Photos and Images by MasterCraft Safety and Impact
As a racer there are very few things better than unbridled horsepower and whiplash-inducing acceleration. The smell of fresh laid rubber, eye-burning nitro fuel and the heart-stopping sound of horsepower rocketing away from the starting line is what feeds this maniacal addiction called racing. It’s why competitors spend many long nights wrenching and thousands of dollars looking for just fractions of a second in the unending pursuit of victory.
No one gets excited about getting hurt during the quest for bragging rights and the biggest trophy, though, just ask Impact’s new owner Robbie Pierce. Pierce was involved in a spectacular crash during a Lucas Oil Off Road Racing Series (LOORRS) short course event at Glen Helen Raceway last year. Dubbed the equivalent to Supercross (but with 800-hp trucks) LOORRS racers experience extremely violent crashes. With 22 trucks all fighting for the same piece of real estate on a track that’s shorter than a mile, sometimes the results are less than ideal. The crash left Pierce with a long list of injuries, including two broken collarbones, multiple cracked ribs, bruised lungs and a badly busted up knee. As Robbie sat in his hospital bed, he spent his time contemplating what his off-road racing safety company, MasterCraft Safety, could have done to further minimize his injuries.
Ironically, the opportunity to purchase Impact from Bill Simpson presented itself just a few weeks later, and Pierce saw his chance to expand his company’s existing safety offerings and make racers everywhere safer, including himself. Even before the accident, the pursuit of racing safety had become Robbie’s passion and calling. As a company and individual deeply rooted in aerospace fabrication and welding, Pierce’s background and resume reflect a rather impressive list of clients whose design and fabrication requirements are dauntingly precise.
As with most industries, the bottom line was the driving force behind the purchasing decisions, and many of the aerospace companies moved their orders overseas where labor costs were significantly less. Robbie Pierce had to adjust his business plan to survive. “That’s when I decided to purchase MasterCraft,” remarked Robbie, adding, “It’s hard to grow up in San Diego and not be involved in off-road racing to some extent. I had the opportunity to purchase a well-known off-road racing seat company by the name of MasterCraft in ’99, and this was about the same time I was beginning to realize a rapid decline in my aerospace projects, as they were being outsourced overseas. I took the plunge, purchased MasterCraft, and I just ran with it.” Under his direction the company quickly became the gold standard in suspension seats and restraints used in off-road racing.
“In 2008 we expanded beyond our safety seating and race restraints to include driving suits,” Pierce explains. “The problem is that we still did not offer a full product line. We had racers in our suits, restraints and seats, but they were running competitors’ helmets, shoes and gloves. The goal was always to have MasterCraft offer these products, but purchasing Impact from Bill expedited the process.” Even though it was an asset-based acquisition, it clearly was not without risks, but then again, anyone who bangs doors with other trucks in mid-air at 80 mph is not afraid to take a few chances. “I knew that there was controversy associated with Impact, but that did not scare me off,” the straightforward Pierce confesses. “I saw an opportunity to revive a struggling company and jumpstart my own goal to offer head-to-toe safety solutions.”
While their personalities could not be more different, Bill Simpson and Robbie Pierce share a passion for safety and the pride that both of their company’s products have been and always will be proudly made in the USA. “In all honesty, the off-road racers of today do not get the credit they deserve,” explained Simpson. “A racer is a racer, and that common thread is all it takes to understand the needs of all the different circuits out there. Robbie and I have both created products that matter for our particular markets. This acquisition is combining a powerful wealth of safety expertise in a broad range of motorsports.”
While MasterCraft Safety doubled in size with the acquisition of Impact, it still has fewer than 200 total employees. And all of those employees are right here in America, working in Impact and MasterCraft Safety facilities in Southern California, Indiana and North Carolina. “We are enthusiasts, there is no question about that.” Pierce observes. “I think that was what appealed to Bill. He wasn’t handing the company off to a mega-corporation that was just adding the acquisition to a larger portfolio of business holdings. I approached this business as a complement to my existing safety line and with a real passion for racing. Bill noticed that difference immediately.”
