INDIANAPOLIS, IN (Pittsburgh Racing Now) – Racer and safety pioneer Bill Simpson died Monday in Indianapolis at the age of 79.
Simpson grew up drag racing as a teenager in Southern California but also competed in sports car and open-wheel racing, making 52-career IndyCar starts between 1968 and 1977 with a career best finish of sixth in the 1970 Milwaukee 200.
Simpson’s foray into safety began in 1958 when he broke both his arms when he crashed his dragster. Simpson spent his recovery time developing more sophisticated, purpose-built parachutes to slow dragsters after the finish line.
Simpson Drag Chutes eventually morphed into Simpson Performance Products and Impact! Racing, which designed, developed and produced more than 200-motorsports safety products including helmets, gloves, seat belts, fire-retardant suits and more.
When creating the first racing suit made of the temperature-resistant fabric called Nomex, Simpson brought the suit to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in May 1967 and set himself on fire during demonstrations to prove the suit’s effectiveness.
Pittsburgh’s Chip Ganassi simply paid tribute to Simpson on twitter using a picture of that demonstration:
— Chip Ganassi (@GanassiChip) December 16, 2019
The racing community took to social media to express their condolences to the man who dedicated his life to making the sport he loved safer.
Amen. Rest in peace, my friend. https://t.co/mmbVz5B6OH
— Mario Andretti (@MarioAndretti) December 16, 2019
Bill Simpson was one of my best friends. He made a huge positive impact on racing and we should all be grateful for his contributions. Bill did things his own way and he was 100% committed to making racing safer. I'm not sure I'd be here today without Bill. I'll really miss him. https://t.co/AERNwArQG6
— Rusty Wallace (@RustyWallace) December 16, 2019
Simpson was inducted into the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America in 2003 and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Hall of Fame in 2014.
A celebration of Simpson’s life is being planned for this May at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum with details to be announced at a later date.