Teams with ATCs Report Better Performance, Fewer Injuries Among Drivers and Pit Crews
DALLAS, March 18 – Behind every great race car driver is an “over the wall” crew that services his vehicle and keeps it running at peak performance. In recent years, a new member has joined some of these squads of gasmen, tire changers, tire carriers and jack men, to keep them in as good physical shape as the automobiles they service. Certified athletic trainers (ATCs) are now helping drivers and crews alike in select NASCAR and Indy Racing League racing teams fine tune their physical strength, stamina and endurance, to give them the competitive edge they need on the race course and off. The ATCs are also on hand to assess problems and treat injuries that might occur during their daily routine and on race day. Represented by the National Athletic Trainers’ Association (NATA), ATCs are health care providers who specialize in the prevention, assessment, treatment and rehabilitation of injuries and illnesses that occur to athletes and the physically active. Throughout March, the NATA is celebrating “National Athletic Training Month.” This year’s theme, “Injury Treatment: Early Care Speeds Recovery,” applies suitably to the car racing industry. Among the ATCs who cater to the special needs of race car teams are Al Shuford, MEd, ATC-L, owner of All-In-One Health & Safety Consultants in Charlotte, and Ralph Reiff, MEd, ATC-L, director, St. Vincent Sports Medicine and Sports Performance, in Indianapolis. Shuford consults with such NASCAR teams as Joe Gibbs Racing, Team Rensi Motorsports, Rusty Wallace Inc. and Phoenix Racing, and has worked with such champion drivers as Bobby Labonte, Tony Stewart, Terry Labonte, Scott Dixon and Bobby Hamilton Jr. Reiff, with his associate, Tim Drudge, ATC-L, consults full-time with the Indy Racing League’s Panther Racing. Shuford began working in the race car industry in 1999, and Reiff in 2002. Since then, their contributions have generated immediate positive responses among racers and crew members alike. “I’ve noticed higher employee morale, better overall employee health, less time away from work and improved performance,” says Shuford. Reiff found that in addition to an increase in team morale and a measurable change in fitness levels, other benefits were found. “There was a measurable decrease in injuries to the over the wall team, and for the drivers, less fatigue,” he reports. “The long term effects have been lifestyle changes and a more competitive nature among the crew.” When drivers and crew members have been injured on the job, Reiff and his associates are there to help, and get everyone back on track. “Many injuries can be managed on-site,” says Reiff. “The most typical problems for a race car driver are muscle fatigue, dehydration and cramps. We coach the driver during the race via radio communications. Since it’s improbable the driver will stop driving, it’s imperative for us to offer immediate feedback and advice while he’s in the car.” As the health and safety coordinator for various NASCAR teams, Shuford coordinates programs for the entire race shops of his clients, which include: therapeutic exercise and work conditioning, ergonomic job analyses, orthopaedic injury assessments, rehabilitation policies and procedures, as well as creating an atmosphere that encourages racers and crew members to change behavior patterns which contribute to injury and illness. “Since there are only seven people in NASCAR over the wall pit crews, consistency is extremely important to team owners,” says Shuford. “They’re now appreciating what ATCs do, and how they contribute to the overall productivity of their business.” Reiff and Drudge focus on a blend of fitness, performance and “controllables” such as nutrition, fluids and clothing, to reduce the risk of injury and promote performance among the pit crew members and drivers. “Flexibility, low-back strength, rotational stability, hydration, body weight management, correct clothing, the right footwear – it all matters,” says Reiff. They analyze pit stop videos, bio-mechanics (the body mechanisms of movement and motion) and stop times, to customize training routines for individuals and pit crew teams as a whole, and help them avoid sprains, strains, heat illness and impact injuries. For race car drivers, Reiff and Drudge evaluate their physical fitness, offer nutrition consultations and provide specific training for driver fatigue, muscle fatigue, dehydration and cramps. Such attention to details has paid off well for the Panther Racing team. “Last season, they had a significant decrease in pit stop times,” say Reiff. “Pit stop performance is gauged by how quickly and efficiently the over the wall crew can change tires, fuel the car and make engineering adjustments. Trimming off even a few tenths of a second can make the difference between coming in first or second.” At present, relatively few NASCAR teams have ATCs working with them, and only one Indy Racing League out of 18 does. Both Shuford and Reiff believe that it’s only a short matter of time before things change. “It’s my goal to have ATCs with every Indy team within the next four years,” says Reiff. About the NATA: Certified athletic trainers (ATCs) are unique health care providers who specialize in the prevention, assessment, treatment and rehabilitation of injuries and illnesses that occur to athletes and the physically active. The National Athletic Trainers' Association represents and supports 30,000 members of the athletic training profession through education and research. www.nata.org. NATA, 2952 Stemmons Freeway, Ste. 200, Dallas, TX 75247, 214.637.6282; 214.637.2206 (fax).