Bill Simpson, Racing’s Life Saver

Photo: Bill Simpson demonstrates the safety of hone of his fire suits.

We will never know the number of lives Bill Simpson saved with his safety innovations, but we are grateful for every one of them. Simpson, 79, died Monday afternoon after suffering a massive stroke Friday. He raced and knew the dangers. Simpson decided to do something about it. Today’s drivers have much longer careers thanks in part to Simpson and his safety equipment.

Simpson began racing dragsters and SCCA Formula cars before joining USAC in 1968. He qualified for the Indianapolis 500 in 1974. Simpson started 20th and finished 13th. His best finish in a USAC race was 6th at Milwaukee in 1970. He retired from racing in May 1977. During a practice run, he started thinking about a phone call he had to make.

From drag chutes to fire suits to lap belts to helmets, Simpson continuously worked to make racing safer. He is credited with creating more than 200 safety products. Simpson has left a legacy of safety across the entire sport. I remember when he first set himself on fire to prove the worth of his fire suit. It was shocking to see at first, but then I realized he wasn’t hurt. The days of watching drivers race while wearing T-shirts and slacks was officially over.

We rarely think of Simpson when we watch a race, but every crash where a driver walks away or survives is in part due to his work. I often wonder where racing would be without Shaw, Foyt, Andretti, the Unsers, Mears, and others. Yet you have to wonder where they would be without Bill Simpson.

I hope every racing series takes a moment of two in 2020 to honor Simpson at a race. He has helped keep the sport alive.