Editorial

There's more than handwriting on the wall
and here's the concrete facts

 by Mark Cipolloni & Steven N. Levinson
September 18, 2002

UPDATE  Stats through 10/22/03

Go to our forums to discuss this article

Let's face it, Motor Racing is a dangerous sport. It always has been and always will be. The inherent danger is part of its lure and its lore. Most fans like to see the driver flirt with danger and avoid tragedy. The loss of Ayrton Senna in Formula I and Dale Earnhardt in NASCAR made banner front page headlines, as well as sport page headlines. It also prompted both sanctioning bodies to react with rule changes attempting to deal with those tragedies.

The FIA has been more successful than NASCAR in reducing serious injuries and fatalities.  F1 has been accused by its detractors, "of sanitized tracks overrun with chicanes".  There is very little to "sanitize" on an oval track, except for perhaps "soft walls" and the paving of inside safety aprons.  In both CART and IRL, the sanctioning bodies have also tried to deal with the injuries.  CART has 1 reduced boost and horsepower, made the HANS Device mandatory and made changes to enhance cockpit and lower limb areas. The IRL has tried to soften its transmission (for rear impacts) and also modify its cockpit and seat designs to alleviate impacts.

Notwithstanding all the those efforts, it seems to be an inescapable conclusion, that racing open wheel, Indy Type cars on high speed ovals remains a dangerous endeavor. This year , as the table of injuries has demonstrated below, current technology and engineering have yet to produce a satisfactory response to the continuing number of injuries on oval tracks.

Gladiators of the Roman Empire fought in the great Coliseum and engaged in extreme battles resulting in severe injuries or even death.  The Gladiators of the modern era are Indy Car oval track racers in the IRL and CART.  The injury rate to the modern day gladiators is alarming, and we have compiled the statistics to prove just how brave (or desperate for a job, depending on where you sit) these men are.

This article isn't about CART vs. the IRL.  It's about the safety of the drivers in the CART and IRL Indy Car series.  Our research dates back to the inception of the IRL in 1996, for it was at that time that we had a better balance between ovals (IRL and some in CART) and road courses (CART). It's also as far back as we could find data for.   Still, it's enough data to have a reasonable assurance of statistical accuracy/trends.


On oval tracks, the safety crews stay very busy.  Here Mauricio Gugelmin is carefully extricated from his car by the CART Simple Green safety crew after an accident during practice for the Firestone Firehawk 600, CART FedEx Championship Series at the Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth, Texas.
Photo:  Robert Laberge/ALLSPORT

Since 1996, when the all-oval IRL series was created, we suspected that the injury rate in Indy Car racing had gone up dramatically, but we didn't bother to compile the data until now.  The number of road course races stayed about the same (all in CART) but the number of oval races increased when the IRL came on board, and the combined total number of oval races and road course races between the two series in 2002 is currently split about 60/40 in favor of ovals.  Since 1996, 235 races weekends have been run between the two series.  60% have been ovals and 40% road and street circuits.

Because there were more ovals than road course races, one would expect the ratio of injuries to be about 60% on ovals and 40% on road courses if the two types of racing were equally as safe.  However, what we found was that in those 235 races, 90% of the injuries occurred on ovals and just 10% on road courses, a statistically alarming difference.  Of course road courses have gravel traps, energy absorbing barriers, and paved runoff areas to soften impacts.  Ovals tracks have nothing but hard concrete walls.

Of the 235 race weekends, 86 were IRL races and 149 were CART races, or 37% IRL and 63% CART.  Although CART had many more races, the number of injuries in the IRL were 127 to just 48 for CART.  In other words, the IRL had only 37% of the events, but 73% of the injuries.  That equates to an average of 1.443 injuries per race weekend for the IRL and 0.322 injuries per race for CART.  The data indicates, you are 448% more likely to get injured during an IRL race weekend than a CART race weekend. The numbers are disproportionately high for the IRL because they have so many ovals races. If we were to include all forms of auto racing (NASCAR, short tracks, dirt, SCCA road racing, etc. the number of injuries on ovals vs. road course would skyrocket even further.  No one is immune to the dangers of oval track racing, especially NASCAR and the IRL.

