By Dr. James Norman, originally published on June 23, 2013 on the Hyperparathyroidism Blog
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.
There are many reasons for racing’s popularity, but the inherent danger of the sport surely plays a role.
The death of race car driver Allan Simonsen in the early minutes of the 24 Hours of Le Mans this past weekend 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 earlier following the tragic death of Jason Leffler during a race in New Jersey. The feelings of vulnerability and sadness, and the questions about safety expressed by drivers – and fans – today is the same as we saw just over 1 year ago with the tragic death of Dan Weldon. Often, we see anger as they wrestle with these emotions thinking that something should have been done to prevent another racer’s death. This article will take a close look at just how far race car safety has come and the mechanism of driver death that has gotten us here. But at the end of this article, we will look at Allan’s death more closely and conclude that this was likely a foreseeable and predictable crash–and resulting death. This was an unnecessary race car driver death.
Race Car Driver’s Death — Analysis from two surgeons who are also racers
As a current racer in the Grand-Am Rolex series, I called upon my fellow driver and neurosurgeon Dr Jim Lowe to help me put these deaths into perspective, and to review in lay-terms the medical causes of race car driver deaths. We wanted to show the progress that has been made because of some very famous and well publicized racer deaths concluding that it is up to the drivers to demand continued change and further safety measures. What follows here is a review — from a medical point of view — is the six reasons 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. You will see from Allan Simonsen’s death, however, that there is still work to be done!