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Holding A Pretty Wheel · Amy Henderson · Thursday November 8, 2007
NASCAR has come a long way on safety in recent years. The HANS device, SAFER barriers, the Car of Tomorrow-all were implemented to improve safety and the chances of a driver avoiding serious injury in a crash. By all accounts, they are working. But there is one area in which NASCAR lags far behind other major racing series. Despite all the devices and inventions, the sanctioning body has never seen its way clear to have a traveling medical team.
Such a team with a medical doctor, preferably a trauma surgeon, at its head as medical director is a long overdue addition to NASCAR's workforce. Under the director should be at least one other doctor and a handful of nurses, as well as enough EMT's and paramedics to staff at least three ambulances. Having a traveling team would allow NASCAR to do several things:
Clear (or not) injured drivers to race: By having one doctor with the authority to make this call, with the option of taking the opinions of colleagues into consideration, would in turn allow NASCAR to make a long overdue rules change. In the case where the medical director determined that a driver was unfit to race, NASCAR would finally have a consistent, unbiased source making the call. This would clear the way for a rule allowing the driver to choose a substitute for the race or races missed, without losing valuable points. This would also be a boon in the area of safety, because an injured driver could take a week or two off and not be in jeopardy of losing hard earned ground in a championship battle. An injured driver, rushing back into the seat just to earn points, may not have the reaction time or motor function of a healthy one, possibly leading to a mistake that caused further injury to himself or to another driver. By having one objective person to make the call not to clear that driver, it would allow NASCAR to adjust another rule in the interest of safety.
Implement random drug testing: A medical director would be in position to implement a weekly system to randomly test drivers for illegal substances that would be timely and consistent from week to week. A tight policy would be a deterrent to many young, wealthy drivers considering trying drugs. Again, it's a safety issue. For every driver caught under the current system, are there more that aren't? Possibly, possibly not, but a better system would put the pendulum squarely in the "not" category if drivers raced under the constant possibility of a blood or urine test at any time during the weekend.
Regulate and facilitate crew reactions when a crash occurs: A regular crew manning the ambulances could well mean a much safer race every week. Consider Greg Biffle's fiery exit at Texas. As he sat in his car, surrounded by safety workers, the cockpit of his car quickly filled with smoke and fumes. EMT's trained in racing procedures might have immediately removed the passenger side window, allowing the fumes to escape while they tended to Biffle and helped him out of the car. NASCAR did designate an official to go to the cars with the existing weekly crews so an injured or simply stunned driver might see a familiar face, but a traveling crew would negate that need as the entire crew would be familiar to every driver. In addition a medical director could communicate more effectively with permanent crews, giving instructions that could save a life.
For a sanctioning body that has been so innovative in the safety department and is intent on continuing that trend, it seems ridiculous that NASCAR has not had a permanent medical staff in place all along. There is no reason it could not easily be done, as evidenced by the fact that both the Indy Racing League and Champ Car World Series have had traveling teams in place for years, to the benefit of all involved. It's time for NASCAR to step into the 21st century and do the same before someone pays too great a price.
©2000 - 2008 Amy Henderson and Frontstetch.com. Thanks for visiting the Frontstretch!
Your of course ASSUMING NASCAR really cares!
Which is clear to me that NASCAR only TALKS SAFETY! It has no intention of doing the right things as far as safety goes!
Watch when they do, and do not, throw a yellow flag when an accident happens! Depending on how they want to “manipulate” the outcome of a race, the yellow flag is a NASCAR convenience, NOT a driver SAFETY issue!
Beside, are there not reports out about NASCAR really not making any/enough money these days? So you think they will divvy up some of their funds to pay for such a thing? Maybe they can sell the idea to a sponsor, I can see it now:
“THERE IS A TERRIFIC CRASH IN TURN 3, WELL, HERE COMES THE BUDWEISER AMBULANCE, ALONG WITH THE GENERAL MOTORS SPONSORED SAFETY TRUCKS”!
DR. SMITH, SPONSORED BY JOHNSON & JOHNSON, IS CLIMBING FROM THE BUDWEISER AMBULANCE TO ATTEND THE DRIVER OF THE HOME DEPOT CAR”!
Two points – a very well thought out and well presented article. Everyone else travels race to race, why can’t we have a medical crew doing the same? I understand the local workers like getting prime seats for the race, but is that worth our driver’s safety? Or could we mix and match local crews with the traveling crew?
Secondly, Douglas, how in the world can you say NASCAR only TALKS safety given the advances in recent years? HANS requirement, SAFER barriers, mandatory trips to the Infield Care Center, helmets for the pit crew to say nothing of the overall purpose of the CoT – safety!…yeah, that really shows me inactivity beyond talking about safety. Get a clue…yes, NASCAR is deliberate, but when it comes to safety, they do take action. Or Douglas, are you due back at Area 51 about two days ago?
