NASCAR Needs To Do A Better Job With Concussions

Charlotte, NC (October 15, 2012) – In an era where sports-related concussions have taken center stage everywhere – from the proverbial office water cooler to Capitol Hill – we found it interesting that the injury evidently doesn’t make much of a blip on the radar at NASCAR.

According to NASCAR vice president of competition Steve O’Donnell, doctors staffing infield care centers at NASCAR events are not required to give drivers a Concussion Reduction Technology test or MRI if a concussion is suspected.

“It’s a subjective call,” stated O’Donnell during a press session at Charlotte Motor Speedway last week.

Our question is who exactly is being ‘subjective’ here?

The question of concussions in NASCAR probably wouldn’t have seen the light of day had not Dale Earnhardt, Jr. decided to come forward last week. Earnhardt, suffering from concussion-like symptoms after a couple of hard wrecks recently, announced he was not fit enough to compete at the next two events on the tour – Charlotte and Kansas.

Earnhardt determined the existence of his concussion by visiting a private physician after experiencing symptoms suffered in a practice crash and a second wreck, this one at Talladega last week.

The fact that Earnhardt’s concussion completely eluded NASCAR not once, but twice, is unthinkable. After a decade of admirable safety improvements, how could something like this slip through the cracks?

According to O’Donnell, the sanctioning organization has concentrated its efforts on preventing concussions.

“Each and every event, we try to learn something new and make them as safe as possible, and I would say our race cars are the safest in the world,” said O’Donnell. “I think when you look at the concussion history that we’ve had, that’s less than two per year. I don’t want to minimize that because any concussion is a cause for concern, and we’d like that number to be zero.”

Of course, everyone would like to see a world without sports-related concussions.

It’s a lofty goal.

It’s also unrealistic.

As long as we have ‘collision’ based sports, there are going to be all kinds of injuries – regardless of safety equipment and event rules. It doesn’t matter that National Football League football helmets or NASCAR race cars are the safest they’ve ever been.

Injuries are inevitable when a large object at speed impacts another object at speed. Sometimes, the injuries are worse when one of the objects is stationary, like a concrete retaining wall.

The list of drivers who have had their careers or worse – lives – ended because of head and neck related injuries is long and sad. While NASCAR should be lauded in their safety efforts in improving it’s race vehicles and facilities, it is a bit disturbing to hear that they don’t test for concussions after a significant impact.

What’s even more disturbing is that if Earnhardt Jr. hadn’t stepped out of the NASCAR medical cocoon, we probably wouldn’t be talking about this.

NASCAR sure wouldn’t be.

Maybe NASCAR doesn’t need concussion testing, right? After all, if you believe O’Donnell, NASCAR has ‘less than two concussions a year.”


If you don’ test for concussions, then how did you come up with that number?

This is one of those times where we’re tempted to call ‘BS’ on NASCAR.

Instead, we hope the sanctioning body will take a closer look at racetrack medical procedures in general and specifically at driver concussions now that Earnhardt has shined a light on an obvious oversight in the way NASCAR approaches this very real and dangerous racing injury.

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