What started as a review of the documentary Rapid Response became more of a personal story of the loss I’ve witnessed in the years I’ve watched IndyCar and how seeing this movie has made me even more grateful for the safety innovations brought about by some incredible doctors. Hope you enjoy reading and please make time to see the movie.
If you are a regular reader of my blog the one thing you know is how I became a fan of IndyCar. It is a story I don’t tire of telling and somehow many of my posts seem to go back to that story. Maybe because I’m a girl but I also seem to get asked that question a lot – how did I become such a big fan of IndyCar. So today I will do a bit of retelling because it is also how I experienced my first lose of a driver I really liked.
The first driver death for me was Eddie Sachs. Okay some of you realize I’m not old enough to have even been alive for the 1964 race but nonetheless that was the first driving fatality that shook me up. I was reading AJ Foyt’s biography for my freshman English class in 1985. There are several references to Eddie Sachs and I remember him being a driver I liked hearing about as I made my way through AJ’s life story. I was shocked and sad when I read of Eddie’s death. It all seemed so unfair and while I was not yet a race fan I wondered how people could risk their lives like they did.
Yesterday, as I made my way to the theater to see Rapid Response, the film made from the book written by Dr Stephen Olvey, I reflected on the driver deaths I’ve experienced. Eddie Sachs was the first, Scott Brayton was the next one for me. Scott Brayton was a popular driver at my house and by 1996 I was hooked on the Indianapolis 500. I wasn’t following the sport full time yet but I watched every bit of qualifying and practice that I could. My family was happy with Brayton’s poll win and we were crushed when we learned of his death. Tony Renna was just a year or two before I became a full time fan and I was unfamiliar with him. Always sad to learn of a death but similar to Paul Dana’s death I was saddened to learn but did not know much of these drivers. Things changed greatly in 2011 when Dan Wheldon was killed in the first few laps at Las Vegas Speedway. Dan had won the Indianapolis 500 the previous May and while he didn’t have a full time ride in IndyCar he was very much a part of the IndyCar Paddock. He helped in the booth, did pit run interviews alongside Robin Miller and made sure no one missed him and his desire to be driving full time. It kept him very much in the public eye and made him a friend and not just a driver. We heard his thoughts, his dreams, saw him laugh and enjoy life. Just minutes before his death we listened in on an incar interview with Dan before the green flag flew. It was unbelievable watching that crash on TV and waiting for news about Dan. The race never concluded and news of Dans passing was announced. The drivers did some parade laps in his honor. I admit it was so much harder on me than I could have imagined.
Justin Wilson was next. I hate even typing that because Justin was our favorite driver. We met him several times and had great interactions with him. His accident was so random and heartbreaking. I was depressed for weeks after his death and still to this day his picture with my son Matthew is on my phone lock screen.
So why tell you all this- just a little background as to why I was so eager to see the film Rapid Response. The amazing safety innovations that have been made over the years are incredible. I’ve experienced relatively few deaths in the sport I love. Several older than me lived with it on a much regular basis. Stephen Olvey describes how as a young boy he would consistently need to pick a new favorite driver as his favorite would perish driving their race car. Bill Vukovich was the first driver loss Stephen experienced as a young child.
While Stephen initially dreamed of becoming a racecar driver, his father convinced him to become a doctor. Eventually Dr. Olvey was the doctor at the track taking care of the drivers. The movie goes into detail about how Dr. Olvey saw a need for more medical staff and equipment to be in place at the track and eventually not just the Indianapolis Motor Speedway but all tracks. Over the years more and more advances were made and what was once a sport that saw numerous deaths every year now sees so many less. As stated I can only think of a handful I personally remember. I am so incredibly thankful for Dr. Stephen Olvey’s passion and desire to help make racing more safe. Dr. Terry Trammell is the doctor name I am most familiar with in IndyCar. He was brought on by Dr. Olvey and the two of them have changed the world of Motorsports. I am so grateful for them both and so many others like them who continue to make racing safer. Tony Kanaan tells a story in the movie about breaking his wrist during the Motegi race in Japan. Tony refused to have his wrist looked at until he was back in the states and Dr. Trammell could attend to it. Three weeks of therapy in Dr. Trammell’s basement and Tony was ready for the Indianapolis 500. He finished third that year.
Dr. Olvey and Dr. Trammell would watch trends in racing accidents, analyze data and consistently make advances which made racing safer. Injuries to feet and ankles which were once so prevalent have greatly decreased. Neck and head injuries are reduced with the introduction of the HANS device. Better tests are put in place to determine if a driver has suffered a concussion. The doctors even make a hard call to cancel a race at the Texas Motor Speedway when it was discovered that the G-load the drivers were experiencing was causing them to blackout. Without these men seeking new advances and being willing to make hard calls like cancelling a race the death rate in racing would have been so much higher of the years.
If you have a passion for IndyCar that goes beyond watching cars go fast. If you are fascinated by the drivers and the whole world behind the scenes at a race track, particularly the Indy 500 then you will greatly enjoy the movie Rapid Response. It is playing in limited theaters and I was fortunate enough to have a showing just 20 minutes from my house. I would have driven farther if needed and would recommend to any fan that they take the time to go see this incredible documentary. It was inspiring while also heartbreaking. So much loss, such terrible crashes and yet these men (and woman) who love to race will not stop. It is in their blood and part of who they are. Men like Dr. Olvey and Dr. Trammell have done so much to make the sport safer and for that we can’t thank them enough.