EM physicians standing in front of racing car on Indianapolis Motor Speedway
Written by: Jill Jansen
The green flag doesn’t fall on “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” without a historic racetrack, skilled drivers, the celebratory swig of milk—or the IU Department of Emergency Medicine. As fans return to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway (IMS) for the 105th running of the Indy 500 on May 30, EM continues its long-standing tradition of providing exceptional medical care and support to drivers, racing team members and spectators.
“The track was built in 1909, and ever since then Methodist Hospital has provided all of the medical staffing, supplies and provisions,” said Geoffrey Billows, MD, assistant professor of clinical emergency medicine. “IU became involved with the [Clarian Health] merger in 1997, and as far as I know, it’s the longest-standing relationship the track has with anybody.”
Active with motorsports year-round as medical director for the INDYCAR Series and IMS, Billows said there’s something special about the month of May in Indianapolis—even with pandemic precautions and fan capacity limited to just 40 percent for this year’s race.
“Everyone will have to wear a mask, and they’ve arranged the seating in pods to provide separation,” Billows said. “This year’s race is going to look a lot different, but at least there will be spectators, which weren’t allowed last year.”
IU Emergency Medicine physicians play a vital role on race day and throughout the month of May, including:
Comprehensive care for Indiana’s “second-largest city” – During a typical pre-pandemic Indy 500, IMS hosts more than 400,000 people, making Speedway the state’s second-largest city on race day. IU EM physicians, along with contracted EMS personnel staffing 15 first aid stations on the grounds, generally treat between 500 and 800 people during a 10-hour period. When heat and humidity are high, the number can reach 1,000.
Expert staffing for the Infield Care Center – Six Emergency Medicine physicians are on duty in the Infield Care Center, the facility that provides medical care to injured drivers and racing team members. The medical team also includes a trauma surgeon, neurosurgeon, orthopedic surgeon, 10-12 nurses and a physical therapist. The Infield Care Center has 18 beds and is fully equipped for on-site care.
Other fast facts:
•Physicians staffing the Infield Care Center are specially trained to manage motorsports emergencies.
•With EM physicians needed at the track nearly every day in May, Billows begins recruiting physicians in January to fill the schedule. (As you can imagine, it’s not a hard sell.) The group includes emergency medicine physicians from both IU Health and Eskenazi Health.
•IU EM hosts the world’s only Motorsports Medicine Fellowship, which trains physicians to evaluate, manage and rehabilitate injuries sustained in high-speed crashes.
Julia Vaizer, MD, is the department’s first Motorsports Medicine fellow. After completing the one-year fellowship in July, she’ll join the IU EM faculty and work alongside Billows as assistant medical director for IMS and INDYCAR for next year’s races.
“This is going to be my fourth Indy 500 at the track, and there’s always the same level of enthusiasm—physicians and medical team members coming in with their sleeves rolled up—whether it's going to be a busy day or a slower day like last year with no spectators,” Vaizer said. “The care that's provided to every person, regardless of their complaint or level of complexity or injury, it’s always outstanding. It’s a team; it’s family, and it’s incredible to be part of it.”