Dr. John Melvin, a NASCAR consultant and biomedical engineer who dedicated much of his professional life to determining what causes injuries in racecar crashes, died July 17.
Melvin was a longtime consultant to NASCAR following a 40-year career at General Motors that ended with his retirement in 1998. He also was an adjunct professor at Wayne State University.
For the last 13 years, Melvin has worked with NASCAR on safety issues and would play a role in NASCAR’s driver safety meetings, explaining why injuries occurred in recent accidents.
Melvin was a major factor in NASCAR’s focus on safety following the death of Dale Earnhardt in the 2001 Daytona 500. He was an advocate for many of the resulting safety enhancements, such as the HANS Device and the construction of seats and restraint systems that could better protect the driver.
"NASCAR and the entire motorsports industry lost a giant on Thursday with the passing of Dr. John Melvin," NASCAR President Mike Helton said in a statement. "Dr. Melvin was a pioneer in the field of driver safety, particularly in the area of driver restraint systems.
"His many contributions as a safety consultant to NASCAR for more than 13 years forever changed the sport. We lost a colleague, and a friend."
Melvin received his B.S. (1960), M.S. (1962) and Ph.D. (1964) in Theoretical and Applied Mechanics from the University of Illinois. As a Research engineer and Associate Professor at the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute, from 1968 to 1985, he was involved in the planning and implementation of research projects dealing with the mechanical properties of biological tissues; injury mechanisms of the organs and structures in the head, neck, chest, abdomen, and lower extremities; development of test dummy components; and the development and evaluation of advanced restraint systems for children and adults.
"His training in biomechanical engineering gave him a unique perspective to study the causes of human-body injuries in racing crashes and devise solutions to minimize such injuries. Many drivers today credit these improvements for saving their lives," said Abder Amokrane of Stand 21.
"A modest man, and a humanist, he shared his knowledge with kindness, conviction and uncompromising attitude," added Amokrane. "No eulogy can accurately credit John for his extraordinary body of work, and the vacuum his passing causes in the racing community is no less than abysmal."