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NASCAR mourns loss of safety specialist Dr. John Melvin

Many NASCAR drivers owe their lives to Melvin's innovations.
Many NASCAR drivers owe their lives to Melvin's innovations.
Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Although few (if any) fans know his name, Dr. John Melvin was a giant in the world of NASCAR racing, having worked for the past 13 years as a safety consultant for the industry, and many drivers owe him their lives. A former professor at the University of Michigan’s Transportation Research Institute, as well as an adjunct profession at Wayne State University in Detroit, Melvin spent 40-years working for General Motors as an automotive safety researcher before moving to NASCAR in 1998 as a paid technical consultant in regard to racecar safety.

Melvin was also a pivotal player in the sport’s focus on developing better ways to protect its drivers following Dale Earnhardt’s death in the 2001 Daytona 500. He was an advocate for many of the safety enhancements, such as the HANS Device and the construction of seats and restraint systems that could better protect the driver. In addition to developing seat the HAN head and neck restraints, seat belts for racecars and improving their seat construction, he was the first person to create a black box for racecars in 1991 and was a strong advocate off SAFER (steel foam and energy reduction) barriers on the track.

"NASCAR and the entire motorsports industry lost a giant on Thursday with the passing of Dr. John Melvin. Dr. Melvin was a pioneer in the field of driver safety, particularly in the area of driver restraint systems," NASCAR president Mike Helton said in a statement. "His many contributions as a safety consultant to NASCAR for more than 13 years forever changed the sport. We lost a colleague, and a friend.

In addition, Sprint Cup series champ Brad Keselowski tweeted his own tribute to Dr. Melvin, lauding him for recommending the use of over under shoulder harnesses and 6-point bar crotch belts, which he stated “probably saved my life in various crashes.”