Just 15 laps into this year's ARCA 200 at Daytona International Speedway, Indiana racer Will Kimmel found himself sliding across the track, two flat right side tires and no way to stop the car. When his spotter came over the radio and said "lock 'em down and get ready" Kimmel knew he was about to get hit. The resulting nose-to-nose impact basically junked two perfectly good (and fast) cars.
As is common with most big track multi-car accidents this one started when one driver (Chase Elliott) apparently got into the back of another (Buster Graham), turning Graham sideways in front of the field. Cars scatter and most people check up, when one doesn't all heck breaks loose. Kimmel got turned sideways when the car behind him didn't check up as the rest of the field slowed. He slid into the inside retaining wall, bouncing off of it and sliding back into the path of an on-coming car. The other driver never saw him thanks to the combination of sun glare and a side window net with smaller holes than normal. While the net was legal, the smaller holes (an aerodynamic advantage found from wind tunnel testing) obstructed the driver's view of Kimmel coming at him.
Kimmel would later say that it was one of the hardest hits he's ever taken. The resulting analysis of the crash damage to the car illustrates just how hard a hit it actually was. Check out the following pictures and keep in mind that Kimmel walked away from this wreck without so much as even a headache.
After all the carnage was stripped away, it's hard to imagine that Will Kimmel walked away from this wreck without so much as even a headache, until, of course you consider his safety equipment list:
Simpson Helmet—This ultra lightweight helmet is Snell 2010 rated
HANS Device—We've said it before and we'll say it again, these things save lives; no ifs, ands, or buts. If you don't have one, go get one.
Schroth Seatbelt—These belts literally have two shoulder straps. The "Double Shoulder" belts feature the 3-inch body belt and additional 2-inch HANS belt. The additional 2-inch belt runs back over the shoulder and sandwiches the "arms" of his HANS in between itself and the 3-inch belt helping to securely locate the device in the event of an impact.
Balaclava—Granted, there was no fire in this crash but Will always wears a headsock. It gives added fire protection around the neck area.
Headaches & Concussions
While Will didn't have any after effects of the wreck, plenty of short trackers around the country have stuffed it into the wall only to suffer headaches, dizziness, and blurred vision for days and even sometimes weeks after the impact. That is a dangerous arena and not one to be taken lightly.
So what exactly is a concussion? It is defined as a complex pathophysiological process that affects the brain, typically induced by trauma. It can be caused either by a direct blow to the head, or an indirect blow to the body, causing neurological impairments that with time will usually get better without medical intervention. Symptoms usually reflect a functional disturbance to the brain, and may include physical (e.g., headaches, nausea), cognitive (e.g., difficulty with concentration or memory), emotional (e.g., irritability, sadness), and ‘maintenance' (e.g., sleep disturbances, changes in appetite or energy levels) symptoms.
To understand what happens to the brain during a concussion, you have to realize that the adult brain is a 3-pound organ that basically floats inside the skull. It is surrounded by cerebral spinal fluid, which acts as a shock absorber for minor impacts. When the brain moves rapidly inside the skull, a concussion has technically occurred. There are essentially two types of scenarios that can lead to a concussion. The first is what we commonly think of as a direct blow to the head or a whiplash effect to the body. The impact rapidly accelerates the head, causing the brain to strike the inner skull. When the head decelerates and stops its motion, the brain then hits the opposite side of the inner skull.
The second common scenario is a rotational concussion, in which the head rapidly rotates from one side to another causing shearing and straining of brain tissues. In either case, delicate neural pathways in the brain can become damaged, causing neurological disturbances.
1. In this overhead shot you can see that, at a minimum, this car is going to need a whole new front clip.
2. This is where the whole incident started. When Will got turned around he slid into the inside retaining wall at the beginning of pit road, bounced off and careened into on-coming traffic. Most of the damage to the rear is cosmetic. But the dry brake was broken and will need to be replaced. All of which could have been fixed under caution periods had the other car not hit the front.
3. The radiator and much of the front rollbar structure is pushed up and into the engine bay. The team will carefully strip away all of the damaged components to determine if anything is salvageable.
4. Team member Ira Small cuts away part of the front fender to get a better view of how the motor faired.
5. Much of the bracing on the front left side of the car ended up on top of the engine, most notably damaging the distributor.
