Part 4: Short Track Dangers
'I have sure taken a lot of shots'
1994 short-track national champion David Rogers suffered major concussion more than a decade ago
David Rogers, 62, is an area short-track racing legend. He is a regular at big Super Late Model races. Rogers, who owns a car dealership in Orlando, sat down with News-Journal Motorsports Editor Godwin Kelly for this question-and answer-session.
Have you had a really bad accident?
“I got hurt really bad at (Orlando) SpeedWorld back in 2004. I got turned into the wall and hit left side (driver’s side). It was a bad wreck. They hauled me off and I had severe bruises on my brain, crushed my left shoulder, knocked a tooth out, I broke seven ribs. I was in intensive care for three or four days with swelling on the brain. That was the worst one I ever had as far as injuries. I took a hit at Pensacola in 1976 pretty much head on. It was the same place where Mike Alexander hit that messed him up and caused him to stop racing. I was terribly sore and had a few broke bones, but nothing the doctors could see. I got to where I could not eat, so I went to the dentist and he asked me, “David, did you wreck your race car again?’ And I told him ‘Yeah.’ Well, six or seven of my molars were split open in three or four pieces from the impact while gritting my teeth. I hit so hard it just exploded my teeth. I got caps and crowns on six or seven teeth. I’ve had some pretty good whacks.”
Talk about the brain bruising. Have you had any kind of after effects from that?
“I think I have. I kid with my wife, ‘Maybe it would be a good idea to donate my brain to them.’ I have sure taken a lot of shots and had a lot of concussions. Back in years past, I can relate to what they talk about now, about post-concussion syndrome, you know, the depression and things like that. I had that and didn’t realize it. I wondered why two or three weeks later after a wreck I’m mad at the world and just not me. Now I’m sure what it was, the lingering effects of a concussion.”
Have you read up on CTE? Have you had any symptoms?
“Other than that one time at SpeedWorld, I have never been hauled off in an ambulance. I’m the kind of guy who wants to get out of the car and limp back to the pits. I hit hard one time at Volusia Speedway Park. They got me out of the car and took me back to the pits. I changed into my street clothes, and didn’t know I had done that, and was sitting on the back bumper of my hauler truck. ... (Finally after) like the 10th group of people who had come up and talked to me (I was able to focus), but I couldn’t tell you one through nine. The next week the paramedic at the track come up to me and goes, ‘You know what? You’re a real smart ass.’ I said, ‘What are you talking about?’ He says, ‘Man, last week when you wrecked and we were asking you questions and you were telling us the stupidest stuff.’ I had to tell I didn’t remember answering any questions. So he tells me, ‘Oh my god, you’re kidding me.’ And I said ‘No, you need to think about that for the next time, not just me, but everybody out there, because you were giving me a test and I was failing and you should have said I failed the test.’ From the time I hit the wall until I came back into ‘focus’ I can tell you nothing that went on during that time. I told him I didn’t know if had been 30 seconds, 30 minutes or two hours. All he said was ‘Whoops.’ And I said, ‘Yeah, whoops for both of us.’”
At this point, do they do any concussion protocol tests on you?
(Rogers shakes his head no)
Has there been any trickle down to local short tracks?
“Places like New Smyrna, they aren’t gonna.”
As far as the national series, is that a good step for the sport?
“Oh, yeah, definitely. I don’t think NASCAR pays enough attention to the New Smyrnas. New Smyrna Speedway became a NASCAR track, the track uses NASCAR for its insurance, which is good. But NASCAR doesn’t come to New Smyrna Speedway and say, ‘You got to do this and this and this. You need these safety things put into place. You need a paramedic who is trained in concussions.’ That doesn’t happen. There may be a guy at NSS that is NASCAR approved or whatever, but I wouldn’t think so. A lot of the short tracks in the country, it’s so hard for them to make money anyway, they cut corners, and the first thing they cut corners on is that part of it, taking care of (drivers). The way they look at it, if I wreck, it’s on me; if I wreck, it’s because I did it. It’s not something they did.”
Do you get dizzy spells or lapse of memory or anything like that?
“No, nothing I can point a finger at. I’m relatively healthy mentally and physically. I’ve won 600 or 700 races and probably wrecked that many times. I definitely know with what’s going on with the football players and race car people, too, I definitely have suffered post-concussion syndrome. I have definitely had some of things they say happen, happen to me after getting a concussion.”
The long term effect? Would you stop driving if some of those long-term symptoms start happening to you?
“It’s too late now. I’ve been taking shots for 40 years. It is what it is. I can’t worry about it. When I got hurt so bad and laying in that hospital bed, I was cheating on my tests. They would come in and ask me what day it was or where I was located and things like that, and I learned to look at the chart in my hospital room. I would study the chart for my daily test. I got home, and I know now I should not have gone home, and they gave me some pretty good medications. My wife would ask me if I wanted a sandwich. I’d look at her and in my mind I thought I answered the question. She’d look at me and get upset and leave the room. ... I started to think ‘Oh no, I’m going to be like Bobby Allison or Mike Alexander. This is going to be the rest of my life. How good will I get from this point?’ I got her to quit giving me my medication. After one day, we started having conversation. After a couple of days, we had the conversation. I told her ‘I thought you were trying to starve me to death.’ And she told me, ‘You weren’t saying anything.’ I thought I was answering her questions, and I was in my brain, but not with my mouth. That was pretty scary. I never once thought about not going back racing. ... I respect the danger. I think you can tempt fate and do crazy stuff, but I don’t think stock-car racing falls into crazy stuff. We are so protected in those cars now. That’s the good part of it.”