Photo: James Black/INDYCAR

TORRES: Rapid Response Captures the True Golden Age in Racing Safety

By Luis Torres, Staff Writer

In a time period where the world of American open wheel racing pushed the confines of danger, a series of life-changing accidents were always common.

When certain accidents happen, action must be taken to prevent serious injuries or even death. It was the main focal point of the upcoming documentary Rapid Response, and right away you’ll get that feel as to why the professionally staffed safety team came to be.

Without a shadow of a doubt, this documentary takes you on a dramatic trip to the days where men accepted the dangers. However, if they survived, fear kicks in as their careers could be negatively altered, which it did a phenomenal job emphasizing those concerns.

In this 90+ minute feature, the film focuses on three key figures who’ve changed the landscape of not just the world of Indy car racing, but motorsports altogether in a time where they thought they’ve figured it out, but another accident puts them back to the drawing board.

The three were Dr. Steven Olvey, Steve Edwards and Dr. Terry Trammell – all with different backgrounds on how they came to become important medical personnel and they did a tremendous job capturing their lives before jumping into the tales of they’ve changed motorsports forever.

Olvey and Edwards had a vision of being involved in motorsports, but the dangers during the blood sport time period from the 1950s to mid-1970s changed their perception of wanting to be involved. They would find themselves with a grand opportunity far bigger than themselves because they’ve helped drivers survive the violent impacts and race another day.

This included the strong eminent push of having a season-long crew to prevent the inexperienced causing further harm on drivers, which was documented when focusing on Bobby and Al Unser’s injuries.

There was some corruption from track-to-track outside of Indianapolis, and when they finally got a season staff, a series of events began to unfold that led to the true golden age in safety.

Then it shifted from having a crew to help drivers recover to car studies to prevent leg injuries, extremely common throughout the 1980s and 1990s with Rick Mears’s Sainair crash from 1984 and Jeff Andretti’s vicious wreck at Indy in 1992 being key headlines.

While Olvey and Edwards were the main storytellers, Trammell on the other hand was fascinating. It took some convincing of saving drivers after a bad experience he had at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The film made sure to show how he’s evolved and truly became the man in the second half of the documentary.

This started with his motivation of not being the guy that could’ve resulted Danny Ongais losing his legs after a gruesome crash in the 1981 Indianapolis 500.

Trammell suddenly became a guy that was revered for helping drivers such as Tony Kanaan, who ran the 2003 Indianapolis 500 despite dealing with a wrist injury from a crash at Twin Ring Motegi three weeks prior.

Then of course, who can forget Trammell’s contributions regarding Alex Zanardi’s horrific crash at Laustiz, Germany in 2001. It wasn’t the end-all-be-all focus of the film, as a well-done in-between to feature the evolution of safety made it a strong film. Not just for racing fans, but those who are intrigued of working in the medical field.

The film also got into the transcending changes on how to protect drivers from being killed due to head injuries and what I applaud is the story how one specific driver, who was one of the more vocal drivers on the circuit regarding car safety, felt about the HANS Device.

After some praise and convincing, CART mandated the device and the reservations of having another restraint to deal with later faded.

I’ve already known how open wheel racing were groundbreaking in safety before other racing disciplines followed suit, but I still came away from watching the amazing documentary learning awe-inspiring things.

There were instances where they discussed driver fatalities such as Gonzalo “Gonchi” Rodriguez and Gordon Smiley, but I took a liking of hearing stories from those who survived. Such as Chip Ganassi and what he went through after his career-ending crash in the 1984 Michigan 500. This is the stuff where I say, ‘I respect the hell out of those who can recall what happened in their recovery.’

With the few drivers that were featured, they all told tremendous stories. If I had to choose one that stood out, no doubt you’ll further admire Ganassi because not many could survive a heinous accident where head injuries are severe.

You’ll also get driver’s input from the Unsers, Mears, Mario Andretti and Parnelli Jones, which were nice – but this documentary puts strong emphasis on the trio and to me it’s my great takeaway. Their stories were told where it requires strong listening to fully respect their professions.

Rapid Response comes out in theaters September 6th and I totally recommend catching it because you’ll get to hear it from the guys who witness it firsthand. It’ll floor you and you’ll come out of the film thinking how evolved Indy car racing has gone due to those dangers from the 1980s to the early 2000s.

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From the Pacific Northwest, Luis is a University of Idaho graduate with a Bachelor's degree in Broadcasting and Digital Media and a three-time National Motorsports Press Association award winner in photography. Ever since watching the 2003 Daytona 500, being involved in auto racing is all he's ever dreamed of doing. Over the years, Luis has focused on writing, video and photography with ambitions of having his work recognized.