Dennis Michelsen · Tuesday May 17, 2005
Before every race we hear an invocation asking God to bless the race and bring everyone back home safely. But this is an inherently dangerous business and sometimes people do get hurt. When it is a driver or a crewman on a team we hear all the news updates and progress they are making in their recovery. But when it is one of the nameless, faceless safety crew that story is soon forgotten.
So many people go into putting on this show we call NASCAR. We all notice the drivers, the crews, and even the NASCAR officials at every event. But behind the scenes are the men and women that volunteer each week to work as safety crew. Back in October of 1999 at Martinsville Speedway, tragedy struck one of the safety crewmen, Randy Hall of Spencer, Virginia. Randy is no different than you and me, a working class stiff that was a huge race fan and jumped at the chance to be part of the show behind the scenes.
Falling off a moving safety truck during one of the many cautions at this quaint, throwback of a racetrack; Randy was seriously injured. Race fans gasped at the sight of this young man laying motionless on the track. Drivers donated $2500 to help out. Web sites urged the racetracks to make changes to protect their safety workers. Like most of the workers back then, Randy Hall was without a safety helmet. Had he been wearing one that day his story probably would have been a lot brighter than the tale I tell today. What has happened to Randy in the past six years is an embarrassment to our sport that should never happen again.
Randy Hall grew up not far from the Martinsville Speedway in Southern Virginia. A resident of Spencer, Virginia with his wife Christy and his son Jacob, Randy got a chance to be part of the safety crew at Martinsville thanks to Christy’s Uncle. A veteran of many races dating back to his first event in 1989, Randy fell from the back of a pickup truck traveling about 20-25 mph striking the back of his head on the pavement below. When fellow members of his safety crew reached Randy he was unconscious and not breathing. “The Doctor later told me I was dead for three to five minutes there at the track and he is not sure how I survived.” When he did come to Randy was combative and unsure of where he was. Flown out of the track and to the hospital in Winston-Salem, Randy would have a long road of recovery and rehabilitation ahead of him. Of course NASCAR and the track would stand behind their fallen comrade, after all this is a family sport and Randy was a member of that racing family too. Unfortunately that vision of NASCAR proved to be a little naïve on my part. While NASCAR’s drivers did raise $2500 in a driver’s meeting a few weeks later very little other help came his way. In fact Randy Hall was soon forgotten. Oh sure their insurance helped with his medical expenses, no small deal since his injuries ran up quite a tab, but Randy could have used a little more help in other ways too.
Re-adjusting to life after a head injury is one of the most difficult things to do. If you lose an arm or a leg in an accident everyone can see that result. But for those rehabilitating after a serious head injury they appear normal to everyone else. I would imagine some people would say, “Just stop your whining and go back to work,” but it isn’t that easy folks. “Before the accident I was a leader at work,” said Hall. That same view of his abilities were shared by many of Hall’s colleagues at AMP, Inc; a leader in the manufacturing of electrical connectors and interconnection systems. “Randy has demonstrated the ability to learn, plus the drive to meet the high goals that he sets for himself. Though sometimes meeting resistance in changing old customs/ways, he has stood his ground and therefore made the department a much safer place to work. He has earned the right to be upgraded now to the next level of his career path,” said part of a review about his work habits from his supervisor before the accident. “After the accident I lost a lot of my memory about electronics. Some of the stuff has come back to me now but it took a lot of hard work in therapy just to get to this point,” said Randy. After short and long-term disability was exhausted he lost his job at AMP, Inc. Randy did get a settlement on a workman’s comp suit, but only based on the $7.50 per hour he made at the track instead of his regular income at AMP. “I lost my long term disability cause they said I could work as a parking lot attendant,” said a dejected Hall. Randy has wanted to go back to school to take a real estate class, but short-term memory issues and learning problems due to the head injury have held him back so far.
One would think a man whom fate has dealt a blow like this would be bitter at NASCAR, Martinsville Speedway, and maybe even the world in general. It has been a long road but the Randy Hall I found was now adjusting well and learning to cope with his brand new reality thanks to the support of his loving wife. “I’m just thankful to have my little boy Jacob and my wife Christy. They are my life,” exclaimed Randy Hall. Rehabilitation and speech therapy have helped but life will never be the same. “Before the accident I was a 4.0 student in my electronics classes that I took. I was going to try taking a real estate class but was told that it might be too much for me right now.” But Randy has not given up! His Doctor wrote the local community college advising that, “Unfortunately, Randy had a severe closed head injury several years ago which has left him with problems of short term memory, focusing and the ability to communicate effectively. I feel that he will need some adaptive procedures and mechanisms to help in any class that he takes.” Life goes on for this true southern gentleman that has overcome so much in his life.
Drivers have been asking NASCAR for years to hire full time safety crew to bring to every race just like the NHRA’s “Safety Safari” in drag racing. So far NASCAR has said the current system is just fine, and a lot cheaper for them to operate too I might add. Until the day comes that NASCAR does hire full timers with full benefits in the event of injury at the track, the current safety workers should be advised that this could happen to them too. “I would just like people to know that they can get hurt. If you do get hurt you will be on your own,” said Hall. In fact safety workers are advised to check the fine print on their health and life insurance. Perhaps the only coverage that will be there to help them out will be workman’s compensation. That value will be calculated based on their wages at the track not the usual income they are used to receiving at their regular job. That might be a huge gamble just to be part of the NASCAR show once a year! NASCAR needs to do better by their safety crews. Drivers and teams make millions each year and are well protected. What if some company became the “Official Safety Crew Sponsor” of NASCAR and covered disability insurance coverage for track workers? Until that happens that guy responding when a driver gets hurt is on HIS own should he get hurt too!
©2000 - 2008 Dennis Michelsen and Frontstetch.com. Thanks for visiting the Frontstretch!