Race Car Driver Deaths: The Medical Causes of Racing Deaths

The death of Allan Simonsen at the 24 Hours of Le Mans and the death of Jason Leffler one week prior prompted a review of the six different medical causes of race car driver deaths, and what is being done to make racing safer.

Auto racing is the second most popular form of sports worldwide. There are many reasons for racing’s popularity, but the inherent danger of the sport surely plays a role.

Saturday’s death of race car driver Allan Simonsen in the early minutes of the 24 Hours of Le Mans has caused many of our fellow racers to question the safety of the sport, and to call into question whether the sanctioning bodies are doing enough to keep us safe. Our friends and co-drivers / racers feel vulnerable during these times, as they did only one week ago following the tragic death of Jason Leffler during a race in New Jersey. The feelings of vulnerability and sadness, and the questions about safety that are expressed by our fellow drivers today is exactly the same expression of grief and disbelief we saw in our friends and co-drivers just over 1 year ago with the tragic death of Dan Weldon during an IndyCar race at Las Vegas. Often, we see anger in our fellow drivers as they wrestle with these emotions thinking that something should have been done to prevent another racer’s death. Yes, we have a long way to go, but let’s take a look at just how far race car safety has come.

As a current racer in the Grand-Am Rolex series as well as the Continental-Tire Challenge, I called upon my fellow driver and neurosurgeon Dr Jim Lowe to help me put these deaths into perspective, and to review briefly and in lay-terms the medical causes of race car driver deaths. Moreover, we wanted to show the progress that has been made in racing by the various sanctioning bodies and to reassure our fellow drivers that we are much safer than we have ever been, and that the sanctioning bodies are doing an extremely good job at implementing changes that help protect us from injury, and ultimately, death. What follows here is a review — from a medical point of view — why race car drivers die. We aren’t going to say that they died because of a suspension failure, or brake failure, we are going to tell what happened to the racer’s body that caused the death. We won’t leave it there, however, we will help you understand how the rules were changed to protect drivers so that these injuries and deaths become more and more rare. More…..

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