Let's examine the statistics in more depth.  In the table below is a list of all injuries and deaths that we could verify for in the IRL and CART since 1996.  Here is a summary of the data:

Number of total races since 1996

272

Percent of total races on ovals:

 164

60%

Percent of total races on road courses:

 108

40%

Percent of races run by IRL

 107

39%

Percent of races run by CART

 165

61%

 

 

Number of total injuries:

186

Percent of total injuries from ovals:

 168

90%

Percent of total injuries from road courses:

 18

10%

No. injuries in IRL

 136

No. of injuries in CART

 50

Percent injuries by IRL

73%

Percent injuries by CART

27%

Injuries per race in IRL

 1.271

Injuries per race in CART

 0.303

Likelihood of getting injured in IRL vs. CART race

419%

 

 

Number of total head injuries

60

Percent of total head injuries from ovals:

57

95%

Percent of total head injuries from road courses:

3

5%

 

 

Number of total back/neck/pelvis/hip injuries

44

Percent of total back/neck/pelvis/hip injuries from ovals:

40

91%

Percent of total back/neck/pelvis/hip injuries from road courses:

4

9%

 

 

Number of total shoulder/arm/wrist/hand injuries

21

Percent of total shoulder/arm/wrist/hand injuries from ovals:

18

86%

Percent of total shoulder/arm/wrist/hand injuries from road courses:

3

14%

 

 

Number of total leg/ankle/foot injuries:

40

Percent of total leg/ankle/foot injuries from ovals:

38

95%

Percent of total leg/ankle/foot injuries from road courses:

2

5%

 

 

Number of total rib injuries

4

Percent of total rib injuries from ovals:

3

75%

Percent of total rib injuries from road courses:

1

25%

 

 

Number of total misc. injuries:

13

Percent of total misc. injuries from ovals:

10

77%

Percent of total misc. injuries from road courses:

3

23%

 

 

Number of total fatalities

4

Percent of total fatalities from ovals: 5 = 63%

2

50%

Percent of total fatalities from road courses: 3 = 37%

2

50%

We'll let you draw your own conclusions from the data presented.  However, given the statistics, it's not inconceivable that the US Surgeon General might someday stamp a warning on all Indy Car oval races, similar to what they do on cigarette packs - "WARNING, The Surgeon General has determined that Indy Car oval track racing is VERY hazardous to your health."

Note:  we have exercised due diligence to fully and factually examine all the records available to us. We were not given records from either IRL or CART.  We may have accidentally left out some injuries, but any omission was unintentional, and due strictly to our lack of access to official records.  If better records become available in the future, we will update the statistics presented.  Indy Lights and Toyota Atlantic series injuries are not included because 1) injury records were not available to us, 2) the number of injuries in those two series are statistically insignificant, 3) at the time, the IRL did not have an equivalent ladder series to compare against.

Detailed Injury Listing

1996

Series

Driver

Venue

Type

Injury

1.

IRL

Butch Brickell

Disney

Oval

Broken Neck

2.

IRL

Eliseo Salazar

Disney

Oval

Broken Leg

3.

IRL

Roberto Guerrero

Disney

Oval

Concussion

4.

IRL

Eddie Cheever

Phoenix

Oval

Concussion

5.

IRL

Stan Wattles

Phoenix

Oval

Concussion

6.

IRL

Buddy Lazier

Phoenix

Oval

Broken back

7.

IRL

Scott Brayton

Indy

Oval

FATALITY

8.

IRL

Billy Boat

Indy

Oval

Shoulder Separation

9.

IRL

Dan Drinan

Indy

Oval

Broken Pelvis

10.

IRL

Lyn St. James

Indy

Oval

Broken Wrist

11.

IRL

A. Zampedri

Indy

Oval

Broken Feet/Ankles

12.

IRL

Brad Murphey

Las Vegas

Oval

Broken Hip

13.

IRL

Tony Stewart

Las Vegas

Oval

Broken Shoulder

14.

IRL

Mark Dismore

Las Vegas

Oval

Broken Pelvis

1.

CART

Parker Johnstone

Homestead

Oval

Concussion

2.

CART

Scott Goodyear

Rio

Oval

Broken Back (Thoracic compression fracture)

3.

CART

Mark Blundell

Rio

Oval

Rib and foot fractures

4.

CART

Jeff Krosnoff

Toronto

Street

FATALITY

--

CART

Gary Avrin

Toronto

Street

FATALITY (Corner worker)

5.

CART

Paul Tracy

Michigan

Oval

Fractured Vertebrae

6.

