As the 2018 NASCAR season begins, one of the sport’s
top medical providers is emphasizing the need for teams to focus on minimizing the number of
injuries on pit road. Bill Heisel, PA-C, Director of Motorsports with OrthoCarolina, suggests that
recent NASCAR rule changes mean teams should carefully consider their strategies and injury
prevention plans over the course of the season.
Orthopedic injuries in NASCAR vary between positions and can be linked to the demands of each
role. With only five pit crew members allowed over the wall instead of six this year, Heisel expects to
see different biomechanical patterns evolve among these athletes, some of whom will be performing
multiple jobs they aren’t accustomed to. With the weight of pit guns and the subsequent torque
forces generated, Heisel and his team have already noticed an upward trend in forearm and elbow
injuries in 2018. Heisel sees a strong need for teams to focus on core strength and flexibility in an
attempt to prevent injury over the course of a 38-week season.
“Being on a NASCAR pit crew has always required a high level of athleticism, but fewer crew over
the wall means tire carriers may be jacking cars and jack men may be hanging tires,” says Heisel, who
oversees the OrthoCarolina Motorsports medical program, athlete care and works with many
NASCAR teams and drivers on a daily basis. “It’s important to be vigilant about potential
unanticipated physical demands that can place unwanted stress on the body.”
Over several years Heisel and a team of doctors have been collecting data and developing the
Motorsports Injury Database as a way to track injuries specific to pit crews and mechanics. The
database, which initially began as an upper extremity-only database developed by OrthoCarolina
Chief Hand Surgeon Dr. Glenn Gaston, has now been expanded to include all body parts. While
NASCAR has a driver injury database, the Motorsports Injury Database is the only existing resource
that tracks epidemiological trends in pit crew injuries. In recent years it has shown a sharp increase
in upper extremity injuries overall in pit crew members as well as hip injuries in tire changers. The
majority of pit crew positions are at risk for epicondylitis (pain in the lateral tendons of the forearm,
also known as tennis elbow). Changers sustain the most hand-related injuries (42 percent) of all pit
crew team members, while carriers are susceptible to finger issues (29 percent).
“We had a mass of data that we were collecting as we cared for these Motorsports athletes at all
levels and it made sense to create a convenient, efficient way to look at that data for research
purposes to observe injury trends within the sport,” says Heisel. “Leagues like the NFL have a
database on all their injuries; NASCAR likewise is a spectator sport with a large global presence that
can benefit from information that will help teams find ways to develop pit road strategies that will
During the 2017-2018 NASCAR offseason, the OrthoCarolina Motorsports program oversaw 78
total surgical procedures on 75 individuals affiliated with Motorsports.
OrthoCarolina Motorsports provides care in team race shops during the week and trackside at races
during the NASCAR season, including management of chronic, acute and major injuries, athletic
training and physical therapy services, and specialist and primary care referrals. In its entirety the
service line oversees medical care for NASCAR pit crews, drivers, team employees and officials as
well as many of their family members. OrthoCarolina Motorsports has formal relationships with
Hendrick Motorsports, Stewart-Haas Racing, Roush Fenway Racing, JTG Racing, Joe Gibbs Racing
and XCalibur Pit School.