IndyCar Medical Team–Second to None

Last Thursday night during an NFL game between the Miami Dolphins and Cincinnati Bengals, Dolphins quarterback Tua Togovailoa suffered a vicious hit and was carted off of the field with a severe head and neck injury. It was a frightening sight. One thing that made it so frightening was that just four days earlier in a game against the Buffalo Bills, Togovailoa hit his head on the ground and appeared to stagger off of the field, giving the appearance he had suffered a concussion from the blow. He went through concussion evaluations at halftime, and was deemed healthy and continued to play.

During that four-day stretch between games, Togovailoa underwent no additional concussion evaluations to make sure that there were lingering effects from Sunday’s hit. Over the weekend, there was a lot of blame going around even though no one really knew who to blame – the Dolphins, the NFL or the Players Association.

Remember this past July, when Josef Newgarden crashed while leading at Iowa? If crashing out and possibly costing him the championship wasn’t upsetting enough – Newgarden collapsed later that afternoon and hit his head when he fell. Newgarden was rushed to the hospital and was kept overnight for observation.

Newgarden’s status was so uncertain that Team Penske had Santino Ferrucci on standby, in case Newgarden was ruled out of the next race at IMS for the Gallagher Grand Prix. Newgarden was examined by a physician on the Thursday before the race weekend. He was then cleared to drive only for the first practice on Friday morning. Newgarden underwent a second examination after practice to determine if there were any lingering effects, before giving him the green light for the rest of the weekend.

Some will say that comparing IndyCar protocol with the NFL is like comparing apples and oranges. An impaired Newgarden is not only endangering himself, he is putting the lives of every driver and crewmember at risk. If an NFL player is concussed, having him continue to play only endangers himself.

While that is true, the series is also looking out for the driver’s own safety and well-being. I am not a doctor, but I have been led to believe that if a driver suffered a concussion one weekend, then went out the next weekend without being evaluated – that driver is much more susceptible to another concussion, while the previous concussion is still lingering. Receiving another concussion in that scenario can have lasting effects, long after the driver’s career is over.

Concussions are a real thing and not to be messed with. I am very fortunate that even at my ripe old age, I’ve never had a concussion – but I have a lot of friends who have. One of my best friends in college had a skiing accident. He seemed fine at first, but then he suddenly started acting strange and then was disoriented to the point that he wasn’t sure where he was and he had no recollection of the accident that had happened just a few hours before. He then started throwing up, so we took him to the hospital. He was ultimately hospitalized for three days, and this was back in 1979 – before they took concussions as seriously as they do now.

I did not want Josef Newgarden to have to sit out a race. I would not have wanted any title contender to be forced to miss a race thereby costing them a championship. Newgarden came in second in the championship, but at least he got to determine his fate on the track. But had he been held out, I would have been happy knowing that IndyCar did the right thing. Not only would they have been protecting his fellow drivers, they would have been protecting Newgarden from himself.

Drivers are just like football players. They are wired to not let being a little fuzzy-headed keep them from competing. They figure they will be able to push through it, because they are so mentally tough. How many times have wee seen a driver go to their team-owner and tell them to put someone else in the car, they’re just not feeling good today? I’m sure it’s actually happened, but I’m not sure when.

The NFL and the Dolphins were getting crushed by the media over the weekend for not being proactive and examining Tua before Thursday’s game. They maintain that a halftime evaluation on Sunday was not enough. Again, I’m no medical expert – but based on the little knowledge I have about concussions, I have to agree.

Seeing how the NFL and the Dolphins were being perceived by the public, made me proud of how diligent IndyCar was with Newgarden when his condition was suspect. The IndyCar Medical Team and Safety team are second to none, and we’ve known that for a while. I didn’t really need reminding of that, but Thursday night’s fiasco with the NFL just confirmed it.

George Phillips

One Response to “IndyCar Medical Team–Second to None”

  1. billytheskink Says:

    Motorsports, and other “extreme” sports, don’t get the scrutiny that the NFL gets when it comes to concussions, but they do seem to be willing to be quite cautious and interested in learning even as they don’t sit under the same microscope. I am pleased with that.

    Still, like with football, racing can be very hard on a body. Eliminating or even significantly concussions, as we would all like to see, may not be possible. The risk will be there, but the series needs to do the best it can.

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