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Swift action by IndyCar’s safety team to save driver’s life has NASCAR racers taking notice

Dario Franchitti

Dario Franchitti


CONCORD, N.C. - Some NASCAR Sprint Cup drivers met with series officials about safety concerns, including the sport not having a traveling safety team similar to IndyCar, shortly after Kyle Busch was injured in a Feb. 21 crash at Daytona International Speedway.

Reigning series champion Kevin Harvick confirmed meeting with NASCAR, and that a traveling safety team was discussed, saying “that’s a conversation a group of us have had on week two (of the season).’’

Harvick called the meeting educational, saying he learned more about the experience level of doctors who are at the tracks and how NASCAR’s system operates.

“Once they explained the process and how the doctors were chosen, (it) was definitely kind of eye-opening as to how much money and time was spent to make sure they had the right people at every race track, and really the longevity of the staff,’’ Harvick said.

“I don’t think anybody is saying that it can’t always be better. But I feel pretty confident in what the process is and the medical staff that we have at the tracks.”

The actions of IndyCar’s safety team in saving James Hinchcliffe’s life this week revived the topic of NASCAR not having a similar safety crew that travels from race to race.

“I have sat in on a lot of discussions batting around the reason why we have the situation we do,’’ six-time champion Jimmie Johnson said Thursday at Charlotte Motor Speedway. “NASCAR is adamant that having true ER folks that every single day fight in an ER room to save people’s lives are the best people to have in place here on a weekend for us. In my heart, I feel like there is maybe a hybrid version where, yes, we have those EMT’s here, but then we also have people that are very sharp and NASCAR specific, car specific, know the drivers and know our cockpits.’’

Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR executive vice president and chief racing development officer, defended NASCAR’s stance on using local medics on track safety crews in an appearance this week on Motor Racing Network’s “NASCAR Live.’’

“I think we always look at it but keep coming back to where we believe we have the best in the world and the best system in place,’’ O’Donnell said on the radio show. “We like to rely on folks who are doing those sorts of things each and every day. The doctors who are reacting to an on-track incident have probably seen something in the last 24 hours.

“We want to be with the local folks who know the routines with the local hospitals in the event we ever had to react. A lot of training goes into it with the tracks. We’re very comfortable with the policies we have in place.’’

Johnson said it would be “smart” to talk to Juan Pablo Montoya about the safety aspects in both NASCAR and IndyCar since Montoya competed in both series and ask “what is the difference? Where can we be better?’’

Asked about IndyCar’s safety team, Montoya told NBC Sports’ Nate Ryan: “They do an amazing job. The reaction and how fast they get on the track is good. I think the other thing as drivers we do, as soon as something like that happens, we know we need to slow down and be at attention that a truck is coming. They react a lot better than most series do.’’

Asked if IndyCar has the best team, Montoya said: “I do think so, yeah. They do understand how fast we’re going, the danger and everything. They do a good job with that.’’

IndyCar’s safety team consists of about 30 safety personnel with a minimum of 18 attending each event - a trauma physician, an orthopedic physician, two paramedics, 12 firefighters/EMTs and two registered nurses. IndyCar states that safety team personnel have an average of 20 years of experience in their respected areas.

Dr. Timothy Pohlman, senior staff trauma surgeon IU Health Methodist Hospital, credited IndyCar’s safety team in its response to Hinchcliffe’s injuries.

Hinchcliffe suffered a puncture to the left upper thigh that caused heavy bleeding from a damaged artery. Immediate surgery was required.

“His condition was critical upon his arrival, and I think the IndyCar system as a whole needs to be commended for how well they can take care of drivers in this situation,’’ Pohlman said in a statement from IndyCar.

Brad Keselowski says NASCAR doesn’t get as much credit for what it has done.

“NASCAR very quietly has a similar safety team with Todd Marshall,’' said Keselowski, referring to NASCAR’s manager of track services who oversees emergency, safety and medical teams at each track. “Is it completely a copy of what IndyCar has? No, It’s definitely different, but I think it’s a lot better than what this sport had five or 10 years ago.’'

Marshall goes to the crash site to oversee the safety teams.

“I know Todd and Todd is the guy on the scene first every time,’' Keselowski told NASCAR Talk. “I trust him. The depth of the team is not, perhaps, as strong. The reality is when you get down to a moment like that, one guy is going to be able to help you. He’s the guy I trust.’'

Still, Jamie McMurray sees the IndyCar model as the future for NASCAR.

“To me the safety crew that goes every week is the next step that NASCAR will take or I hope they will do,’’ McMurray told NASCAR Talk. To me NASCAR has, hands down, done the most amazing job of making our sport safer for the drivers, pit crew guys.’’

Even so, he said a safety team traveling each week could be more familiar with the cars and drivers in emergencies.

“To me when that guy does it every single week and that’s his job, he will do it at a different level than someone you had a meeting with at 9 a.m. that morning,’’ McMurray said.

While Dale Earnhardt Jr. says he likes what NASCAR has done with safety, he also sees where more could be done.

“I think there’s some advantages to that,’’ Earnhardt said of a traveling safety team similar to IndyCar’s. “That’s been a topic of conversation right over the years as to whether that would be something that NASCAR could put together and make happen.

“There’s definitely some advantages to the consistency of the same people (being) there every week and knowing each individual driver on a personal level, but the changes that NASCAR has made over the last several years, I’ve noticed the personnel that they do have are consistently there week in and week out and are diligent. Any time I’ve had an accident or any time I’ve had an illness or anything, they’re constantly in contact with me about what I need, am I feeling OK, what can they do to help.’’

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