6. In this shot you can see how the bar completely collapsed the top of the distributor, cracking the cap and potentially causing damage to the distributor shaft and gear or worse…the camshaft and other internals to the engine. The only way they will know for sure is by a complete teardown.
Let's look at those two scenarios from a motorsports perspective using a typical short track crash as the example. Blown right front tire sends the Late Model into the Turn 4 wall, it happens so fast that the driver barely has time to jump on the brakes before the impact has occurred. Without a head and neck restraint, the driver's head snaps forward causing the brain to slap the inside of the front of his skull. As soon as his head stops its forward motion, the brain springs back to hit the inside back of his skull. By the way, this all occurs before the car comes to a rest one third of the way down the front stretch. He sees stars and has a headache for three days after the race, evidence of a common concussion in short track racing.
In scenario number two, a racer leading the Late Model feature gets loose coming out of turn four and the car begins a lazy spin. The two drivers immediately behind miss him, but the guy running fourth clobbers the rear clip and sends our former leader into a wild spin through a very bumpy infield. Unfortunately, this driver doesn't have a full containment seat nor does he wear a head-and-neck restraint. His head and upper body are violently shaken, but what's going on inside his head loosely resembles a ping pong ball in a blender.
However, what if those two scenarios happened in the same wreck? You can imagine the result could be devastating.
Now add in the fact that we have racers of all ages involved in the sport and it becomes critical for us to understand as much as we can about concussions. For example, because the frontal lobes of the human brain continue to develop until age 25, you can bet that a teenager's brain is going to react and heal differently than an adults in the event of a severe concussion. So it is vital to manage youth concussions very conservatively to ensure optimal neurological development and outcomes.
Some studies have shown that females are more likely than their male counterparts to sustain a concussion. They tend to have more symptoms and require more time to recover.
Additionally, a history of developmental disorders, psychiatric disorders, or a history of headaches or migraines can play a part in concussion recovery time.
Finally, research suggests that if someone has already received one concussion, they are one to two times more likely to receive a second one. If they've had two concussions, then a third is two to four times more likely, and if they've had three concussions, then they are three to nine times more likely to receive their fourth concussion.
The long term effects of multiple concussions are currently being studied by researchers around the globe. Not only can multiple traumatic incidents contribute to the development of mild cognitive impairments (MCI's), chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), and other adverse outcomes, but a storied concussion history can also cause post-concussion syndrome (PCS). The subject of PCS and motorsports was detailed in a highly acclaimed article by Bob Bolles in the Oct. '12 issue of Circle Track.
The medical community is constantly learning about the causes of these long-term effects, but it's imperative that a person fully recover from one concussion before risking a subsequent one. Failing to do so adequately can lead to additional neurologic damage. This is what happened to our friend Jeff Vochaska, who Bob wrote about, it wasn't one single event that caused his PCS and changed his life forever. It was multiple concussions over a period of many, many years. The bottom line is that there are numerous factors that contribute to concussions and their recovery.
We are constantly learning but the one thing we do know is that the proper safety equipment, installed and worn correctly to the manufacturer's specifications will help you escape major injuries in many different incidents.
7. The bolt held…the bar didn’t.
8. Look just above Bill’s hand at the balancer. Obviously something got shoved into it hard. That in turn could have touched off internal problems within the rotating assembly of the motor. If ignored or missed this could lead to big problems down the road.
9. Here’s another angle that shows the extent of the bend. It’s a given that they are going to have to clip this car but shocks, springs and other components that don’t appear to be damaged will have to be thoroughly inspected in order to avoid any issues in the future.
10. Just above the spring you can see how badly damaged the framerail is. The paint flaking off is a tell-tale sign that the rail is bent.
11. In this photo you can almost clearly see that the engine compartment was so well built that it took the brunt of the impact. And while the frame rails and all the tubing will have to be replaced the motor actually looks like it never moved from the centerline of the car. Two things likely played into this, number one the integrity of the cage around the engine and number two the set back of the motor (this is a superspeedway car). It goes to show properly designing the cage around your motor can save you thousands of dollars if things go bad.
12 A-C. In these three photos you can see the damage to both the front and rear of the car but notice that the driver’s compartment is not damaged. Not only is this a testament to the structure integrity of the car’s original builder but it demonstrates the importance of car design relative to the safety of the driver. When building or modifying your own car, keep in mind that the driver’s compartment should act as the final cocoon of protection in the event of a bad wreck.