"These are the best in the business," says Lon Bromley, who heads CART's on-track rescue team. "They take everything they learn during the weekand apply it on the weekend. There are no rookies on the team. Every oneof these guys is here because he wants to be here . . . not because he just happens to be pulling duty that weekend."
In contrast, NASCAR contracts with local rescue units to staff thetrack. Nelson says local doctors are better able to call upon localexperts for specialized help. "You don't need an orthopedic surgeon totreat an eye injury," he says. "Local doctors know who the best eyedoctor is, and they can call upon him if his expertise is needed."
"I kinda like that system," agrees Michael Waltrip, driver of the NAPAChevrolet. "I like the idea that the guys at the track know the localdoctors and hospitals." In reality, it is the trackside crews who mostoften determine whether or not a driver races again. Their actions inthe first few minutes after a crash are critical. Being familiar withhow a race car is built and what type of injuries a driver may havesustained in prior wrecks can influence proper action to take at thescene.
Waltrip hasn't spent much time with other racing series. Casey Mears,among the Raybestos Rookie class of 2003, drove in CART from 1999-'01.He knows how its safety team works.
"If I had never experienced it, I wouldn't know any better," says the
driver of the Target Dodge in NASCAR. "It was reassuring to know thatthe guys on the safety crew were almost like the guys on your team,because if you are hurting bad and you see someone you know, it suremakes a big difference compared to someone you don't know."
NASCAR holds training seminars for the local rescue crews. Multi-champJeff Gordon doesn't think that is enough. When he crashed at WatkinsGlen (after being punted by Kevin Harvick in sight of the finish line),the rescue crew went to his car rather than to Gordon, who had alreadyclimbed out of the wreck and was walking toward the trauma center. Theambulance had to slog its way to the medical center in a sea of racefans leaving the track. It took an estimated 10 minutes to get Gordon tothe care center. "We need to know they are properly trained, properlyinformed, and prepared," Gordon says. "I want to see trained guys . . .prepared to deal with every situation."
A driver's worst fear is fire. This season there were fires on pit roadsand a number of crashes where cars burst into flame upon impact. AfterWinston Cup drivers Ken Schrader, Dale Jarrett, Ryan Newman, and BobbyLabonte were forced to scramble from burning cars, NASCAR required afire extinguisher and distribution nozzle in the trunk in 2003. Again,the technology is there to help eliminate or reduce fuel system fires,but NASCAR has been slow to adopt it, clinging to metal dump cans andoutdated fuel cells.
"Right now we are building the best fuel cell we can under the rules,"says Doug Packard, in charge of Fuel Safe's sales to NASCAR teams. "Butif the rules were different, we could build a much better one. We couldmake one almost bulletproof."
Fuel in Winston Cup cars is carried inside a metal container, whichencloses a foam-filled cell wrapped in a material many times strongerthan ballistic nylon or Kevlar. "I can't say what it is," says Packard."But it works." Packard said the Oregon company could improve fuel cellsby incorporating a fill ring into the construction--which is done inCART and the IRL--rather than building a system that bolts together. Itwould be more expensive and almost impossible to repair, but it wouldeliminate one of the weak points in the current NASCAR construction."The actual fuel cell rarely fails," he says. "They can take enormouscrashes and not rupture. The problem is in the filler neck and checkvalve."