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Track Rescue in the Media

                   YOU'RE IN GOOD HANDS

Track Rescue Keeps IHRA Drivers and Fans Safe

By Travis Reynolds


Drag racing is a sport defined by milliseconds. When a 1/4 mile race may only last for 5 seconds, the slightest imperfection in the motor, a hesitation by the driver, or a minor change in the atmospheric conditions can alter the outcome of a race. It sounds strange to say, but by breaking the sport down into small circumstances, one can understand just how delicate a drag race is. While these thunderous, boisterous beasts blast down the quarter-mile, evoking a symphony of horror, inside the cockpit, drivers are juggling eggs with the often-irritable motors.

Based on years of trial and error and advancements in technology, the vehicles are constructed to withstand the worst accidents. With a properly constructed roll cage and strict adherence to other safety measures, a driver can live through just about any wreck. But the procedures utilized by a safety team after a wreck are just as important as the measures taken to prevent the wreck.

March 28, 2004, was a day Bruce Litton will never forget, nor will anyone in attendance at San Antonio Raceway that day. During the semifinal round of Top Fuel, Litton defeated opponent Grant Flowers. However, immediately after crossing the finish line at over 300mph, the dragster veered right, into the wall, bounced across the track and into the left wall before coming to a halt. Litton was airlifted to Brooks Army Medical Center, a Level One Trauma Center in San Antonio. After a few hours, Litton was released and back to the track with a concussion and a headache.

"You know, today my life was spared and I just hope that everyone saw the angels surrounding this car," remarked Litton later that evening. "God spared my life today."

In 2002, IHRA began a partnership with Sarasota, Fla.-based TRACK RESCUE. The company is headed by Chief Craig Clarke, a veteran in the safety and rescue business with over 25 years of experience. Clarke's first endeavor into motorsports was at Desoto Speedway in Bradenton, Florida.

"The local crews weren't really doing much to advance safety at the events," said Clarke. "From my involvement at Desoto, I quickly saw motorsports' need for increased and enhanced safety services."

Clarke and his TRACK RESCUE business are well respected in the industry. Due to his vast knowledge of safety and rescue, Clarke was called as an expert witness during the Wolfgang vs. Mid-America trial after a crash in 1992 at a track in Kansas City. According to Clarke, the case changed the way liability releases are written today.

TRACK RESCUE has worked in just about every form of motorsport, including AMA, Supercross, Motocross, Circle Track racing. In addition to all Hooters IHRA Drag Racing Series events, they also cover USAR Hooters Pro Cup events.

The Team, which is made up of certified firefighters and/or EMTs, typically consists of seven people, two rescue trucks, two four wheelers and two local ambulance units. To ensure proper preparation for any occurrence, the team combines guidelines established by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), the International Council of Motorsports Safety (ICMS), and standards dictated by IHRA to create a secure environment above and beyond that of protocol. The main duties of TRACK RESCUE include but are not limited to fire suppression, extrication, rescue and track cleanup.

"Even though we are cross-trained in medical, our role is to make the scene of the accident safe," said Clarke. "Usually the ambulance crew can't come into a scene until it is safe. Once the area is secure, we can hand the patient off to the EMT's and physicians."

The final key ingredient to IHRA's safety team is the on-site physician, to access the driver's condition and administer any necessary medical action. IHRA has five physicians: Dr. Jon Beezley, Dr. William Caudill, Dr. Carlos Falcon, Dr. Rob Genzel and Dr. Dave Templeton.

Dr. Rob Genzel was the physician on-duty during Litton's crash at San Antonio Raceway. Genzel, originally from Webster, N.Y., started his career as an EMT at the age of 18, becoming a paramedic at 20. A graduate of Cornell University, he's been a staff doctor since 1995. Today, Genzel is a staff physician in the Emergency Room at the Medical Center of Plano. He is also the Medical Director for Texas Motor Speedway, Infineon Raceway (formerly Sears Point Raceway), Southwest Helicopters (an EMS helicopter service), Frito Lay, Dean Foods...if you don't get the point, Genzel knows his stuff.

Between the TRACK RESCUE team and the on-site, emergency physician, IHRA's safety team has established a well thought-out plan to provide a safe weekend. Each event now has state-of-the-art equipment and supplies. It's a traveling hospital, with products such as a LIFEPAK®12 defibrillator/monitor from Medtronic Corporation, airway equipment, IV supplies and an entire drug/medicine box. However, pre-event planning is just as important.

"Every venue that you go to is different," said Genzel. "And a major part of what we do is get some advance information and make requirements of the local promoter. We need the local ambulance services on-site and to know the location of local medical facilities and airlift services."

All these key components add up to one of comprehensive medical teams capable of handling any medical situation, even a wreck at 300mph.

"Bruce's wreck is a pretty typical wreck," said Genzel. "We were down at the top end and he was traveling towards us, so we didn't move until the vehicle came to a stop. His event occurred at the finish line, he slid down and basically stopped in front of the rescue truck."

Once the vehicle came to a stop and the rescue crew determined the scene clear of any threat, they jumped the wall and ran over to the car, it was so close. They radioed the tower and according to emergency plans already in place, many IHRA officials helped secure the scene. The rescue crew assessed Litton in the vehicle, and the decision was quickly made to call in the airlift.

"We assessed Bruce, called for the helicopter, and then we needed to cut him out of the vehicle because we were concerned about neck or back injuries," said Genzel. They decided which part of the roll cage to cut, and began the process. "Bruce was talking to us at this point."

As the rescue team moved Litton and stabilized him on a stretcher, the aircraft was on final approach. He was given oxygen and an IV was started. The rescue team consulted with the airlift team, and Litton was airlifted to the trauma center.

"I believe the entire process took about 15 to 17 minutes," said Clarke.

"These cars are designed for driver safety," said Genzel. "He stayed within the roll cage. That is why we have certain safety standards. Drivers who abide by those standards can come through some pretty horrendous-looking wrecks."

"We followed all the proper procedures," said Clarke. "I felt it went smooth as far as rescue goes; everyone did their job to aid the patient."

"The safety team is just one example of the advancements IHRA has developed to ensure everyone enjoys the "IHRA experience," said IHRA Director of Competition and Technical Services Mike Baker. "IHRA has taken steps in the last three to five years to create for fans, officials, and most importantly our drivers a safe and secure venue. The safety team is a highly specialized group of workers and one of the few private groups to travel with a series.

"Now, more attention is paid to administrative planning - where is the closest hospital, where is the airlift. We've invested an extended amount of time and effort into this program and the result has been a significant improvement to our overall safety."



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