First Tony Stewart, then Jimmie Johnson, then Carl Edwards and now Denny Hamlin. All of these drivers suffered relatively serious injuries while participating in activities away from the NASCAR race track.
In January of 2006, Stewart flipped a car while qualifying for a midget race and broke his wrist and bruised his ribs. In December of that year, Johnson fell out of a golf cart during a celebrity golf tournament and broke his wrist.
In August of last year, Edwards sustained a broken foot while playing Frisbee with friends. At the time, Edwards said:
I know this probably sounds ridiculous to a lot of people and I could hardly believe it myself. I was playing Frisbee with a couple of buddies and we both went for the Frisbee at the same time. I put my foot on it, my friend dove for it, and the next thing you know … we all heard a pop.
Last Friday, Hamlin tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee while playing basketball with some friends. Hamlin said:
I planted my foot to make a move toward the basket, and my knee just shot directly out to the left.
This isn’t the first knee injury Hamlin had that was related to basketball. On December 16th, Hamlin had surgery on his right knee to repair his meniscus. His recent injury is said to be unrelated to the previous injury.
While none of the drivers missed any seat-time – and Hamlin isn’t expected to miss any time – these injuries have to concern team owners and sponsors who have a lot invested in these drivers and their ability to perform on the track.
I’ve never seen a NASCAR driver’s contract, so I am not sure if there are clauses that attempt to prevent drivers from engaging in activities that may involve a significant risk of personal injury. If such clauses do not exist, I would think that team owners and sponsors will start considering them soon, in light of these two recent injuries. If they do exist, it’s only a matter of time before owners and sponsors do more to ensure that they are followed.
While I don’t think you can realistically expect an athlete in any sport to refrain from participating in recreational activities that pose a risk of injury; I do think team owners and sponsors have to protect their investments. And, while they may be unwilling to do it now, it’s only a matter of time before one of these types of injuries forces a driver to miss a few races.
Then, owners and sponsors will have little choice but to give this matter attention.