While his on-track career saw him make 52 starts in IndyCar between 1968 and 1977, and a start at the Indianapolis 500, EJ ‘Bill’ Simpson was better known for his off-track development of safety equipment under the Simpson brand. Simpson sadly passed away mid December last year following a stroke. He was 79 years old.
After crashing-out during a drag race at the age of 18, Bill developed the idea of a parachute released from the back of the car to slow it down, which was quickly adopted by the National Hot Rod Association (NHRA). Shortly after, he identified the need for driver fire protection after a spate of fire-deaths. He enlisted astronaut Pete Conrad to help integrate Nomex fire-retardant material into race suits, and, by 1967, nearly every Indianapolis 500 starter was wearing a Nomex race suit.
He’s credited for not only advancing harness technology but also introducing safety boots and gloves to motorsport. Even more notably, his helmets became the safety headwear of choice throughout the 1980s. Formula 1 drivers Jochen Mass, James Hunt, and Mario Andretti all wore Simpson lids.
While he hasn’t been associated with the company since the early 2000s, his legacy lives on through the ongoing production of Simpson products.