Indy 500 Memories: Fast Racers Need Fast Doctors

May 27, 2016

A former track physician at the Indianapolis 500 race said drivers get the very best care possible in the event of crashes. In spite of 230 mile per hour speeds, Advocate BroMenn Vice President of Medical Management Jim Nevin said having board certified emergency physicians at track side and ambulances ready to roll mean there is a significant response advantage that people in ordinary car crashes don't have.

"You know, (Alex) Zanardi who lost both his legs in Europe (in 2001), they saw that happen and were able to clamp down and prevent him from exsanguinating. otherwise you know he would have died in any other accident," said Nevin.

Nevin spent twelve years as a track physician in the 80s and 90s. He said another benefit those Doctors have over regular emergency responders is they get to see the crash over closed circuit TV.

"So you would know what happened. You could see if somebody was hit maybe by flying debris, at what angle they hit the track, what side they might be hurt on, how difficult it was to get them out of the tub they crashed into," said Nevin.

Nevin said speeds are so high and car vibrations are so intense even drivers who do not crash often come away after a race bruised  in the knees and arms from rattling around in the cockpit of the vehicles.

Nevin says he has seen technology greatly improve outcomes as well. When he first started there were a lot of foot and leg injuries after crashes. Now, he says the cab design of race cars and the harnesses prevent such injuries.

Nevin started in medical school and then concentrated on emergency medicine and went through his residency in Indianapolis, all the time enjoying race day and delivering and then coordinating service at the track. Nevin says it was a varied experience, with most of the work involving spectators.

This weekend is the 100th running of the Indy 500.

Nevin also said one thrill on race day was a great opportunity for all those working in the track hospital to come out during the parade lap and watch from the infield as the drivers passed by feet away.

He also spoke with GLT's Charlie Schlenker about the varied nature of the work, vehicle and track safety design changes, concussions, and the athletic gifts race car drivers must have.