The State of Brain Injury in Racing

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When one sport’s season ends, another begins. When football season ends, motor racing traditionally revs their engines and puts their motors in gear. Forgive the cliche puns, but I couldn’t help myself. What these sports all have in common are brain injuries.


There are very few professional sports not facing brain injury scandals right now. Baseball and basketball have largely managed to escape the conversation. Baseball and basketball players aren’t hit hard in the head like a lot of other athletes. Soccer, boxing, football, and even racing all have major brain injury problems however, and the solutions aren’t close enough for how serious these injuries are.

Football has gotten by far the most media coverage because it is the easily the most popular sport in America, but soccer is the most common cause of female athlete’s brain injuries, boxers are pummeled in the head routinely, and racers endure crashes occasionally. For all these other sports, traumatic brain injury is a very real concern, but the long-lasting symptoms from repeated TBI can take years to manifest. The type of brain injuries that racers suffer is much more immediate.

The most frequent racing related brain injury is a basilar skull fracture, which can often be fatal. In the 10 years following Dale Earnhardt’s infamous crash, one would have expected deaths on short tracks and drag strips to have gone down. They have actually increased.

Autoweek reports that Jim Downing, co-founder of HANS Performance Products, wants to find a way to cut the brain injuries out of racing. A report by HANS Performance Products last December showed that fatal head injuries are a common problem for short track and drag strip racers. The report also suggests the use of head restraints would greatly diminish the number of fatal injuries.

Downing said, “there’s got to be a way for these weekend warriors to recognize the risk they’re taking if they’re not wearing a head restraint.”

Racing is still in a better position to deal with brain injury than football. Traumatic brain injury is much harder to identify, especially in its mild forms, while the injuries associated with this type of racing is much more clear. Sadly, it is much more fatal as well.

The reason they are situated better is racing is fighting an educational battle. The way to cut head injuries appears to have been found, they just need to make others understand the risk they are taking without it.

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One Response to The State of Brain Injury in Racing

  1. Phil August 18, 2015 at 7:22 pm #

    For the sake of your credibility don’t quote a thing that Jim Downing says. He has his agenda and that will dictate what he says. As racers we are abundantly aware of the risk and most of us do all we can circumvent those risks. This is NOT an “education” problem it is a $$$$$ problem. Weekend warriors have repeatedly begged and pleaded with NHRA and SFI for safer products at the sportsman level. WE DO NOT NEED TOP FUEL LEVEL EQUIPMENT OR THE COSTS ASSOCIATED WITH IT. The solution is to produce mid level products at a reasonable cost. A perfect example came today when I was pricing a set of Lateral Head Supports. $500.00 for Lateral head supports! Really, $500 for a little bit of foam and some fabric. Oh sorry, it has an SFI tag sewn on it. So the SFI tag is $475.00. Boy howdy that damn stupid tag must really make it a lot safer. So please ask me why I would be looking at Lateral Head Supports instead of a HANS device. Good question, a HANS is only effective in a head on collision. The chances of a head on collision is truly the statistical equivalent of purchasing a winning lottery ticket. Almost without exception our accidents will involve oblique angles or even violent barrel roles. The Lateral Head Supports are far and above more important in my race car. Unfortunately I CANNOT afford to buy them as much as I want to. Again, this is not about $$$ it is purely money driven. (I don’t know all of the insider politics but I do know that the racer is on the loosing end)

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