Auto racing is a sport that people from all walks of life, all across the country enjoy watching. It’s fast, it’s exhilarating, and it’s potentially dangerous. When it comes to potential health risks for a race car driver, most people would assume that crashing is the biggest threat to their health. Given that many of them race at speeds exceeding 200 mph that is a logical assumption.
Racing and non-racing fans alike recall the crash on February 18, 2001 that took the life of racing legend Dale Earnhardt. Although Earnhardt’s death was a tragedy for the racing community, there have been a lot of positive changes in the safety of race cars. Improvements to the car include the “Car of Tomorrow” that features a larger cockpit, higher roof, and more centrally located driver’s seat; throttle kill switch; anti-spill fuel bladder; and the “SAFER Barrier” designed to absorb the impact of a crash. Improvements have also been made to what drivers wear; such as the “HANS” (Head And Neck Support) brace to prevent their head from going forward in a wreck and fire retardant driver suits. Within the NASCAR Sprint Cup circuit, no driver has been killed during a race since these changes were implemented.
The health risks that race car drivers face doesn’t just end at the race. Like any athlete they have to mindful of what they are putting into their bodies to keep them running at peak performance during the race. A balanced diet and consistent work outs will ensure that their bodies are as ready to run as their cars. The constant strain on their arms and shoulders from steering a car for hours on end as well as their knees from pushing on the pedals can be kept in check with regular training.
Every sport has athletes that want to get a head and be the best no matter what the cost. Some are even willing to break the rules to achieve their goals. Even though they are banned, performance enhancing drugs are still a temptation to some drivers. Although they may help drivers improve for a while, the long term effects can be very damaging to the body, not to mention the career.
Every sport has its risks and athletes face injury regularly—it’s all part of the game; however it’s learning how to regulate the risk and determining if the benefit is worth the potential injury. Fortunately there are many safety measures in place to help minimize the risk to race car drivers so that both drivers and fans can enjoy the race for years to come.
contributed by Scott Abbott, a sports blogger who is also an amateur racer. Scott follows NASCAR, ALMS, and Formula One racing.