I was all set to submit my column for the latest issue of NSDN when Monday evening just before we sat down to a family supper I noticed a new head line on another racing website that I frequent. The head line read, “Eric Medlen hurt in testing crash”. The story was brief, because the incident had happened not long before the story was posted. A condensed version goes something like this; “Eric Medlen, driver of one of John Force Racings AA/FC Mustangs, was severly injured during testing this afternoon. Eric was airlifted from Gainsville Raceway following a crash during which at the top end of a run. The car got loose, went left, then crossed the race track and impacted the opposite retaining wall head on.”
Tuesday and Wednesday I followed the story to see what had happened and how Eric was doing. He was in critical condition with a serious closed head injury. On Tuesday the doctors performed a craniotomy, which apparently is a procedure to reduce swelling and pressure on one’s brain. When I read that, my thoughts went from “I wonder when he will drive again?” to “I hope he pulls through.” We prayed at the supper table that night that God would heal Eric, at that point, he was just a fellow racer that was in a bad position. I was not able to get on the internet on Thursday and Friday, but a phone call Friday night delivered the news that Eric Medlen had died from his injuries Thursday evening.
I did not know Eric personally, but I did have a chance to see him interacting with his fans at the NHRA race at Joliet, IL last June. I never saw a bad word printed or spoken about him since he started driving for JFR. By all accounts he appeared to be a well liked and energetic young guy with a lot of life ahead of him. I said a prayer for his dad, John Medlen (his crew chief), and the rest of his family and friends. I hope anyone reading this does the same.
This brought last month’s column on safety back to the forefront of my mind. Racing for JFR, a team with a multi-million dollar budget, I think it is safe to say that the Medlen team had the best equipment to work with. I doubt very highly that John Medlen would ever send his son down the race track in a car that was unsafe or dangerous. No father would ever do that to his or somebody else’s son. I think we all can agree on that. This brought to mind though, the fact that like it or not, racing is dangerous no matter where and when it is. It doesn’t matter if you have a TF dragster or a 6 second ATV, everytime we strap on a helmet it could be our last. I know some people say we should understand that fact, but do we, as drivers, really stop and think about that?
When was that last time any one of us stopped and read the release form on the back of our entry forms before we signed it? I was thinking over that very fact a few weeks ago, so I called a health care industry professional that I know for his take on the situation. I also called him because he is a Top Alcohol racer on the IHRA circuit. While I won’t reveal his name, I assure you he is real, and was quite candid with the information he gave me. What he said surprised me, mostly because I had never though about it before, and I think is something every racer should be aware of.
ID (Isaac DeHaan): When you sign that release form, what does that really mean?
HC (Health Care Professional): For the most part, it releases the track (ownership/management) and its help (employees) from any liability if you have an accident while racing there. That means if you are injured or die while competing in a competitive event at the track, you and your family cannot bring litigation against the track.
ID: Wait, don’t tracks have insurance?
HC: Yes, but most motor sport insurance is not for participants, it is for spectators. Track owners want to make sure some guy that gets hit with a part from a race car is not able to sue the track or the ownership personally. If a track does not have insurance like that, the spectator could sue the track, management, and even the car owner and driver.
ID: What if I get injured while racing?
HC: Most health insurance companies have waivers in their policies stating any participation in an organized, competitive event (i.e., having a payout) that causes subsequent injury, the insurance company will not be liable for the costs involved.
ID: Whoa, hold the phone. Are you saying if I get hurt in competition, my health insurance may not cover the bills?
HC: Exactly, and even more, most basic life insurance policies read the same way, unless a specific rider is taken out covering that very occurrence. Even supplemental insurance policies like Aflac will not cover racer injuries if those injuries are sustained during an organized competition. Most people have no idea this is the case until after the fact. At that point it is too late.
Even writing this now, that is some pretty powerful stuff. How many of us knew that or even gave it a second though? I dug up a hospital bill from last summer when my 2 year old daughter got her fingers shut in a door. X-rays, shots, emergency room, even band aids and Neosporin for her finger it all adds up. She did not even get stitches, and yet the bill was still almost $500. My insurance paid all but $50, so it didn’t cost me that much, but what would a racing injury cost? I can only imagine the amount of money it would take to recover. Needless to say it could very easily be a career ender, if not financial black hole for the average racer, of which most of us racing on the sand fit into that category.
The point this month is not all “doom and gloom” or making people afraid to go racing. Rather it is this, never take for granted racing is dangerous, period. It only takes the blink of an eye for something bad to happen. Knowing that should make it a lot easier to motivate each and every one of us to taking responsibility for our own safety. You can’t control everything that happens at the race track, but be responsible and diligent with the things you can. God speed, be careful, and I’ll see you in the Staging Lanes.