As the nation's best stock car drivers prepare for the green flag to drop on the Daytona 500, all of us at Resurgens Orthopaedics thought this would be the perfect time to highlight the extreme physical strain that racing places on these drivers. If you think driving a NASCAR is just sitting in a car, think again! It's truly one of the most extreme sports anywhere in the world and it takes a high level of mental and physical conditioning to take that checkered flag. Here's more about some of the most common injuries seen in NASCAR drivers and the safety measures that the racing league has taken to protect drivers.
Common Injuries in NASCAR Drivers
The stock cars used in NASCAR races sport 900-plus-horsepower V-8s and regularly put up speeds in excess of 200 miles per hour on superspeedway tracks like the one at Daytona.At speeds like that, a NASCAR driver can experience anywhere from 3-5 G-forces in turns, meaning a 160-pound driver could feel like they weigh almost 500 pounds!Even when all goes according to plan, these drivers' bodies are under insane stress; when they crash, those forces are multiplied exponentially.Here are some of the injuries frequently reported by NASCAR drivers:
Low Back/Sacroiliac Pain
Sitting in a racing seat for as many as 3-4 hours can cause pain in the lower back; add the extreme G-forces to that and you've got a sure recipe for back pain. Pit crew members are also susceptible to lower back injuries when transporting tires and other heavy equipment.
Gripping the steering wheel under high G-force loads can put a lot of strain on the tendons in the elbows, wrists, hands, and shoulders. Knees, feet and ankles are also common tendon injury sites for NASCAR drivers.
A driver's head is constantly being jostled around during a race, forcing the neck muscles to work overtime keeping it steady.This can lead to injuries to the neck muscles as well as the vertebra and discs in the neck.
Crashes are a part of life for NASCAR drivers, and although stock cars are designed to mitigate crash forces as much as possible, drivers can still receive serious musculoskeletal injuries like concussions, broken necks, broken backs, and more.While safety measures have made the sport safer than ever before, there have still been 28 driver fatalities since NASCAR's inception.
NASCAR Safety Measures
Daytona International Speedway has proven to be one of the most dangerous tracks in the sport, with 14 of those 28 fatal accidents occurring on this circuit alone.After the high-profile death of Dale Earnhardt Sr. on the final lap of the 2001 Daytona 500, NASCAR enacted a number of safety measures to protect drivers from injury and death.These included requiring all drivers to make use of the HANS device, a head restraint designed to protect the head and neck from injuries during crashes.NASCAR tracks also began installing "soft walls" designed to absorb the impact from crashes and prevent those deadly forces from being transferred to drivers.In the years following Earnhardt's death, NASCAR has undergone a constant process of re-engineering the cars themselves to be safer as well, and we are happy to report that there have been no fatal crashes since that fateful day in 2001.
At Resurgens Orthopaedics, we appreciate the dedication NASCAR has shown to making races safer for its drivers. We hope you enjoy this year's Daytona 500 and we wish every driver in this year's race a safe 200 laps and a safe return to the pit. Start your engines!