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Emergency And Safety Training In Motorsports

From tools to training programs, numerous race sanctioning bodies remain proactive to keep racers, and those on the race track, safe.

By Laura Pitts

In motorsports, accidents and mishaps often happen quickly and without warning. That’s why emergency procedures must be constantly refined in order to help prevent serious injuries—or worse—on race day.

But is the industry as prepared as possible when the unexpected happens?

“I think if you look around, you’ll be surprised how many avoidable situations we still see happening in motorsports. This is partly due to the many different types of motorsports there are,” said Frank Hulshoff, global marketing director at BullEx and HAAGEN brands, manufacturers of fire and safety training tools, and member of the International Council of Motorsport Sciences (ICMS). “If you look at NASCAR, F1 or IndyCar, fires are relatively rare. The problem is, though, if a fire does happen you are less trained to deal with that situation. That is where we might’ve dropped the ball a little bit in this industry.”

Among its latest innovations, BullEx and HAAGEN brands produce a digital fire-fighting platform that can simulate flames with real smoke in nearly any environment, providing valuable track training, according to Hulshoff.

But outside of tools there are a number of different training programs aimed at better preparing race track and sanctioning body officials in emergency response. One is the SFI Foundation Inc.’s Drag Race Incident Response Training Program, which is catered to the unique safety demands of that particular segment. A half-day of classroom education is followed by a half-day of hands-on demonstrations.

“They practice things like extricating an injured driver from a car and cutting the roll cage with rescue tools, so that when it does happen in real life at an event, they’re fully prepared on what to expect and can react accordingly,” said SFI Foundation Vice President Jennifer Faye. “We feel that is an important program we provide to our sanctioning bodies.”

Since its inception in 2000, about 2400 individuals have completed the program. And while it is typically tracks associated with an SFI-member sanctioning body that hosts seminars, the program is available to any race track in the US.

Similar but different, the Race Track Safety Program (RTSP) offered by the ICMS is a one-day program that’s held during the annual Performance Racing Industry Trade Show in Indianapolis, Indiana. The RTSP consists of educational meetings with hands-on sessions and demonstrations geared especially for local short tracks, road courses and drag strips across the US and Canada.

“[Safety is] always an evolution from the top. The pressure is to get it down to the folks on the grassroots level,” said Dr. Terry Trammell, medical advocate for the Verizon IndyCar Series. “So [the RTSP] is the first step in that direction, to go to the drivers directly and say ‘Hey, you’ve got to be aware of these things and be interactive.’”

Alongside training, having the proper personnel on hand in an emergency can mean the difference between minor and serious injuries. NASCAR recently partnered with American Medical Response to establish a traveling doctor and paramedic team to attend each national touring series race. Infield Care Centers, the medical care center at each NASCAR event, will still be staffed by local emergency room physicians.

“The drivers had been asking for a familiar face to be at each event—they wanted that sort of missing piece of a traveling physician,” said John Bobo, managing director of NASCAR racing operations. “The key word for this safety team is collaboration. We think our local partners do a fantastic job, but we’re excited about what this group of familiar faces can bring to safety.”

Because safety in motorsports is constantly evolving and progressing, so is the discussion on safety.

“Ten years ago or more, it would’ve been difficult to get people to talk about safety. What’s changed is the culture of safety,” Trammell said. “Nobody wants to do something that is blatantly unsafe. They want to know about it, and then they want to figure out how to make it safer, but not more expensive. So, that’s a pretty big challenge, usually. But they’re talking about it.”

Emergency And Safety Training In Motorsports

Race safety should never be overlooked, and a variety of programs continually refine their techniques to improve driver safety. A highlight of the annual PRI Trade Show is the Race Track Safety Program (RTSP) offered by the International Council of Motorsport Sciences (ICMS). Seen here is a demonstration at last year’s Show that portrayed how to properly extricate a driver from a drag race vehicle.

Performance Racing Industry