of lethal injuries, among them a broken neck, but he also suffered basal skull fracture. CART began moving with all deliberate speed to make the HANS practical, and to mandate it.
Moore's crash was horribly violent. His car lost traction in the turbulent air roiling off other cars and skated into the infield grass. Had that infield area been paved, experts believe, he might have regained control, or at least slid safely to a stop.
But on slick tires on the slippery grass, Moore's car skated out of control, sideways. Then it tripped on a rough spot, lifted into the air and began barrel-rolling. Still, Moore might have survived--except that the car then slammed almost directly cockpit-first into a concrete retaining wall in the infield.
The car bounced off the wall and began an even more violent series of rolls.
Moore was dead in the car.
In the off-season, CART moved, rapidly and decisively.
Studies of the HANS intensified, and two CART drivers, Michael Andretti and teammate Christian Fittipaldi, Emerson's nephew, volunteered to wear the device.
On July 26, 2000, the HANS probably saved Christian Fittipaldi's life in a hard crash on the Chicago Motor Speedway oval. Within hours, CART's board of directors voted to make the HANS collar mandatory for all its oval-track races in 2001.