CART

Emerson Fittipaldi

Michigan

Oval

Neck fracture

7.

CART

Parker Johnstone

Elkhart Lake

Road

Hospitalized/Soft Tissue

1997

Series

Driver

Venue

Type

Injury

1.

IRL

Eliseo Salazar

Disney

Oval

Broken Back (Thoracic compression fracture)

2.

IRL

Davy Jones

Disney

Oval

Head/Neck/Neuro

3.

IRL

Kenny Brack

Phoenix

Oval

Concussion

4.

IRL

Sam Schmidt

Phoenix

Oval

Spinal Fracture (Thoracic compression fracture)

5.

IRL

Jeret Schroeder

Phoenix

Oval

Concussion

6.

IRL

Scott Sharp

Indy

Oval

Head/Cerebral Hemorrhage

7.

IRL

John Paul, Jr.

Indy

Oval

Broken Leg

8.

IRL

Johnny O'Connell

Indy

Oval

Broken Foot

9.

IRL

Robby Gordon

Indy

Oval

2nd/3rd Degree Burns

10.

IRL

Paul Durant

Indy

Oval

Broken Pelvis/Concussion

11.

IRL

Mike Groff

Texas

Oval

Broken Leg

12.

IRL

Robbie Buhl

Colorado

Oval

Concussion

13.

IRL

Jim Guthrie

Colorado

Oval

Broken Back (Thoracic compression fracture?)

14.

IRL

Scott Sharp

Colorado

Oval

Cerebral Hemorrhage

15.

IRL

Buzz Caulkins

Loudon

Oval

Fractured Skull/Broken Ankle

16.

IRL

Mike Groff

Loudon

Oval

Concussion

17.

IRL

Davey Hamilton

Las Vegas

Oval

Concussion

18.

IRL

John Paul, Jr.

Las Vegas

Oval

Concussion

19.

IRL

Jimmy Kite

Las Vegas

Oval

Concussion

1.

CART

Christian Fittipaldi

Australia

Street

Broken Leg

2.

CART

Bryan Herta

Australia

Street

Broken Hand

3.

CART

Parker Johnstone

Michigan

Oval

Facial Laceration

4.

CART

Bobby Rahal

Michigan

Oval

Bruised Hip

5.

CART

Patrick Carpentier

Fontana

Oval

Concussion

6.

CART

Alex Zanardi

Fontana

Oval

Concussion

7.

CART

Arie Luyendyk

Fontana

Oval

Concussion

1998

Series

Driver

Venue

Type

Injury

(A.)

FF2000

Thiago Bezerra

Disney

Oval

Severe head injuries (Not included in totals)

(B)

FF2000

Bill Tichenor

Phoenix

Oval

Severe head injuries (Not included in totals)

1.

IRL

Mike Groff

Phoenix

Oval

Concussion

2.

IRL

Danny Ongais

Indy

Oval

Concussion

3.

IRL

Jim Guthrie

Indy

Oval

Broken Elbow

4.

IRL

Mark Dismore

Texas

Oval

Concussion

5.

IRL

Billy Boat

Loudon

Oval

Broken Leg & Pelvis

6.

IRL

Eliseo Salazar

Dover

Oval

Broken Leg/Hip/Arm/Pelvis (I.e. entire right side)

1.

CART

Dennis Vitolo

Homestead

Oval

Burns/Broken Finger

2.

CART

Christian Fittipaldi

Milwaukee

Oval

Concussion

--

CART

3 spectators

Michigan

Oval

3 FATALITIES

3.

CART

Andre Ribeiro

Elkhart Lake

Road

Fractured Leg

1999

Series

Driver

Venue

Type

Injury

1.

IRL

Stan Wattles

Atlanta

Oval

Broken back

2.

IRL

3 Spectators

Charlotte

Oval

3 Fatalities

3.

IRL

(3 Crewman)

Texas

Oval

3 Hospitalized multitude of injuries

4.

IRL

Sam Schmidt

Texas

Oval

Severe Foot Injury

5.

IRL

Robby Unser

Texas

Oval

Back Injury/Hospitalized

1.

CART

Shigeaki Hattori

Homestead

Oval

Concussion

2.

CART

Al Unser, Jr.

Homestead

Oval

Broken Ankle

3.

CART

Naoki Hattori

Homestead

Oval

Broken Leg

4.

