Chase Elliott’s injuries from a snowboarding accident on Friday occurred less than a week after NASCAR Xfinity Series driver Daniel Hemric arrived at Auto Club Speedway on crutches.
Throughout the years, drivers have incurred injuries while participating in personal activities.
Hendrick Motorsports vice chairman Jeff Gordon encourages the organization’s drivers to step out of their comfort zone.
Athletes constantly face a balancing act between personal activities and keeping themselves in peak condition for their profession.
Each time a driver is injured while participating in an activity outside his contractual obligation the question arises as to what a team owner should or should not allow. Such was the case Saturday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in the wake of Chase Elliott breaking his left leg in a Colorado snowboarding accident a day earlier.
Elliott’s accident occurred less than a week after NASCAR Xfinity Series driver Daniel Hemric arrived at Auto Club Speedway on crutches. Hemric had injured a knee during a training session. He planted his leg wrong, and his knee folded on him. His Kaulig Racing team made seat adjustments for him. He underwent a checkup after returning to North Carolina following the California race and was cleared to race at Las Vegas.
Throughout the years, drivers have incurred injuries while participating in personal activities. In December 2006, NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson broke his left wrist when he fell off a golf cart during a celebrity tournament. In September 2015, Denny Hamlin tore the ACL in his right knee while playing basketball. He underwent surgery during the off-season. In January 2010, Hamlin tore the ACL in his left knee while participating in a pickup basketball game. He waited until after that season to have surgery.
“We can’t just be locked up in a room at home and wrapped in bubble wrap,” says Kyle Busch, who doesn’t place any restrictions on his Kyle Busch Motorsports drivers. “I feel like as drivers and humans, we have to go live life.”
Elliott has been snowboarding since childhood. His father, NASCAR Hall of Fame member Bill Elliott, snow skied regularly during his racing career. However, the elder Elliott’s worst injury occurred in a wreck at Talladega in 1996 when he broke his left thigh and missed five races. It was the same for Kyle Petty, who has always ridden motorcycles. His worst injury occurred in a multi-car crash at Talladega in 1991 when he suffered a compound fracture in his upper left leg. Doctors had to repair torn muscle and insert a 25-inch rod to hold the broken bone in place. He missed 11 races.
Prior to Kyle Larson joining Hendrick Motorsports, Rick Hendrick regulated his drivers’ extracurricular activities, never allowing them to race outside NASCAR. Larson changed Hendrick’s mind. Hendrick now permits his drivers to compete outside NASCAR. Hendrick Motorsports vice chairman Jeff Gordon also encourages the organization’s drivers to step out of their comfort zone, to find new ways to promote themselves and the sport.
“Years ago, when I was racing Late Models, a little bit of dirt cars and stuff like that, Joe (Gibbs) would always kinda warn me about don’t get hurt,” Busch said. “Then I got hurt in his car doing something for him. So, I was like, ‘OK, any stipulations you ever had are out the window. I have free rein.’”
In 2015 while competing for Joe Gibbs Racing in the season opening NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Daytona, Busch suffered a compound fracture of his lower right leg and broke his left foot. He missed the first 11 races of that year’s NASCAR Cup season. Busch came back to win the series championship that season.
“It’s just a part of it,” Busch said. “You never know what’s going to happen. You just deal with it when it comes.”