Just as a pit stop is a carefully choreographed dance, so is NASCAR's response to accidents on the racetrack. The sanctioning body has specific procedures in place to respond to the inevitable wrecks in a sport where speed is king. It's not just a matter of sending out an ambulance after an accident.
"Ambulances, fire trucks and/or safety personnel do not respond to an on-track incident unless instructed by NASCAR in the tower via radio," said NASCAR spokesman Kerry Tharp. "This procedure assures that the other drivers are aware of the incident and the responders are safe to approach the incident scene."
If the vehicle is not drivable, the driver takes a mandatory ride in the ambulance to the infield treatment center, where he is examined by a team of medical professionals.
"This assures immediate medical attention," Tharp said. "The driver is administered a complete physical and neurological examination by a board-certified emergency medicine physician. If the examination is negative, he is then cleared to return to racing."
At the infield care center, the driver's treatment is coordinated by a medical liaison appointed by NASCAR who transports driver medical records from track to track, including results of each driver's preseason physical examination and his medical history. Each track also has its own medical director.
"The NASCAR medical liaison team consists of four RNs and three physician consultants," Tharp said. "Our board-certified consulting physicians include a neurosurgeon, an emergency medicine physician and a trauma surgeon. Each one practices their specialty full time and is a medical director or co-medical director for the track where they reside."
NASCAR requires each track to adhere to strict standards of treatment at its infield care center.
"The medical liaisons, along with the consulting physicians and the input of the medical directors at the tracks, have created a set of medical standards which assures qualified physicians and nurses to staff the infield medical center and that proper equipment and supplies are in place," Tharp said. "There is also a set of standards for ambulance, fire, safety, helicopter, etc."
"If the physician at the infield care (center) determines that additional testing is needed, the driver is sent to a local hospital for further evaluation, such as an MRI and/or CT scan," Tharp said. "Before he can return to racing, a driver must be seen and released back to racing by a neurosurgeon with at least five years of experience in sports-related medicine.
"Safety is NASCAR's No. 1 priority. The medical liaisons and consulting physicians assure that the medical standards are met. At each NASCAR-sanctioned event, there is a full medical team on site trained in emergency trauma to provide medical services to all of our competitors. The same applies to our safety team, who assures fire, safety, ambulances, etc., adhere to the safety standards."