Are the Sanctioning Bodies Looking Out for Mature Drivers?

When someone is taken from us (and I use the collective us as the community of motorsports) in a sudden fashion, the usual question is, why? Why them? Why now?

Nobody can answer a question like that with certainty. If you are a person who believes in a higher power, then the answer could be framed as "God has a reason for it."

That thought might give a surviving family a sense of comfort. If it does that is a good thing.

We recently lost a beloved driver and car owner Roger Garten (age 69) at a Saturday Night Nitro event. He left the earth doing the thing he enjoyed doing: driving his racecar. He did not pass due to something debilitating and obscene such as cancer or some other hideous disease.

We might never know the real cause of the incident; it appeared that he did suffer some sort of a medical issue on that fateful run. In videos that were posted right after the event the car left the starting line and then made a slow drift until it collected his opponent's car in the other lane, all while still under power. This was not indicative of Garten's driving style or behavior.

It was reported in a Southern California paper that Garten was not breathing and was non-responsive with a weak pulse when rescue crews arrived on scene. Crews briefly resuscitated Garten at the track, but he later succumbed at the Kern Medical Center.

In 2008, John Shoemaker (65) lost his life, also at "The Patch".  Shoemaker's car never decelerated after a run and went off the end of track into an orchard. According to an article in the Bakersfield newspaper Shoemaker passed due to injuries caused in the accident. However, in photos of Shoemaker taken just past the finish line the throttle is wide open and he does not appear to be conscious. His head is laid back, his helmet appears to be pushed up over his eyes, and his glasses are at the top of the eye port of the helmet.


As a country, the population base is getting older. Those of us considered baby boomers are maturing at an increasing rate. Motorsports is the only professional sport where a contestant of advanced age still competes on a high level.

With some contestants well past the baseline age for AARP membership, this increases the chances of a driver incurring medical issues, such as sudden cardiac arrest (SCA), myocardial infarction or other debilitating medical issues. According to the website Drag Strip Deaths, there are cases of drivers suffering SCA while driving resulting in obvious crashes.

Looking at this from an objective viewpoint of risk management, is motorsports (drag racing in particular) is playing with fire? Having contestants at such advanced ages (well over 60 years old) still driving at the high speeds associated with motorsports, competition escalates the risk factor of having a catastrophic crash.

Are we going to have another driver have a massive medical event and have the car go over the guard wall and into the stands or the pits? It might not happen next week or next month or next year, however it will happen and we can only hope that the only people affected are the competitors themselves. Not a pleasant thought.