Fast And Furious, And Deadly!

In a rather morbid article, LILY explores the many deadly reasons why she would never allow her loved ones to race. My impression ...


In a rather morbid article, LILY explores the many deadly reasons why she would never allow her loved ones to race.

My impression of racing is that it is fast and furious, and dangerous! As I write this, legendary Formula One racer, Michael Schumacher, is still in a coma. His best buddies visit and play recordings of pit radio and engine sounds to stimulate and hopefully rouse Schumacher from his slumber. I wonder if he is racing in dreamland? However, the seven-time F1 world champion was not injured on the racetrack, but while skiing in Switzerland. Is racing less dangerous than skiing then? Let's see...

Total Formula One fatalities from 1952 to 2002 were 49; on average, there is close to one fatality per year! The fatalities occur during practice, qualifying and testing rounds, and the actual race. As for NASCAR, 65 fatalities were recorded from 1948 to 2009, which is in the span of 61 years; this means that there are one to two fatalities per year. This is outrageous! These figures only encompass Formula One and NASCAR races, but there are many more racing events around the world. I believe that if I knew the actual death toll, I would be the home version of Adolf Hitler, forbidding my loved ones from racing; my command has to be followed, inexorably!

I am sure with modern technology and the experience collected in the past, racers today have much better protection in terms of track design, vehicle safety, protective suits and gears. Dr James Norman, in his blog Parathyroid.com, lists six causes of deaths of race car drivers; determining the causes allows preventive measures to be taken.

The first one is Blunt Force Trauma. It refers to a blunt object hitting the driver’s body (or vice versa) without penetrating the skin, which can result in broken bones and injury of soft tissue. This is a very common cause of injury, especially before the invention of the seat belt. Racers who died from blunt force trauma include Jim Clark, Joe Weatherly, Dan Wheldon, Jason Leffler and Gilles Villenueve.

Penetrating Trauma, as the name implies, refers to injury caused by penetration of projectile or stationery object into the body (there is a lower possibility of such injury occurring in a sedan, by the way), which often occurs in areas of the abdomen, neck, chest and head, and often leads to fatality. Racers like Ayrton Senna and Felipe Massa died from this type of trauma.

How HANS work
Another common cause is Spinal Cord Injury. The invention of the HANS device was to prevent the head from flexing forward during deceleration, reducing risk of damage to the upper spinal cord or the lower part of the brain, which can cause immobility of movement and difficulty breathing. Dale Earnhardt, Adam Petty and Jim Fitzgerald are among the racers who died from spinal cord injuries.

There is also the Internal Organ Disruption due to sudden deceleration. Deceleration forces the body to stop moving forward, but the organs within the body are still in motion due to inertia; the continuous forward movement of the organs thus causes disruption. The aorta is particularly vulnerable to such trauma. Racers such as Mark Donohue died of brain injury post-incident while Scott Kalitta, Roland Ratzenberger, Allan Simonsen and Sean Edwards are others who passed on due to disruption of the aorta and other organs.

Fellow racer, David Purley, was the only one who tried
to rescue the trapped Williamson while the marshals stood idly by.
Of course, death by Fire is commonly known but is actually an uncommon cause of death on the tracks, because of fireproof suits, modern fuel equipment, special car designs and other preventative measures; for instance, refuelling during a race is no longer permitted in Formula One since 2002. During the Dutch Grand Prix in 1973, Roger Williamson’s race car flipped over and caught fire. Track marshals were poorly trained and ill-equipped for such an incident back then, and Williamson died of asphyxiation as he was engulfed by flames.

Perhaps the least expected cause of death is exemplified by two-time German VLN Endurance Race Champion, Wolf Silvester, whose vehicle came to halt in the middle of a race. The rescue team raced to his aid to find that he had suffered a Heart Attack. According to Dr Norman, racing is a very stressful sport!

If you enjoy racing, you can continue to pursue your passion but do take note regarding the above listed causes and continue to learn the safer way of racing; forget not your regular medical checkup and remember that it’s not just about you, it’s also about your loved ones.

images: huffingtonpost.com, worldpressphoto.org, caranddriver.com

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