Here’s another idea…how about having a traveling car chief who determines if cars can go back on the track without taking out half the field when the tires blow or the sheel metal flies off. How many times have you seen chain reaction accidents because a bucket of bolts returns to the track only to fall apart and cause a horrendous accident. Even taking out one car is case for concern, particularly when the innocent team is racing for critical points. The Nascar guys just stand there and watch as cars move back onto the track with sheet metal flapping and tires rubbing up a storm.
How much do you know about the nuts and bolts of emergency medicine?
What you’re proposing sounds very nice, but its essentially impossible on any practical level.
A trauma surgeon who actually works in that capacity only once every 5 years or so would quickly lose skill and currency. And the chances of finding one who would be willing to do the job would be slim anyway — people don’t go into that specialty in order to stand around and do nothing most of the time. Treating minor injuries to pit crew members every couple weeks with maybe a broken bone for a driver once a year isn’t going to be providing the job satisfaction that a person highly driven to make a real difference and save lives requires.
Are you aware that EMTs and Paramedics are certified by individual states? There is a thing called National Certification, but not all states accept it and many require their own training and testing in addition to that certification. Each EMT and Paramedic on that crew would have to be certified in each state in which Nascar races AND they would all have to maintain currency in the required continuing ed for each of those separate, state certifications.
BTW — this usually includes a requirement to put in a certain number of hours on active duty and may require being employed by an in-state ambulance service as well.
Additionally, each locality has an individual protocol that EMTs and Paramedics must follow and individual, local medical authorities that they must work under. So once they were state certified they would have to fulfill all local requirements on top of that.
Where do you propose to get the ambulances you expect them to staff? If you think that local medics are going to bring their equipment to the track and turn them over to complete strangers for the weekend you are out of your mind. It is simply not going to happen.
Yet they won’t be able to load special Nascar ambulances on special ambulance haulers and bring them along with everything else because ambulance specifications and equipment are ALSO regulated by individual states’ standards — many of which contradict each other so that the very things that make an ambulance meet one state’s standards can easily make it violate another state’s standards.
Throwing sufficient money at things may be able to make it all work. But it would probably be wiser and more cost-effective to identify any weaknesses in the training currently given to local safety people and improve that training than to take on the sort of logistical and bureaucratic nightmare that actually implementing this sort of full crew would require.
And you didn’t even mention the need for actual rescue specialists to do any necessary work required to free trapped drivers from their cars — yet another group of people requiring training, certification, equipment, and vehicles.
A very interesting article in theory, but I question the practicality of a traveling team of surgeons and nurses. However, I do believe Nascar could use highly skilled EMT’s at all the races. They could be trained in extrication procedures and be able to communicate with ambulance technicians and local hospitals if needed. M. B. Voelker made some very good points about the “nuts and bolts” of emergency medicine, and Nascar would have to check into the practicality of such an endeavor as well as liability issues. Thank you, Amy, for an interesting and thought-provoking article!
NASCAR’s safety efforts have all been reactive instead of pro-active. They only react after a big name driver is severely injured or killed. The firesuit and fuel cell became mandatory after Fireball Roberts died from burns he received at the World 600 in 1964. The side window net became mandatory after Richard Petty came close to being thrown from his car at Darlington. The all-out efforts with the SAFER barriers, full face helmets, proper seat belt installation, and HANS devices were only made mandatory after the death of Dale Earnhardt Sr., not after the deaths of Adam Petty or Kenny Irwin Jr, even though that technology was available when they died. They might still be alive had NASCAR had a pro-active safety program instead of a reactive one.
A traveling medical team seems to work rather well for F-1, IRL, and CHAMP CAR. The doctors are familiar with the drivers, the medical conditions, allergies, medication, etc. and can make a good judgement call based on their familiarity with the drivers.It has been key in saving a couple of drivers lives. So there is some merit to the idea and it’s worth being considered.
A very good article. MBV’s reasons it can’t work is contridicted by the series that have made it work, NHRA comes to mind. Their Safety Safari is outstanding.
Kevin J made some good points about the safety innovations created in the past years, but they all were mandated and cost Nascar NOTHING.
All you hear about the COT is safety,safety,safety, but if they meant what they said they would also have improved the busch series cars. Is it OK for the Busch series to run unsafe cars?
Recent articles from Amy Henderson:
Earnhardt Ganassi Racing Announces Partnership with Cessna, Textron
Fans To Decide Format of Sprint Unlimited at Daytona
UNOH and Kentucky Speedway Extend Sponsorship Agreement
Earnhardt Out For Charlotte and Kansas After Talldega Concussion
Piquet, Jr. Wins K&N East Opener
Want to know more about Amy or see an archive of all of her articles? Check out her bio page for more information.