NASCAR to mandate baseline concussion test

USA TODAY Sports

NASCAR drivers will have to submit to a baseline concussion test beginning in 2014.

NASCAR will require drivers to undergo baseline neurological testing beginning in 2014.

"It makes perfect sense to make it mandatory."-Dale Earnhardt Jr.

The baseline testing will help diagnose whether a driver has suffered a concussion following a crash, and determine whether he or she is healed sufficiently to compete. Drivers will undergo the widely used ImPACT (Immediate Post-Concussion Assessment and Cognitive Testing) test, which measures verbal and visual memory, processing speed and reaction time.

Drivers were informed of the mandate during a meeting with NASCAR officials Thursday.

"NASCAR made this decision because we think it is important to drivers' health for doctors to have the best information and tools available in evaluating injuries," said Steve O'Donnell, NASCAR vice president of racing operations.

The change in policy is designed to prevent drivers from masking concussions, as has happened previously.

A year ago, Dale Earnhardt Jr. sustained a concussion during an August test at Kansas Speedway, but continued to race. He suffered a second concussion in an Oct. 7, 2012 crash at Talladega Superspeedway that sidelined him for two races.

Earnhardt took the ImPACT test after his accident at Talladega and spoke out in favor of mandatory baseline testing in February.

"It makes perfect sense to make it mandatory," Earnhardt said. "... The test is really simple and it's pretty straightforward. You sit at a computer for about 30 minutes answering a series of questions. It tests short-term and long-term memory, a lot of different variables, a lot of different things of the mechanics of the brain, what the brain does.

"It helped me a lot. There was a lot of good information I learned throughout that whole process. That impact test was a good standard for measuring. There's no way to diagnose concussion, but this is a good standard for being able to measure one."

Earnhardt's experience last year encouraged his teammate, Jeff Gordon, to voluntarily take the ImPACT test before the season.

"To me, why not go ahead and get ahead of the game," Gordon said. "Plus, I'd rather have it before the season starts, before the potential of having a head injury, to get a baseline. I talked to Junior about it. He told me the process of it. It was pretty simple."

"It was kind of fun to do. I tell you, it was stressful. It makes you think really hard; haven't had to think that hard in a while, maybe other than the closing laps of a Talladega or Daytona race. Other than that, it went pretty smooth."

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