NASCAR is the latest sport to get on board with baseline concussion testing. Steve O’Donnell, vice president of NASCAR racing operations, predicts that by 2014 race car drivers will be required to take a pre-season concussion test. But O’Donnell is urging drivers to take the test before the 2013 season starts.
The test is the ImPACT assessment test, one that is already mandatory for NFL players. It consists of a series of word, colour, and picture quizzes and is taken before the start of a season. This test provides a baseline to assess any change in brain functioning during the racing season.
NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. missed two races last year due to concussions. At least five other drivers have died from head injuries. In recent years, improving driver safety has been a concern for NASCAR. Now drivers must wear head and neck restraints. Racecars are built with foam padding to reduce head movement upon impact and impact-absorbing barriers have been installed on raceways. ImPACT testing is the next step for driver safety.
NASCAR may not have the same amount of head injuries as the NFL or NHL, but preventing driver injuries is a priority. Veteran driver Jeff Burton admits he received concussions during his racing career and says “Anybody that has any sense at all has to understand that it doesn’t matter if you’re playing football or hockey or racing a car, head injuries can have bad ramifications later in life.”