NASCAR Beefed Up Its Concussion Protocol, But Is It Enough?

Photo credit: Jerry Markland/Getty Images
Photo credit: Jerry Markland/Getty Images

One of the biggest stories of last year’s NASCAR season wasn’t on track, but rather, about who was missing: Dale Earnhardt Jr. sat out the last half of the season recovering from a concussion. Unlike other series whose sports rhyme with “schmootball,” NASCAR actually beefed up their concussion protocol after last year’s string of concussion-related headlines.

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NASCAR released a few important changes ahead of the start of the season at Daytona International Speedway, in which any driver whose wrecked car has to go to the garage will now have to undergo an evaluation in the Infield Care Center using the Sport Concussion Assessment Tool 3. Cars going into the garage will become a much more common sight this year, thanks to a new (and somewhat overkill) rule that says teams will only be allowed to hammer out sheet metal in pit lane after a crash.

Previously, drivers were exempt from such a test if they were able to drive the car back into the garage themselves. Dale Jr. applauded the change via Twitter:

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This comes after NASCAR announced that the series will now use a dedicated traveling safety team who will work alongside local care center personnel.

It’s a step in the right direction, but still doesn’t cover any deceptively hard hits where a team can hammer the car back in shape on pit lane. Concussions are the injury no one wants to fess up to, because doing so when you’re not Dale Jr. often doesn’t guarantee that you’ll still have a drive after you recover.

To that end, I’m still a big fan of Formula One’s use of sensors that automatically alert series officials if a hit exceeds a certain amount of G-force. It’s a lot harder to argue that it wasn’t that big of a hit when there’s data.

Moderator, OppositeLock. Former Staff Writer, Jalopnik. 1984 "Porschelump" 944 race car, 1971 Volkswagen 411 race car, 2010 Mitsubishi Lancer GTS.

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DISCUSSION

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Scouting For Zen

I agree with you, step in the right direction, but not enough. One of the guys on my collegiate fencing team slipped and fell on ice during winter finals, and got a concussion. As such, he was off-competition until he recovered. Fast forward into the next school year, and he still isn’t back. Everyone’s asking around, but nothing concrete. Fast forward a few more months, and he walks into practice one day. Obviously, we’re all asking what the deal was.

Turns out, the concussion was worse than anyone on the team had thought. He’d hit his head hard enough to develop a temporary memory problem. He physically couldn’t remember a lot of what he’d learned during the semester. Unfortunately, I graduated a few months later, and lost touch. Last I’d heard, he’d managed to get back close to 100%, so hopefully he’s back to normal now.

As for me, one of the first things the doctors did after my bike accident where my face tried to do with the pavement what brakes normally do with the wheel rim, was make sure I didn’t have a concussion or head injury. Always wear a helmet, kids.

Concussions, and head injuries as a whole, are serious business, and I think a lot of non-athletes aren’t aware how much so.