MasterCraft Safety not only protects racers and enthusiasts throughout the country, but American soldiers all across the world as well. “Shortly after I purchased MasterCraft Safety we began developing a line of blast attenuating seats specifically designed to mitigate the energy of an IED (improvised explosive device). The men and women in our armed forces experience very similar environmental conditions and g-load impacts as what we see in off-road racing, but with a much higher energy into the vehicle.” MasterCraft Safety’s seats possess unique properties in mitigating that energy, reducing the impact energy by a measurable 84 percent during a blast event. “When MasterCraft Safety performed its first blast test on our seat, we knew the seat would do well, but even we were surprised by the phenomenal results. The company also recently performed a sled test in the +Z axis and hit the seat with 350 g’s (nominal), mitigating that energy into a survivable rate for the soldier.” As these numbers roll off of Pierce’s tongue it is obvious how important research and development is to MasterCraft Safety.
Understandably, Impact’s SFI controversy has been the topic that Robbie Pierce has been asked about most frequently since acquiring the company in December 2010. It is a new situation for Pierce, as the SFI Foundation has never had any issues with MasterCraft products, but Pierce does not shy away from the topic. “Bad decisions were made by the previous management, however I truly believe the safety of the racers was not jeopardized by those decisions. Regardless, I can assure the racing community that the issues of the past will not be repeated on my watch. Since the acquisition, I have brought in a new management team, and have been spending quite a bit of time at Impact headquarters making sure all quality control processes are running as I expect. I firmly believe the Impact products have always stood on their own merit and the quality is remarkable,” stated Robbie. “At the end of the day, no one can argue with the fact that Bill Simpson has a passion for safety and is an absolute pioneer and innovator.”
The SFI Foundation and Impact settled their differences and released a joint press release in September 2010 announcing such. “Racers count on the SFI Foundation’s program to ensure their safety,” notes SFI Foundation President and CEO Arnie Kuhns, also adding, “Document and process management are critical aspects to verifying and validating the safety of the products that are certified.” Touching on and responding to Arnie Kuhns’ statement, Mike Ross, director of technology at Impact by MasterCraft Safety remarked, “The critical nature of our products is something we never underestimate or take lightly. As a tier one OEM supplier to the defense industry, MasterCraft Safety has a top-level quality management system in place.” With an impressive list of previous projects, including the likes of NASA, Mike Ross has worked for or consulted with some of the most technologically advanced companies prior to landing at MasterCraft Safety. “We know we are under a microscope right now, and all eyes are on us. We have gone to great lengths since the acquisition to ensure our products are in line with our expectations and also that of the racing community’s and the SFI Foundation’s,” added Ross. Another indication of fence mending is MasterCraft Safety’s recent announcement that they are an official HANS distributor.
Where Bill Simpson is unrivaled is in the development and testing of helmets. “He is a wizard with a helmet lay-up, and Bill has probably forgotten more about impact energy and its effect on the brain than I will ever personally know.” Pierce conceded. “I feel honored to watch him at work and learn his trade secrets.” That commitment to innovation results in products that protect racers traveling faster than 300 mph, like Top Fuel driver Antron Brown and Funny Car driver Matt Hagan, not to mention the CEO of the company himself. What can racers look forward to, we ask? “I have a couple of projects in the works right now,” says Robbie. “But I don’t want to let the cat out of the bag just yet. It is certainly an exciting time for me, though, both as a racer and as the company’s CEO.”
MasterCraft Safety’s goal is not to mess with Impact’s success. “We are in an excellent position,” Pierce confided. “MasterCraft Safety is an ISO-compliant company with the processes in place to quantify any changes the market demands. At the same time, we are small enough to make these improvements quickly to bring them to market for our customers. “For a small, wholly-owned company, we have fairly sophisticated systems and processes in place. We also have a very savvy staff of designers and engineers that perform solid modeling for all of the MasterCraft products and have begun to do the same on the Impact line. I look forward to blending these two companies and truly combining the real world experience of Impact with the technology of MasterCraft Safety,” remarked Pierce.