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History Bill Simpson Passes

Discussion in 'The Hokey Ass Message Board' started by Robert J. Palmer, Dec 16, 2019.

  1. Racing Saftey pironeer Bill Simpson passed away after having two strokes on Friday

    SEMA Hall of Fame 1988

    Inducted in to the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America in 2003.


    Simpson competed as a driver in drag racing, sports car racing and open-wheel formula racing, including in SCCA and USAC Indy-car competition. He made 52 career Indy-car starts between 1968 and 1977. He produced 11 top-10 finishes, including a career best of sixth in the 1970 Milwaukee 200.
    Southern California native Simpson qualified 20th and finished 13th in the 1974 Indianapolis 500 in the American Kids Racer Eagle-Offy owned by Dick Beith. It was his only career start in “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing,” but competing in that race was the fulfillment of a lifelong dream and the pinnacle of his varied driving career.
    His work in motorsports safety started inadvertently when he crashed his dragster as an 18-year-old in 1958, suffering two broken arms. During his recovery time, Simpson devised and developed more sophisticated, purpose-built parachutes – through trial and error on a rented sewing machine in a garage – to slow dragsters after the finish line, starting a company called Simpson Drag Chutes.
    Perhaps Simpson’s biggest racing safety breakthrough came in 1967. He was introduced to a temperature-resistant fabric called Nomex through NASA astronaut and racing enthusiast Pete Conrad.Simpson created the world’s first racing suit made of Nomex and brought it to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway that May, where it became a safety sensation quickly used by nearly every driver in the starting field and now is standard equipment for every race driver. Donning his Nomex suit and a helmet, Simpson set himself on fire during demonstrations to prove the suit’s effectiveness on several occasions over the years


    E.J. “Bill” Simpson was a pioneer in motorsports safety, a self-made millionaire and a stubborn character that answered to no-one.

    Simpson, who died Monday after suffering a massive stroke last Friday, did a little bit of everything during his 79 years.

    Born in Hermosa Beach, Ca., Simpson started drag racing in the late 1950s and broke both arms when he was 18 years old. That led to his initial safety idea of mounting a parachute behind the car to slow it down, and soon enough it was adopted by the NHRA. But his big breakthrough came in the 1960s, when astronaut Pete Conrad introduced him to a fire-retardant material called Nomex. Simpson began cranking out Nomex suits, and by 1967, 30 of the 33 starters at Indy were wearing them.

    From Racer
    By: Robin Miller

    He made safety part of the racing vernacular, but lived his life on the edge. He started in drag racing and spread his knowledge to IndyCar, NASCAR and Formula 1. He pissed people off hourly, yet shared a drink with them before the sun went down.

    He set himself on fire to prove a point, and saved countless lives with his innovations. He took a sucker punch from NASCAR, and retaliated with a haymaker in court. He drove in the Indianapolis 500, yet was much more successful out of the car. He was an orphan that embraced fatherhood, although he wasn’t that great of a husband.

    E.J. “Bill” Simpson was a pioneer in motorsports safety, a self-made millionaire and a stubborn character that answered to no-one.

    Simpson, who died Monday after suffering a massive stroke last Friday, did a little bit of everything during his 79 years. He drove dragsters and Indy cars, started a safety business in his garage that grew into an empire, and helped reduce the death rate in all forms of racing.

    “Not a lot of people know this but Bill was an orphan that had nothing, and turned his life into something special,” said Don “The Snake” Prudhomme, the drag racing legend who was one of Simpson’s best and oldest friends. “He did so much, and saved so many lives with his innovations.

    “He was the original rags-to-riches story, but he had a big heart and cared about people. Of course he wasn’t real tactful, and we had our differences over the years, but I loved the guy.”

    Born in Hermosa Beach, Ca., Simpson started drag racing in the late 1950s and broke both arms when he was 18 years old. That led to his initial safety idea of mounting a parachute behind the car to slow it down, and soon enough it was adopted by the NHRA. But his big breakthrough came in the 1960s, when astronaut Pete Conrad introduced him to a fire-retardant material called Nomex. Those were the days when IndyCar, NASCAR and F1 drivers lost their lives to fire at an alarming rate because they either drove in a T-shirt or a uniform that was dipped in a chemical to give minimal protection. Simpson began cranking out Nomex suits, and by 1967, 30 of the 33 starters at Indy were wearing them.

    “We never, ever thought about safety, and I didn’t chase Bill Simpson, but thankfully he chased us and made us think,” said Bobby Unser, whose career began in the lethal ‘60s. “Nobody paid any attention to him at first, but then we had to take a serious look at him because he was so smart.

    “The things he was doing changed racing, and he was the best in the world. He did more for racing safety than anyone. He was the man.”

