News of Dick Trickle’s suicide has hit the racing community hard. He was one of the most beloved drivers who logged over 2,000 races and over one million laps in his long, illustrious career in the ASA, ARTGO, IMCA, NASCAR, USAC, ARCA and All Pro Series’. Trickle’s death and the extenuating circumstances are still under investigation. However, given recent news about NFL players committing suicide and the discovery of head injuries playing a role in that, I think it must be, at the very least, brought up.
When it comes to head injuries a lot of attention is paid to the NFL and the NHL. Very little has been paid to NASCAR and other racing circuits and the role concussions play in the overall health and well-being of race car drivers.
I am not saying that I believe Trickle’s death is a result of concussions. Instead, I am merely raising the point that race car drivers involved in accidents undoubtedly suffered concussions. Given what we now know about concussions and the fact that as of only a few years ago they were often dismissed as nothing serious, it is entirely plausible that NASCAR and other racing circuits must prepare itself for dealing with concussions, not only of current drivers but of drivers who have since retired.
NASCAR has begun using the Impact (Immediate Post-Concussion Assessment and Cognitive Testing) evaluation to determine whether or not a driver has suffered a concussion but the test needs to be made mandatory after every crash regardless of whether the driver has shown symptoms or not. According to NASCAR senior vice president for racing operations Steve O’Donnell there were 32 diagnosed concussions in the top three series’ between the 2004 and 2012 racing seasons.
After Dale Earnhardt was killed at Daytona, NASCAR introduced several safety measures including driver restraint systems and impact-absorbing barriers along the walls. However, for many NASCAR drivers these safety implementations might be too late after years of racing without proper safety measures inside the cars and medical protocols outside of them. Who knows how many concussions went unnoticed throughout the years?
Again, I am not saying Trickle’s suicide was brought on by a history of head injuries. However, it should at least be looked at and discussed. Trickle’s suicide is so eerily similar to some of the suicides that have shaken the NFL that the question should at least be asked. NASCAR is trying to get ahead of concussions the same way the NFL and NHL are. Will it be enough? It is impossible to say but Michael Waltrip has called the 1980s and 1990s the most dangerous era in NASCAR and he has stated he might have sustained dozens of head injuries in his career.
Given what we now know about concussions and how serious they are, not just in the short-term but also in the long-term, NASCAR must implement a program to assist drivers who have since retired to get the proper medical care they need and deserve.
We may never find out the reason for Trickle’s suicide but the possibility that it was related to undiagnosed head injuries is very real. NASCAR would be wise to take a page from the NFL and take it one step further and be proactive in making sure former drivers are given the best available healthcare to treat lingering symptoms and the after-effects of concussions.