NASCAR officials confident in concussion policy

Since the death of Dale Earnhardt in 2001, NASCAR has taken

sweeping steps to reduce the risk of head injuries. And when a

driver does get hurt, NASCAR officials have established more

comprehensive protocols to identify, track and treat

concussions.

While NASCAR officials are proud of the progress they’ve made on

safety, they know nothing is guaranteed at 200 mph.

”It’s an inherently dangerous sport,” said Steve O’Donnell,

NASCAR’s senior vice president of racing operations. ”We’ve got to

be the best, on the front end and, we think, on the back end.”

Under NASCAR’s policy, any driver who is involved in a

significant crash must go to the infield medical center. Even

drivers who are able to drive their wrecked cars back to the garage

area may be ordered to get checked out.

”If you hit the wall, you can probably bet you’re going to be

at the care center,” O’Donnell said. ”We’re not the most popular

people all the time.”

Once at the medical center, the driver will be checked for signs

of a concussion as a standard procedure. If members of the track’s

medical crew suspect a concussion, the driver will be sent to a

local hospital.

Before a concussed driver can race again, he or she must be

cleared by a neurosurgeon with at least five years’ experience with

sports-related head injuries.

”So that neurosurgeon is the ultimate go/no go in terms of

coming back to competition,” O’Donnell said.

Information from a crash data recorder on board each car is

analyzed, and wrecked cars often are brought back to NASCAR’s

research and development center for examination. If NASCAR safety

experts notice anything wrong with the car that might have

contributed to an injury, they can sit down with the driver’s team

to advise them on potential safety improvements.

The next step for NASCAR could be the use of baseline cognitive

testing, something that is optional for drivers now. O’Donnell said

officials still may consider making it mandatory.