Beginning in 2014, NASCAR will require all national-level drivers to undergo preseason neurocognitive baseline testing to help with its concussion prevention and management program, according to a release from the sanctioning body on Thursday.
“NASCAR made this decision because we think it is important to drivers’ health for doctors to have the best information and tools available in evaluating injuries,” NASCAR Vice President of Racing Operations Steve O’Donnell said. “Before announcing this rule, we provided drivers concussion and baseline testing education and created opportunities for them to ask any questions they may have to a top neurosurgeon that specializes in traumatic brain injuries. Also remember that ImPACT tests are not new to our sport and have been used for treatment through the years.”
Testing will be performed through Immediate Post-Concussion Assessment and Cognitive Testing (ImPACT). The test evaluates verbal and visual memory, processing speed and reaction time and will be used as a comparison tool when the same driver is tested later for a possible head injury.
Prior to the start of the current race season, drivers were invited to concussion education sessions led by Dr. Vinay Deshmukh of Carolina Neurosurgery & Spine Associations.
The move to mandatory baseline testing is thought to be a result of a concussion suffered by Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the latter stages of the 2012 race season. Earnhardt was voluntarily tested and, as a result, sidelined for two races, but admitted to previously racing while silently suffering through the symptoms of a concussion. Soon afterward, other drivers also admitted to racing while still recovering from concussions.
“We are extremely confident that our concussion protocol is among the best in sports,” O’Donnell said. “We regularly review all of our practices involving safety and health to see if there is anything that we can do better or should do differently moving forward. Implementing baseline testing is a primary example of our philosophy to protect our competitors the best that we can.”
– Photo courtesy of Getty Images for NASCAR