Yellow, Yellow, Yellow!
Every now and then, I get to experience a perk for being an IndyCar blogger. Over the Christmas break, I had the privilege of taking advantage of one of those perks. I received an e-mail from the producer of an upcoming documentary special, entitled Yellow, Yellow, Yellow: The IndyCar Safety Team. They asked me to preview it to see what I thought. Why they would ask an aging blogger sitting behind a keyboard in Nashville, TN to preview it is beyond me, but I gladly obliged and was later very grateful they had given me the chance to see it early.
It is the story of the life of the Holmatro Safety Team on any given race weekend.
As you can imagine, it was very insightful and informative. And yes, I learned a lot that I didn’t know – which to me, was reason enough to watch right there.
In the past year and a half, we’ve all seen the 2015 James Hinchcliffe crash at Indianapolis replayed over and over. We’ve heard interviews from Hinch himself and the doctors at Methodist Hospital who he credits for saving his life. What is shown in the upcoming documentary are interviews with the members of the Holmatro Safety Team that were the first to get to Hinchcliffe. They each go into what they saw and observed from a first responder’s perspective.
For the first time, we get a full view into the mindset of the Holmatro Safety Team. As you might suspect, they are trained professionals who are not only skilled in what they do, but they are trained to keep their emotions in check and to follow strict protocol during an incident without deviation.
We always hear what a comfort it is to the drivers to see a familiar face immediately following a crash, no matter how slight or severe. Many drivers reiterate that sentiment through interviews in this documentary, but the part that resonated with me were the interviews with the members of the safety team. Not only does it come across how extremely competent they are in these interviews, but the bond and the closeness they share with the drivers is also very evident.
No other racing series has the same crew at every track. Usually safety workers are supplied by each individual track. They work just a handful of races, if that. They have no relationships with the drivers and they know very little about the cars and the best way to extricate a driver in an emergency situation.
That is not the case in the Verizon IndyCar Series. The Holmatro Safety Team carries the same personnel to every race. Not only do they know the drivers and their medical histories, but they know all there is to know about these cars and how to get a driver out in a hurry.
The circumstances of the Hinchcliffe accident were new and unfamiliar due to the fact that the driver was completely impaled by a suspension piece, which was preventing him from being removed from the car in a normal fashion. Given the blood flow they were witnessing, they knew it was a race against the clock. We hear from the workers that got him out and also from renowned surgeon Dr. Terry Trammel, who was also on the scene. If you’ll recall, Dr. Trammel is credited with saving the life of Alex Zanardi in 2001. Without his quick thinking and actions on the respective accident scenes, we may have lost both drivers before they ever made it out of the car.
But the Hinchcliffe crash was just one part of this well-done documentary special. Much footage came from a race weekend at Pocono, which I deduce was August 2015. Most of you know that is the weekend that we lost Justin Wilson in a freak accident. The Wilson accident was never mentioned in the special. I suspect that is out of respect for the Wilson family or for any possible liability reasons.
I also think that was to keep the documentary in good taste and to focus on the successes instead of the few fatalities that would have been out of their hands anyway. Recalling the last few IndyCar fatalities over the past twenty years – I don’t think there was anything the safety crew could have done to save any of those drivers. Their fate was decided before their arrival on the scene.
Another thing that really impressed me was the way a crash scene is reconstructed and examined. If you recall the crash of TWA Flight 800 in 1996, the Boeing 747 was practically reassembled in a nearby hanger as each piece of debris was painstakingly brought up from the bottom of the Atlantic. IndyCar and the Holmatro Safety Team do much the same thing in trying to analyze what went wrong and how to prevent it from happening again. Most of the time, they have the driver onsite to give his or her input. If the driver is hospitalized or unavailable, they do their best with video footage and the reassembled wreckage. To see this done in the documentary was fascinating.
To me, the biggest takeaway from this documentary was the human element. It was very evident that a lot of research had been put into this project. But it was also clear that the producers intended this to be very different from the usual segment about how the safety team is appreciated by the drivers.
This documentary put a face to the Holmatro Safety Team. We saw that they are people just like us who care deeply for the sport and the drivers. Unlike us, it shows how they are also skilled professionals who have the unique ability to keep their wits about them in life or death situations.
I can tell that with commercials added, this will be a one-hour program when it airs. Yellow, Yellow, Yellow:The IndyCar Safety Team will air during the upcoming racing season. Details on the network and air date in the US and Canada will be announced soon. Keep an eye out for it. This is one special that racing fans won’t want to miss.