Thursday, October 18, 2012

NASCAR is Late to the Neurological Testing Table

In the wake of Dale Earnhardt Jr. sitting out at least two races due to a concussion NASCAR is finally looking into neurological testing for its drivers. In its current state NASCAR does not perform baseline testing in the preseason physical exam they do on drivers.

 It has taken an injury to the sports most popular driver to make NASCAR look into having mandatory baseline testing. That is sad.
"We are always evaluating and reviewing our policies and procedures, especially when it comes to safety,'' NASCAR spokesman Kerry Tharp said. "We will continue to work closely and review our policies with the medical experts that advise NASCAR on baseline testing and other medical issues. While not mandatory, baseline testing can and has been used and is just one of the many tools a neurologist or neurosurgeon may use as part of a neurological assessment.''
With concussions issues  taking such a prominent role in the NFL last season and the issues that the NHL has had with it's biggest stars, like Sydney Crosby, it is amazing that NASCAR has not already moved to a more strict stance on neurological testing after every single incident. The IndyCar Series is ahead of NASCAR in this respect that they already do baseline testing.

The baseline test at the begriming of the season would give doctors a starting point to learn if there was a concussion sustained by a driver and also the severity of it.
"We need to do whatever it takes to know more about injuries for sure,'' Danica Patrick said. "Every other year we did a baseline test (in IndyCar). Then if you had an accident, you took it. We also wore accelerometer ear pieces so they could measure, read and know more about the accident and how hard you hit. Anytime you're doing something to know more is a good thing."
If a mandatory baseline testing policy is not put in place before the 2013 season it would be a shame so mind boggling that it might just give you a concussion. Also, infield care centers that drivers have to go to after an on track accident are going to have to test for concussions from now on. 
 Former NASCAR driver Steve Park wishes tests like the ImPACT test were around in 2001 when he suffered a huge wreck in a 2001 Busch Series race at Darlington. The crash forced him to miss the last eight races of that season and the first four of 2002. 
"I am a big proponent in NASCAR that the ImPACT test, if it was part of your physical exam as a driver and you had it at the liaison office at every track, if you did get hurt during testing, qualifying or practice you could easily take the test (again) in 20 or 30 minutes and they could have a competent evaluation if you're hurt or not,'' Park told
The ImPACT test was developed by Mark Lovell, the director of the Center for Sports Medicine Concussion Program at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. ImPACT stands for Immediate Post-Concussion Assessment and Cognitive Testing. The test takes about 22 minutes to perform the first time and a  bit less in the future. The ImPACT test measures memory, reaction time, mental speed, information processing, anticipation time and other functions of the brain affected by concussions.
There is no way for Earnhardt Jr. to know the severity of his concussion because baseline testing was never done prior to his August 29 practice crash at Kansas Speedway. Then his headaches and concussion like symptoms returned after his last lap crash at Talladega Superspeedway. His sister Kelley Earnhardt-Miller said today that she believes Dale is on track to return to the car at Martinsville Speedway next weekend.
While drivers might not want to have the mandatory testing for concussions because they do not want to miss a race, it is the best thing for the health of the drivers and for the sport moving forward.

Dan Benton

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