Generated by strong spectator enthusiasm and wearing nothing but a sleeved protective garment referred to as a Xystis, the chariot racers of yesteryear rarely thought about safety, even when death loomed from fractured necks, spines and craniums, as a result of roll-over crashes.
Fast forward to post World War II years, to an abandoned Southern California air strip, designed with the intent to reduce street racing. The site was the birth of organized, weekly motor sport events with a major focus on safety. The first dragsters were little more than street cars with lightly warmed over engines and chopped bodies to reduce weight. Providing moderate roll-over protection, safety roll bars were just that, solid steel rods, with (2) 90 degree bends, forming an inverted flat-back “U” that was mounted behind the driver and passenger at head height, usually spanning the width of the car. A couple of perpendicular, welded steel stabilizers completed the elementary fabrication process.
Eventually professional chassis builders evolved and constructed purpose-built race cars, curving, bending and welding pipe for roll bars. Later curved ultra-light, chrome-moly steel tubing was formed into sophisticated, intricate roll cages, protecting pilots at speeds exceeding well over 300 mph.
There are numerous designs of roll bar and cage designs depending on the application. Different sanctioned racing organizations have a variety of specifications and regulations, most using the aforementioned light weight alloy tubing.
A revolutionary form of roll-over protection in a passenger car was introduced in 1989 and pioneered by Mercedes-Benz. Roll hoops are concealed within the body, but quickly extend and lock into place when sensors detect an imminent roll-over. Other automotive manufacturers followed suit with similar, deployable, protection systems to the delight of insurance carriers globally.
Roll bars have been found historically on row crop tractors, and roll cages are commonly used in the cabs of modern, state-of-the-art construction tractors and farm implements.
So whether you’re rolling around town in a an antique chariot, top fuel dragster, tractor or perhaps a favorite, well-engineered passenger car, curved steel over your head pays dividends by transporting you safely.