    Adds Prudhomme: “We were wearing Levis and leather jackets, and he saved my ass a time or two with his Nomex suit.

    He showed up at Indianapolis in 1970 with long hair, a fu manchu moustache and an old car, but finally made the show in 1974. He was public enemy No.1 with USAC because of his combative attitude, and drew its ire when he set himself on fire in Turn 1 once to prove the effectiveness of his latest suit. He also kept the USAC charter plane waiting for over an hour in Argentina because he was trying to sweet talk a young lady into flying home with him. They eventually got married.

    Still, as much as he enjoyed driving, the safety side of racing was his passion. From suits, Simpson branched out into gloves, shoes, seat belts and helmets. Simpson Safety Products were used worldwide, and his reputation grew alongside his bank account. His equipment was on display all over the world, and he was constantly upgrading it. But in 2001, his pal Dale Earnhardt was killed in a crash at Daytona that changed the course of Simpson’s life.

    Despite the fact Earnhardt used a seat that was anything but safe and was notorious for loosening his seat belts during a race, NASCAR blamed Simpson seat belts for the death of NASCAR’s biggest star. His life was threatened by fans, and he resigned from his company. “The Earnhardt thing broke his heart, took him down to his knees,” recalled Prudhomme.

    But it didn’t deter his will to prove NASCAR was merely looking for a scapegoat, so he sued the sanctioning body for defamation of character in 2003. “Those people declared war on me but they didn’t know what kind of a fight they were in for,” he said in a 2004 interview. “Everyone who has ever dealt with NASCAR has acquiesced to them because they think they’re bulletproof and nobody will stand up to them. They brought me my knees like nobody else has ever done. But I’m a pretty mean son of a bitch, and they f%^&$% with the wrong guy.”

    The $9 million suit was settled out of court, and while terms were never divulged, Simpson always smiled when asked how he did.

    Another thing that always made him smile was the mere mention of Rick Mears. Simpson took him out of desert racing and into an Indy car in 1976, and then watched the kid from Bakersfield, Ca. blossom into one of Indy’s greatest champions. He kindly sold Rick’s contract to Roger Penske.

    “I didn’t know anything about Indy back then and I didn’t realize what a leader Bill was in the safety industry,” said the four-time Indy winner. “I didn’t know his history, but as time went on I could see what he did to forward its progress. Obviously, I’ll always be thankful for what he did for my career, but I grew to appreciate what he’d done for the sport as time went on. He was the leader in safety, and the guy everyone looked up to in safety. He was big on safety, but didn’t mind taking risks on how to improve things.”

    Simpson was married three times and loved picking fights in bars, but fathered two sons, Jeff and David, and enjoyed sailing on his boat in Mexico almost as much as whiskey.

    Unser recalls almost getting into a fight in Gasoline Alley with Simpson while The Snake spent many nights with the “wild man” trying to keep him out of bar fights.

    “Bill was a hippie when I met him and a cranky old guy most of his life, but he went from a nobody to the top of the heap,” said the three-time Indy winner. “He worked hard and had a good mind – it didn’t go where the normal mind went. Now, he was a hard-head and I’d get mad at him, but then he would do something really good, which was often, and we’d like him again. He’d piss people off one day and save a bunch of lives the next. That was Bill Simpson.”


    From left to right is Tom Sneva, Pancho Carter, Bill Simpson, Jan Opperman, Tom Bigelow, Larry Cannon and Johnny Parsons

    He even set himself on fire to prove his products worked!
    Last edited: Dec 16, 2019
  2. 41rodderz
    Joined: Sep 27, 2010
    Posts: 5,156

    from Oregon

    Condolences to the family. :( A true racer.
    lothiandon1940, OLSKOOL57 and Stogy like this.
  3. roddin-shack
    Joined: Apr 12, 2006
    Posts: 2,414


    WOW, What a Pioneer. Very Sad to here of his passing. Nice TRIBUTE to him. R.I.P. Bill SIMPSON.
    OLSKOOL57, hidez57 and Stogy like this.
    Joined: Jul 20, 2006
    Posts: 2,424


    RIP Bill, racing wouldn’t be the same without you being involved. Thank you so very much.
    OLSKOOL57 and Stogy like this.

  5. Stogy
    Joined: Feb 10, 2007
    Posts: 16,938


    Condolences to the Simpson Family and Friends on the passing of Bill...Certainly an accomplished Man with so many Milestones in this Dangerous Hobby we Revere...

    We many times benefit from innovation but seldom know of its coming to be and Bill would be one of those Engineers...

