One of the biggest stars in auto racing credits a South Dakota paramedic for saving his leg – and possibly his life – after a devastating sprint car crash.Three-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion Tony Stewart was at Huset's Speedway just east of Sioux Falls last July to compete with the World of Outlaws, thrilling the racing community and drawing an overflow crowd.
About a month later, Stewart suffered multiple fractures in his right leg after his familiar No. 14 sprint car rode out a series of flips at Turn 4 at Southern Iowa Speedway in Oskaloosa. The injury sidelined Stewart for the remainder of the NASCAR season.As he entered the turn that night, Stewart came upon the stalled car of Josh Higday, stopped in the middle of the racing surface. Stewart tried to avoid the disabled car, but he hit Higday with tremendous force, severing the drive shaft that runs between the driver's legs and sending spinning metal into the cockpit.The former
IndyCar champion suffered a broken right tibia and fibula and would eventually be airlifted to Des
"This is the worst injury I've ever had in my life," Stewart said in a press conference a few weeks after the accident. "But that's why they call them accidents. Nobody does it on purpose."Thankfully for Stewart, Jay Masur and his team of 10 rescue workers were present that night in Oskaloosa. Masur's MED-Star Dirt Track Race Rescue team, whose home racetrack is Huset's Speedway, is considered one of the best in the country. "From the time the car stopped until I was in the
ambulance, that was about as good a care as I could have possibly imagined," Stewart said. "I've stayed in contact with Jay since the accident. He's got a very good medical staff that takes care of
Stewart's injury was obvious when Masur and his team reached the car, which had just completed a series of flips, landing on all four wheels. The Med-Star team was at Stewart's side within seconds, but something was wrong."As we pulled him out, it was an obvious break," said Masur, owner of
MED-Star Ambulance in Brandon. "You could tell from what we saw. When I first got to him, he said,
'I think I may have broke my leg.' "The team gingerly removed Stewart from the car and placed him on a stretcher. Before he made it into the ambulance, one of the biggest names in motor sports lay prone on the muddy surface, in obvious pain.
"He's an icon in racing, but there was no stardust in my eyes when I was working on him," said Masur. "When we were taking care of him, he was just another driver who was hurt."Masur and crew finally got Stewart into the ambulance, and the entire ride from Southern Iowa Speedway to
the helipad at Mahaska Hospital in Oskaloosa seemed to be humbling for the former Indianapolis 500 pole-winner.
"We've dealt with a lot of people in the back of that ambulance, and I'm not just saying this, but he was the most cordial and polite individual that I've ever met in my life who was hurting really bad,"
Masur said. "Normally you can judge a person's best by their worst. In one of his worst times, when he didn't know what his outcome was going to be, he was incredibly cordial and polite. He had all the reason to be mad and upset at the world, and he wasn't. He was very, very thankful."
THAT'S OUR TONY.......
When asked during a national radio interview if there was a chance he could have lost his leg, Stewart didn't hesitate."Yeah, there was," Stewart told host Dan Patrick. "Jay Masur basically saved my leg and my life. It wasn't a very good deal by any means, but we were lucky to have a good
group of safety guys that were there and knew what to do."The severity of Stewart's injury was worse than initially reported. Just days after the crash, NASCAR.com reported that Stewart would miss one week in his Sprint Cup car, perhaps two. As it turns out, he missed the final 15 races of the season and was barely ready for this season's Daytona 500 opener.
Ralph Reiff, executive director of Indianapolis-based St. Vincent Sports Performance, said that if the femoral artery that runs the length of the leg is compromised, it could be life-threatening.
"When the skin is not broken, it's not life-threatening, but in an open injury like in Tony's case, it can be serious," Reiff said. "My guess it had a meat grinder kind of effect that tore him up a bit, which could get that artery.
Reiff has worked with several IndyCar drivers and led the first response team for the gruesome compound fracture to Louisville guard Kevin Ware's leg in last year's NCAA tournament in
Indianapolis. As it was in Ware's case, Reiff said it's all about the quick decisions after such an injury.
"There's a lot of skill to proper extraction of a driver out of a vehicle," Reiff said. "It's about being well-trained and doing things in the right order to get people out of the situation they're in. In Jay's case, they had a successful event, and those things just don't happen without a lot of practice and expertise."
Although the accident sidelined Stewart for the remainder of the NASCAR season last year and ruined any chances of a fourth Sprint Cup title, it's also done a lot of good in the sprint car world.
"Tony is bringing awareness to dirt track race rescue," Masur said. "He's setting up a racing safety council from everything to seats to roll cages to emergency services. There are very few tracks around the country that are prepared for what can happen."Few dirt tracks come close to what Masur brings to Huset's, experts say. The MED-Star owner sees an opportunity to educate, with Stewart funding the experience."The positives that come out of this are going to be unbelievable," said veteran racer Terry McCarl, a seven-time Huset's champion. "Tony's going to bring a lot more recognition to our sport."Drivers at Huset's will see those benefits right away as Stewart is sponsoring Masur's rescue team with all new equipment, including fire suits, helmets with wireless microphones, gloves and helmet skirts. "That took a burden off of me," Masur said of the sponsorship. "It's very expensive to take care of 15 guys and make sure they're all safe."Others from around the country will reap the rewards of Stewart's involvement, as Masur will travel around the country educating crews at smaller tracks on proper rescue procedures."What Tony is doing is bringing awareness from all over," Masur said. "I've gotten calls as far away as Maine to come out and give seminars about this. We want to go to other
tracks and make their teams better if we can. That's our whole goal. That's at least something positive that's come out of a very nasty situation."
Masur started working at Huset's Speedway with his father, Pat Masur, during the 1976 season. It was opening night – Mother's Day – that changed the medical landscape forever at the track.
Sioux Falls native Gary Bott crashed in Turn 1 and died at the scene. Pat Masur was in the
grandstand, and the paramedic knew he had to make a difference. Beginning the week after the Bott accident, Masur and his 14-year old son, Jay, were trackside to help with medical needs.
Pat Masur actually used Huset's as a training ground for the Sioux Falls Fire Department.Their first rescue vehicle was modest at best. Equipped with just band-aids and an oxygen tank, the Masurs showed up to Huset's in a gray hearse, which eventually became known as the Gray Ghost to all the racers."Today we have we have paramedic staff, nurses, trained firefighters, even chemical experts," says Jay Masur, whose father died in 1989. "But we had to start somewhere."Masur and his team work in an emotionally drenching profession. For 36 years they've seen a myriad of injuries,
from fatalities to broken egos. But the 15-member team continues to come back, all on a volunteer basis. "One thing's for sure: Jay Masur is coming in to save you," McCarl said. "He has that passion for the driver and sport."
As for Stewart, he still plans to get in a sprint car this summer despite the setback in Oskaloosa, but with much less frequency."Wherever he's going to race," said Masur, "I'm going to make sure it's safe for him."
I KNOW TONY DOESN'T WANT TO DWELL ON HIS LEG.......SO I THREW THIS IN.........IT IS SO TONY!!!!!!'
"Fight for four"..Me