CART

Mark Blundell

Gateway

Oval

Broken Neck

--

CART

Crewman (Andretti)

Milwaukee

Oval

Fractured Skull

5.

CART

Christian Fittipaldi

Gateway

Oval

Concussion

6.

CART

Patrick Carpentier

Detroit

Road

Broken Back (Thoracic compression fracture)

7.

CART

Gonzalo Rodriguez

Laguna Seca

Road

FATALITY

8.

CART

Greg Moore

Fontana

Oval

FATALITY

2000

Series

Driver

Venue

Type

Injury

1.

IRL

Sam Schmidt

Disney

Oval

Paralyzed/Broken Neck

2.

IRL

Davey Hamilton

Disney

Oval

Hospitalized/Back Injury

3.

IRL

Jacques Lazier

Disney

Oval

Broken Back (Thoracic compression fracture)

4.

IRL

Tyce Carlson

Indy

Oval

Concussion

5.

IRL

Hideshi Matsuda

Indy

Oval

Broken Wrist/Knee/Concussion

6.

IRL

Al Unser, Jr.

Kentucky

Oval

Bruised leg

1.

CART

Dario Franchitti

Homestead

Oval

Broken Pelvis/Concussion

2.

CART

Tony Kanaan

Detroit

Road

Broken Arm/Ribs

3.

CART

Takuya Kurosawa

Michigan

Oval

Concussion

4.

CART

Christian Fittipaldi

Chicago

Oval

Concussion

2001

Series

Driver

Venue

Type

Injury

1.

IRL

Greg Ray

Homestead

Oval

Concussion

2.

IRL

Nicholas Minassian

Indy (Test)

Oval

Soft Tissue

3.

IRL

Casey Mears

Indy

Oval

Concussion (Mild)

4.

IRL

Jack Miller

Atlanta

Oval

Concussion

5.

IRL

Scott Goodyear

Indy

Oval

Fractured Vertebrae (Thoracic compression fracture)

6.

IRL

Davy Hamilton

Texas

Oval

Severe fractures of both feet/Leg

7.

IRL

Robby McGehee

Texas

Oval

Broken Leg/Concussion

8.

IRL

Shigeaki Hattori

Colorado

Oval

Concussion

9.

IRL

Greg Ray

Richmond

Oval

Soft Tissue

10.

IRL

Sam Hornish

Indy

Oval

Concussion

1.

CART

Patrick Carpentier

Long Beach

Street

Fractured Wrist

2.

CART

Mauricio Gugelmin

Texas

Oval

Soft Tissue

3.

CART

Tony Kanaan

Detroit

Road

Concussion

4.

CART

Mauricio Gugelmin

Chicago

Oval

Minor cuts

5.

CART

Memo Gidley

Elkhart Lake

Road

Bone Contusion/Soft Tissue

6.

CART

Alex Zanardi

Lausitzring

Oval

Loss of Legs/Internal Injuries/Concussion

2002

Series

Driver

Venue

Type

Injury

1.

IRL

Donnie Beechler

Homestead

Oval

Concussion

2.

IRL

Anthony Lazzaro

Phoenix

Oval

Fractured Vertebrae (Thoracic compression fracture)

3.

IRL

Robbie Buhl

California

Oval

Concussion

4.

IRL

Eliseo Salazar

Indy

Oval

Torn Artery/Broken back (Thoracic compr. fracture)

5.

IRL

Jacques Lazier

Nazareth

Oval

Broken Back (2nd Thoracic compression fracture)

6.

IRL

Thomas Scheckter

Nazareth

Oval

Lung Contusion/Concussion

7.

IRL

Robby McGehee

Indy

Oval

Fractured Leg

8.

IRL

P.J. Jones

Indy

Oval

Fractured Neck

9.

IRL

Mark Dismore

Indy

Oval

Concussion

10.

IRL

Paul Tracy

Indy

Oval

Soft Tissue - Knee

11.

IRL

Laurent Redon

Indy

Oval

Concussion

12.

IRL

Laurent Redon

Richmond

Oval

Fractured Fingertips (Two on left hand)

---

IRL

Matt Halliday (IPS)

Kansas

Oval

Concussion/Wrist fracture

--

IRL

Jason Priestly (IPS)

Kentucky

Oval

Head/neck Injuries

 

IRL

Bernie Hallisky

(Crew) Kentucky

Oval

Broken Hip/Pelvis

13.

