Monday, February 4, 2013

NASCAR Rules on Concussion Baselines: No Rules

Sunday’s Super Bowl turned out to be a pretty good game.  But the days leading up to it were a major headache for the National Football League as everyone from former players, to Bob Costas, to President Obama questioned the safety of the sport and ultimately, its future.

More than 2,000 former players have joined a suit against the league over concussions and other head injuries suffered while playing football.  Desperate to stem the rising chorus of criticism, the NFL, which began requiring concussion baseline testing a few years back, announced in New Orleans that next year independent neurologists will be on the sidelines during games to help diagnose and possibly treat concussions. 
Brian France and Mike Helton answer questions
 during NASCAR's recent media week
Meanwhile NASCAR, which faced a concussion crisis of its own last season, has decided to do nothing. The issue first made headlines when Dale Earnhardt, Jr., admitted continuing to drive after suffering a concussion.  It wasn’t until he got his bell rung a second time that he went to a doctor, eventually sitting out for two races.   

At the time NASCAR said it would study its procedures.  There were calls for mandatory concussion baseline testing, something already required by every other major professional sports organization in th U.S. – including IndyCar and ALMS – along with most college sports and even many high school and little league programs.  Several NASCAR teams, including Richard Childress Racing, already required such testing of its drivers.

The baseline test is just what it sounds like.  It is used to set an athlete’s base in areas such as reaction time and information processing.  If the athlete then suffers a blow to the head, the same tests are conducted and compared to the original results.  The tests can be conducted quickly by a trained technician, on the sideline of a football game or in the pits of an auto race.

But NASCAR has decided to punt for now and put the responsibility on the drivers.

“I think in '13 our goal is to explain more to drivers what's out there in regards to advance information, in regards to elements that can be used by them," said Mike Helton, NASCAR president, when asked about baseline testing during NASCAR’s recent media week.  “Our most current issue is to take what we've learned from Dale's experience and make sure the other drivers know what's out there to collect data.  Then it's an opportunity for us to look at what we might institute going forward."
Translation:  NASCAR is leaving it up to the drivers to police themselves.  Even though Earnhardt admitted to driving with a concussion and many other drivers have said, given the same situation, they would too.  It is a situation the NFL was all too familiar with.

“The culture of the athlete is still too much of a play-through-it, rather than a player-safety mentality,” NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell told the Harvard School of Public Health last year.  “Many players have publicly admitted to hiding concussions and other head injuries.  This is unfortunate, but we are working with players, team doctors and coaches to change that culture.  It is changing, but will take more time, resolve, patience and determination.

The head injury crisis had forced the NFL to take additional steps.  Let's hope it doesn't take another crisis for NASCAR to start using its head.


  1. Until they allow replacement drivers when someone is injured without totally falling out of contention (mirroring other "team" sports), this will be the case by necessity.

  2. Brian France has become filthy rich from NASCAR, and as long as the drivers (race through it), he will continue to not care about them. His pockets may be full, but his heart and conscience are empty. They have had plenty of time to, at the very least, require mandatory baseline testing. The cost for this wouldn't be prohibitive, yet he refuses to take the health of these drivers serious. What a piece of work.

  3. team doctors and coaches to change that culture. It is changing, but will take more time, resolve, patience and determination. motorsport sponsorship contract