Racing Safety Pioneer Bill Simpson Passes Away
Bill Simpson, a former racer and pioneer in motorsport safety, has passed away at the age of 79 after a stroke.
Born on March 14, 1940 in Southern California, Simpson spent most of his motor racing career going between open wheel, sports car and drag racing. Between 1968 and 1977, he made 52 IndyCar starts with a personal best finish of 6th place at the 1970 Milwaukee 200. He also qualified for the 1974 Indy 500, and went on to finished 13th.
It was after a heavy crash in a drag car at 18 years old though, in which he broke both arms, that Simpson began to develop a parachute to slow the cars down, an innovation that is still used today. That development led to the creation of his companies, Simpson Performance Products and Impact! Racing.
He is also credited with developing the first fire-retardant race suit made of Nomex, which he debuted at the 1967 Indianapolis 500. To demonstrate its capabilities, he would often set himself on fire. For his innovations towards motorsport safety, Simpson was inducted into the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America in 2003.
His racing days came to an end when, during practice for the 1977 Indy 500, he realized he was focused more on making a phone call for his business then he was at driving, and immediately hung up his helmet for good, giving the car right there to former F1 driver Clay Regazzoni.
A celebration of Bill Simpson’s life will take place in May at the IMS Museum in Indianapolis.