IRL

Richie Hearn

Kentucky

Oval

Broken Ankle

14.

IRL

Gil de Ferran

Chicagoland

Oval

Concussion, Broken wrist

1.

CART

Adrian Fernandez

Vancouver

Street

Hairline Pelvis fracture/Hairline Sacral fracture

2. CART Adrian Fernandez Surfers Street Fractured Vertebrae
3. CART Tora Takagi Surfers Street Hairline Pelvis fracture

2003

Series

Driver

Venue

Type

Injury

1.

IRL

Gil de Ferran

Phoenix

Oval

Concussion & Fractured Vertebrae

2.

IRL

Roger Yasukawa

Phoenix

Oval

Back Pain, kept overnight

3.

IRL

Tony Kanaan

Motegi

Oval

Broken wrist/arm

4. IRL Scott Dixon Motegi Oval Broken wrist/hand
5. IRL Craig Dollansky Indy Oval Broken lower back
6 IRL Arie Luyendyk Indy Oval Unspecified injuries to upper back

7.

IRL

Airton Daire

Texas

Oval

Broken hip, pelvis, leg and arm

8.

IRL

Felipe Giaffone

Kansas

Oval

Broken pelvis & right thigh

9. IRL Vitor Meira Kentucky Oval Broken wrist
10. IRL Tom Wood (IPS) Kentucky Oval Broken middle back, right knee, right foot & both ankles
11 IRL Sarah Fisher Nazareth Oval Airlifted, Contusion of the back
12 IRL Kenny Brack Texas Oval Broken back, femur, ankles, sternum
13 IRL Tony Renna Indy Testing Oval FATALITY 10/22/03
1 CART Tiago Monteiro Cleveland Road Concussion

2004

Series

Driver

Venue

Type

Injury

1.

IRL

Scott Dixon

Milwaukee

Oval

Chipped bone in thumb, sprained ankle

2.

IRL

Dario Franchitti

Texas

Oval

Broken foot

1.

Champ Car

Patrick Carpentier

Surfers Paradise

Street

Concussion

2005

Series

Driver

Venue

Type

Injury

1. IRL Danica Patrick Homestead Oval Concussion

2.

IRL

Tomas Enge

Motegi

Oval

Broken ribs

3. IRL Paul Dana Indianapolis Oval Compression fractures of 2 vertebra
4. IRL Buddy Rice Indianapolis Oval Concussion, severe back contusions, partially torn spinal ligament
5. IRL Bruno Junqueira Indianapolis Oval Concussion, Broken back, broken ankle
6. IRL Larry Foyt Indianapolis Oval Chipped vertebra
7. IRL Tomas Enge Nashville Oval Fractures to his T-12 and L-1 vertebra
8. IRL Ryan Briscoe Chicagoland Oval Fractures to both clavicles, bad concussion, bruised lung, possibly more
1. Champ Car Timo Glock Milwaukee (Test) Oval Concussion
2 Champ Car Ryan Hunter Reay Milwaukee (Test) Oval Bruised Lung

2006

Series

Driver

Venue

Type

Injury

1. IRL Paul Dana Homestead Oval Fatality from massive injuries
2. IRL Ed Carpenter Homestead Oval Bruised Lung
1. Champ Car Justin Wilson - Road Broken bone in wrist

2007

Series

Driver

Venue

Type

Injury

1. IRL Pablo Perez Homestead Oval Shredded feet/legs, amputation considered

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Labor Day weekend 1952...A weekend I'll never forget

Team owners show support for CART

CART still may be in cards for Villeneuve

Bryan Herta, USA's next best chance for F1

Is Paul Ricard in CART's future?

Attendance figures, what's in a number?

Is Brands Hatch suitable for Champ Cars?

An Unappealing Appeal, George reigns in GEORGE-town

A candid conversation with Chris Pook

More than meets the eye with CART's turbo move

It's time for CART to define its own future

Key upgrades at Road America

Back-Breaking work

The rebirth of CART

The hidden costs of Indy Car racing

CART's road and street circuits click with the fans

CART's road and street circuits are clicking with the fans

Is it sport, or a P.T. Barnum show?

IRL at Fontana - a victim of friendly fire

CART's 2003 race venues #1 in the world

Meet the Gonzalez brothers

ISC is making enemies in Miami

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