    Thanks for sharing this unfortunate news @Robert J. Palmer

    May he Rest in Peace...

    lothiandon1940 and OLSKOOL57 like this.
  6. chevy57dude
    Joined: Dec 10, 2007
    Posts: 5,697


  7. pwschuh
    Joined: Oct 27, 2008
    Posts: 2,300


    That's what you call leaving a legacy.
  8. Offset
    Joined: Nov 9, 2010
    Posts: 1,736

    from Canada

    Oh Bill, Rest In Peace.

    You saved so many from hurt. Earnhardt will tell you what happened.
    OLSKOOL57, tractorguy and Stogy like this.
  9. Mimilan
    Joined: Jun 13, 2019
    Posts: 602


    R I P Bill.......... A lot of people on this planet are very grateful to you and your legacy
    OLSKOOL57 and Stogy like this.
  10. The37Kid
    Joined: Apr 30, 2004
    Posts: 27,289


    Rest in Peace, condolences and prayers going out to his family and friends. Bob
    OLSKOOL57 and Stogy like this.
  11. Lloyd's paint & glass
    Joined: Nov 16, 2019
    Posts: 2,469

    Lloyd's paint & glass

    Did so much for those he never even met. Greater love knows no man than he that would put his life on the line to save another... RIP SIR
    OLSKOOL57, Fordors, scotty t and 5 others like this.
  12. Sky Six
    Joined: Mar 15, 2018
    Posts: 1,544

    Sky Six
    from Arizona

    One man did so much and saved so many with his ideas and products. So Sad.
    Robert J. Palmer, OLSKOOL57 and Stogy like this.
  13. southcross2631
    Joined: Jan 20, 2013
    Posts: 3,886


    Saved my drivers life when he became airborne and flipped many times . The Simpson harness, fire suit and helmet did their job . the track crew and the medics had to cut him out and take him out on a back board. He was at my house the next day taking pictures of the car or what was left of it.
    thanks Bill. Sorry to see you go.
  14. Fordors
    Joined: Sep 22, 2016
    Posts: 2,888


    A guy that did it his way, a bit of a maverick yet more often than not he had the right solution. Bill’s legacy will be the huge mark he made on Motorsports safety.

    Stogy and OLSKOOL57 like this.
  15. WB69
    Joined: Dec 7, 2008
    Posts: 1,255


    R.I.P. Brought safety to a different level.
    Stogy likes this.
  16. John Stimac
    Joined: Jan 15, 2008
    Posts: 518

    John Stimac

    Just installed these in my 32 coupe, always used Simpson products. Sorry to hear of Bill's passing IMG_7943.JPG IMG_2107.jpg
  17. Mr48chev
    Joined: Dec 28, 2007
    Posts: 27,323


    May he rest in peace, he did indeed bring safety to a new level and pioneered a lot of the safety items that are standard and taken for granted now.

  18. Bill Simpson - Indy.jpeg
    E.J. "Bill" Simpson
    March 14, 1940 – December 16, 2019
  19. Circa '64 photo of Simpson's FED:

    Bill Simpson hauled his dragster from Los Angeles to Virginia.jpg
    Bill Simpson hauled his dragster from Los Angeles to Richmond (Virginia) Dragway
    pwschuh and Robert J. Palmer like this.
  20. From the December 1965 issue of CAR CRAFT:

    Humble beginnings don't get much humbler than the home garage of Bill Simpson's mom. The low buck dragster racer launched Simpson Safety Equipment by sewing up the first compact, "crossflow" drag ’chutes and filtered face masks. This year, he also introduced a dual ’chute backup system for dragsters.
    Last edited: Dec 17, 2019
    Robert J. Palmer likes this.
  21. The SIMPSON DRAG CHUTE CO. booth at the 1967 Speed Equipment Manufacturers Association trade show held in the basement of Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles:

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  22. Jimbo17
    Joined: Aug 19, 2008
    Posts: 3,725


    One time years ago when Jerry Neadeau was just starting is racing career in NASCAR it was just before Thanksgiving day when Bill Simpson asked Jerry where is was going for Thanksgiving day his reply was I really don't know.
    Bill told him to come over to his house for a great turkey dinner.

    It showed a side of Bill Simpson that sometimes many people never saw.

    raven, The37Kid and Robert J. Palmer like this.
  23. loudbang
    Joined: Jul 23, 2013
    Posts: 30,518


  24. Sporty45
    Joined: Jun 1, 2015
    Posts: 819

    from NH Boonies

  25. rd martin
    Joined: Nov 14, 2006
    Posts: 2,432

    rd martin
    from indiana

    years ago at indy, i walked up to a funny car in the pits, and bill was there by himself , measuring up some belts, if i remember correctly. we got into a safety conversation. he was the man in my book, when it came to safety. rest in piece mr simpson.
    Robert J. Palmer likes this.
  26. R.I.P. Bill and thanks for the great parachutes, belts, and fire suit. You made a huge difference in the racing world. Your insight will be sorely missed.

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