|NASCAR to mandate baseline concussion testing|
|Thursday, October 24, 2013 8:15 PM|
By JENNA FRYER
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — NASCAR will require baseline concussion testing for its drivers starting next season.
NASCAR had only recommended the testing this season but indicated to drivers that a preseason baseline screening could become mandatory as early as 2014. The baseline test will be compared with test results taken after a driver has crashed to help diagnose a concussion.
“NASCAR made this decision because we think it is important to drivers’ health for doctors to have the best information and tools available in evaluating injuries,” said Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR vice president of racing operations.
Drivers were informed of the mandate during a Thursday meeting at the R&D Center in Concord with top NASCAR officials that lasted nearly two hours and covered a variety of topics concerning 2014 changes.
The baseline testing will be performed through the widely used neurocognitive assessment ImPACT test, which evaluates an athlete’s verbal and visual memory, processing speed and reaction time.
“Before announcing this rule, we provided drivers concussion and baseline testing education and created opportunities for them to ask any questions they may have to a top neurosurgeon that specializes in traumatic brain injuries,” O’Donnell explained. “ImPACT tests are not new to our sport and have been used for treatment through the years.”
O’Donnell added in February that NASCAR had identified 32 concussions in its top three national series since 2004, including three in 2012. One suffered by Dale Earnhardt Jr. forced NASCAR concussions into the spotlight.
Earnhardt was injured in a crash during an August 2012 tire test at Kansas, but didn’t seek treatment for a mild concussion. His stubborn streak instead kept him behind the wheel and he was then part of a 25-car pileup in October at Talladega that triggered lingering headaches and other recognizable warning signs.
Earnhardt went to a doctor and was ultimately benched for two races.
Earnhardt’s plight led 4-time series champion Jeff Gordon to voluntarily take the ImPACT test, which has long been mandatory in the IndyCar Series.
“I just think whether it’s voluntary or not, it’s a good idea to have,” Gordon said in February. “I don’t think that NASCAR necessarily has to make it mandatory, but if you’re a race car driver and you feel you’re going to be here for a while, you need to make it mandatory to yourself.”
Drivers this year were invited to two concussion education sessions featuring Dr. Vinay Deshmukh of Carolina Neurosurgery & Spine Associates, a member of NASCAR’s medical advisory group. Drivers were presented with an overview of what concussions are, their causes, treatment and the role that baseline tests play in the comprehensive evaluation of concussions.
“We are extremely confident that our concussion protocol is among the best in sports,” O’Donnell ended. “We regularly review all of our practices involving safety and health to see if there is anything that we can do better, or should do differently moving forward. Implementing baseline testing is a primary example of our philosophy to protect our competitors the best that we can.”
NASCAR may overhaul qualifying in 2014: NASCAR told its competitors Thursday it is considering eliminating single-car qualifying next season in an overhaul that would likely implement road course-style qualifying at all but two tracks.
Drivers from all three national series met with top NASCAR officials for almost two hours at the R&D Center in Concord to discuss several different ideas under consideration for 2014. The only thing officially announced by NASCAR was that it will mandate baseline concussion testing for drivers starting next season.
But series officials also outlined potential changes to qualifying procedures everywhere except Daytona and Talladega. NASCAR spokesman Kerry Tharp said the field would likely be set at Daytona and Talladega with an “open qualifying session” that would allow for a 60-minute drafting session.
“It’s not written in stone at this point in time,” Tharp told The Associated Press. “We just talked about some ideas that would make things more interesting. Today was an opportunity for us to talk to the drivers about ideas and I’m sure other ideas will come up over the next few weeks.”
NASCAR also informed drivers of a Dec. 9 test at Charlotte Motor Speedway to continue work on its intermediate track package, with Dec. 10 held as a rain date. NASCAR tested a variety of different packages Oct. 14 at Charlotte and discussed the results of those tests with drivers Thursday.
“We are just trying to do everything we can to make the racing better, particularly at the intermediate tracks,” Tharp added.
NASCAR this year implemented road course qualifying for its Sprint Cup Series at Sonoma and Watkins Glen for the first time. Under the new format, which had previously been used in the Nationwide Series, cars attempting to qualify were divided into groups. The number of groups — and the number of cars in each — depended on the number of cars that practiced for the event.
Group assignments were based on final practice times. Each qualifying group was on-track for a set period of time, determined by the series director. A car’s best lap time during the group session was the qualifying lap time of record.
NASCAR used heat races in the Truck Series to set qualifying at Eldora Speedway in July for the first time. Fans enjoyed it but there doesn’t seem to be a push to bring it to the Sprint Cup Series.