Harry Volpi's Driver Decelerator [1969]

New Life Support System

The Unlimited Hydroplane establishment said it would do something about serious driver injuries and deaths. This highest water-speed racing went for years without great tragedies. Then the bells tolled . . . too many times in the past five years. Whether it was too much speed on the confining circular course, whether it was unwise competitorship at a given point, or whether it was unlucky boat and mechanical failures is not the point of this item.

Sketches of the driver decelerator, 1969

Sketches of the driver decelerator, 1969

Whatever the combination of events, the latest announcement is that a new and revolutionary support system is ready for drivers in 1969. Racing commissioner Lee Schoenith has announced the approval. Great credit has been given to Harry Volpi for its development. He had been highly Honored in 1968 as the crew manager of the year. If the new protection device for drivers accomplishes all for which it is destined he will he better remembered for his persistence in this safety work.

The device is relatively simple — though the actual design is quite exotic. Research indicated that a driver involved in a hydro accident flies through the air for a short distance, laterally and sometimes vertically. The life support system is designed so that a decelerator (an exotic version of a parachute) is released and force-inflated when a driver is hurled from a boat. Its design allows it to slow a driver down and deposit him in the water gently after he has travelled either 84 feet laterally or five and a half feet vertically. Both increments are small when applied to hydroplane mishaps. A lanyard arrangement connects driver to boat, providing a trigger mechanism.

Volpi consulted with and received a vast amount of volunteer engineering help from universities, aerospace divisions, engineering firms and directly from the NASA Research Center. The Pioneer Parachute Co. of Manchester, Conn., will manufacture the first units.

(Reprinted from Sea and Pacific Motor Boat, July 1969, p.31)


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Leslie Field, 2001