INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) - When the 33 drivers for the Indianapolis 500 take to the track on Sunday, what they are wearing in their ears is of huge interest to the U.S. Army. I-Team 8 was granted exclusive access to show how one local team and the Indy Racing League could help save American lives in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Every time an Indy car hits the wall, a driver is at risk of a concussion. Every time they hit the wall, an entire team is watching and tracking the G-force.
Col. Joe McKeon, U.S. Army said, “That goes to the point of what the helmet sees versus what the brain sees.”
Every time a roadside bomb explodes, an American soldier has had few options except to change out the padding that cushions the blow for the next time.
John Barnes, owner of Panther Racing, said, "There are so many similarities between what we do and what the military does."
Now one of our own local racing teams, John Barnes of Panther Racing has stepped in. Every time driver Dan Wheldon and other IRL drivers get behind the wheel he wears ear sensors.
Wheldon says, "I've been involved in impacts before that definitely daze you and they have a good understanding because they have the impact G from the ear sensor."
In 2006, I-Team 8 traveled to Iraq. In our investigation Command Mistake the Marines made a big admission about not putting padding in the helmets to cushion the blow.
We showed you how repeated concussions affected soldiers like Greg Brooks of Indianapolis. In the Buffalo, his job was to find and destroy roadside bombs. The third blast changed his life. He can no longer walk normally, was dizzy and had constant headaches.
It was also four years ago we showed how IU football players had sensors in their helmets. We questioned why the military couldn't begin to use that same technology to make soldiers safer. Now they are.
General Pete Charelli, the Vice Chief of the Army, spent millions on research to put sensors in the helmets. But the IRL has already found that’s not the way to go. IRL put sensors in the ears. The sensors measure the trauma to the brain. That is important for the thousands coming back from the war with traumatic brain injuries.
Lt. Col. Shean Phelps is the director of the Warfighter Protection Division for the U.S. Army.
Phelps asks, "How do we do what they are doing here and translate that into the military?"
It was a presentation by John Barnes that brought the IRL and Army together.
Phelps said, "I’m a physician by training and to me you need to be assessing the actual acceleration of the head and not the helmet.”
He agrees with what he sees the IRL already doing saying “they may have cracked the code already”.
The U.S. Army sent a team of engineers and physicians to the start of the IRL season in March at the St. Petersburg race, including an adviser from the Pentagon. Why? Traumatic brain injuries have more than doubled in the last ten years. (Source: DOD)
Panther used one of its own to showcase the technology in driver Dan Wheldon who told us, “I know this has been talked about a lot."
Just as a race car driver hits the wall it is important to understand the G-force to know how to build the car. More importantly, neurosurgeons need to understand what has happened to the brain. Brain scans show the difference between a brain with traumatic brain injury and a comatose patient is very little.
It is why the pentagon advisor the U.S. Army at the Florida racetrack called the technology "outstanding" saying the U.S. Army needs to partner with Panther Racing.
I-Team 8 was allowed exclusive access to the military briefing between the U.S. Army, Panther Racing and the IRL.
John Barnes began by saying "We want to help any way we can because we have a lot in common” (racing and the military).
Jeff Horton, an engineer with IRL says "this was developed by Delphi Motorsports 5 years ago. The league was the first one to do it.”
Phelps with the Army says "there are some areas where we can learn from you". The IRL explained their trigger level of being concerned is 50 g impact. Phelps asked IRL “how willing would you be to share that data?”
Horton says “we've shared data with NASA so I think the answer is yes, we can share some data.” The data is stored in a box so all information is time stamped to understand when and how the impact hit the brain.
The Pentagon has a renewed focus on brain trauma. New guidelines are troops caught near a roadside blast will be pulled out of combat for 24 hours and checked for mild traumatic brain injury even if they appear unhurt or say they are fine.
The policy change is one Wheldon understands saying “I've had accidents where they look really bad and I feel fine but I also have had accidents that don’t look bad to people watching but I’m really hurt.”
Traumatic brain injuries are a war wound you don’t "see". IRL has been tracking the impact of every crash since 1997 when a driver hit the wall. He was released at the medical center but collapsed on the way home.
Barnes explains about