Bill Simpson, a trail blazer in the world of motorsports safety, died Monday. He was 79.
Simpsonâs passing was confirmed by the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America, which said that he had recently suffered a stroke. He was enshrined there in 2003 and was inducted to the Auto Racing Hall of Fame in Indianapolis in 2014.
Simpson, a native of Hermosa Beach, California, began his racing career in drag racing, then made 52 starts in USAC and Champ Car competition from 1968-77, recording 11 top-10 finishes. That included one start in the Indianapolis 500, where he started 20th and finished 13th in 1974.
But Simpsonâs calling card was his devotion to safety, where he made major advancements in fire suits, helmets and harnesses. He illustrated his faith in the effectiveness of his products to an extraordinary degree by lighting himself afire while wearing a Simpson-brand fire suit.
âThere I sat on a metal chair as they poured the gas on me and George Snider threw the match in,â Simpson said in a catalog for his equipment, referring to one of his flamboyant demonstrations in 1976. âNow Iâm on fire. And the next thing I see is Johnny Rutherford or somebody standing there sticking a hot dog into the fire. Pretty soon after that, every one of those guys was wearing my stuff.â
Simpson began his own company in 1959 after an accident at San Fernando Dragway in his home state. He soon developed a parachute system to help slow dragsters at the end of their quarter-mile runs.
Simpsonâs sons Dave and Jeff also raced, with Dave Simpson making seven starts in what is now the NASCAR Xfinity Series in 1988-89. âMy interest is that when my boys strap into their cars that they come out,â Bill Simpson told the Associated Press in 1989.
Remembrances poured in Monday afternoon to honor Simpson, with Mario Andretti, Chip Ganassi, Tony Stewart, Rusty Wallace and Jeff Burton among those memorializing him. Simpsonâs life was documented in an autobiography co-authored by Bones Bourcier in 2000, a book titled, âRacing Safely, Living Dangerously.â