Dynavision innovation could lead drivers to less concussions
Injuries have been a subject off and on in NASCAR since its existence, but concussions really did not full join the discussion until last season. In October 2012, star driver (and Chase driver) Dale Earnhardt Jr. sat out two races after a nasty impact in a huge wreck at Talladega. That crash aggravated a head injury he sustained earlier in the year after wrecking in a test at Kansas Speedway. Earnhardt Jr.'s choice to sit out of races was not a common thing, but helped bring forward a plan that NASCAR is slowly implementing to test drivers for concussions and prevent concussed drivers from racing.
Dynavision is a new tool that doctors and trainers are using to help people boost their reaction times and cognitive abilities. The company's president and CEO Phil Jones spent some time explaining what this device does and how it can reduce the likelihood of sustaining a head injury.
"First and foremost, Dynavision is a high performance training device. And it's a reaction training device. It's very large. It mounts on a wall and a person stands in front of it and reacts to lights that come on and random patterns. They come up faster, faster, and faster and by keeping up with them and processing information that is also flashed in the central focal area - information, such as math equations, random numbers, random words with letters missing - basically, information that makes you do a cognitive task and then integrating that with the reaction with moving your arms to see lights in your periphery, you get a basic full visional workout," Jones told News/Talk WSB in an interview last week. "What it does is it tracks your score and compares yourself to other populations to track your progress. The fact that it has a score makes it a device that athletes love to use, because they love competing with each other, of course. The fact that it's able to be programmed to so many different levels, means that is able to be used by so many people - the elderly, wounded warriors coming back, by athletes, by young people - any different population that can improve with reactions and actually neurological diseases that are out there use this device and have great results with it."
The device is not something set up in someone's home (see a picture of it here), like a treadmill or a racing simulator, but instead is used in hundreds of hospitals and training facilities in several countries. But the bulkiness of the machine has not stopped its gaining attention in the racing world.
"In NASCAR and in auto racing, you can imagine how much information the drivers are processing all the time - coming at you, plus having to be very aware in the periphery, it just makes sense that they are doing this type of training. In fact, Kasey Kahne is one of our advocates and our buddies."
Kahne was involved in a nasty crash earlier this month at Daytona, that saw him get turned head-on into the inside wall at the track. Heightened reaction time may not have done him much good to the naked eye, but could have caused him to take his hands off the steering wheel faster or even exit the vehicle faster had it caught fire. Earnhardt Jr. had no control over his impact in last fall's Talladega race, but maybe could have benefited for an extra split-second reaction time and crashed differently at Kansas Speedway before that, which would have left him in better shape after Talladega.
Jones was very clear that the device does not, itself prevent concussions, but does aid in helping the athlete put themselves in a better position to stay out of harm's way.
"The device itself cannot be said to prevent concussions, however, what they're finding with research is that if your reaction time is quicker, you have more time to react to what is going on around you. If you have more chance to react, you have better chance to get out of the way of a coming injury."
As NASCAR works to come up with a plan on how it will handle drivers with potential brain injuries in the year or two to come, all drivers now have at least one option to bolster that brain power and maybe, just maybe sharpen their ability to stay out of some crashes.