I'm a huge fan of the LeMons racing series. I was saddened, like so many others, to hear that a driver died in the most recent South Carolina race. It seems that the driver died because of a heart attack, which is exactly what happened in 2008, the only other LeMons race death. Is it time for medical checks for amateur racing?
I'm actually really conflicted about this, and am bringing it up here not to advocate a particular course of action, but to start a conversation. I was racing in that 2008 race at Altamont when Court Summerfield had either a stroke or heart attack and ran into a wall. It was shocking and profoundly sad, and there was some talk of canceling the race. In the end, it was agreed that Court had died doing what he loved, and he'd have wanted the race to continue. That doesn't lessen the tragedy, but it does give some insight into the mindset of everyone involved. They love doing this.
LeMons' track record of safety is really pretty amazing, considering how many races they do and the percentage of those racers that are amateurs. Safety is taken very seriously, and in all my involvement with LeMons racing I've never felt the safety to be lacking. The two tragedies are anomalous because neither was caused by any equipment or safety procedural issues. Both were caused by medical conditions of the drivers (known or unknown), probably exacerbated by the considerable stresses of motor racing.
I'm sure both men knew what they were getting into when racing, but it's possible there were factors about which they had no idea. It's possible a medical exam of some sort could have uncovered these issues. It's possible an exam wouldn't as well.
I really hate the idea of yet another barrier to entry being thrust onto amateur racing, and if this was a case of people driving cars alone on a track, I'd see no reason at all for such a thing. We're all adults, we understand that packing yourself into a hot, constricting suit, putting on a helmet, and strapping yourself into a screaming ton and a half of metal whipping around a track at high speeds means there's some danger. We get that, and we can make our own decisions at our own risk.
But the problem is in LeMons racing, you're not alone on the track. At all. Which means that it's not just your own life that could be at risk, it's everyone else on that track. In that context, a physical to clear someone to race makes a bit more sense.
Then again, I can't think of anything worse than being a fortysomething person who's refused the joy of racing just because of one suspicious reading or result on a medical exam. That would drive me batshit, and I'd hate to inflict that on anyone.
So, there's the fundamental question: should amateur drivers need to pass some sort of basic health exam to enter races like LeMons? Or is that overkill, and we should all just accept the inherent risks of racing?
Honestly, I'm not sure what I think about this yet. What do you think?