IRL: Indy 500: Robby McGehee medical update

INDIANAPOLIS, May 6 - Robby McGehee didn't get off quite as easily as originally thought following his accident Sunday afternoon during opening-day practice for the Indianapolis 500 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, but he was able to leave the...

INDIANAPOLIS, May 6 - Robby McGehee didn't get off quite as easily as originally thought following his accident Sunday afternoon during opening-day practice for the Indianapolis 500 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, but he was able to leave the emergency room of Methodist Hospital at 1:10 a.m. Monday morning.

At first it appeared that his only injuries from the 218 mph-plus crash were a small puncture wound to his right leg and bruises. He continued to experience pain in his lower left leg and his upper back, however, and further examination of his X-rays Sunday night revealed tiny fractures in both areas at about 11:25 p.m. and a little after midnight.

McGehee's doctors told him that neither fractures would require surgery, but he should expect a recuperation time of several weeks. The 1999 Indy 500 Rookie of the Year was given a removable soft cast for his lower left leg and crutches, and then released.

McGehee's doctor told him the problem he has in his upper back is a spinal process fracture of his T5 vertebrae, and that it will heal on its own. He was wearing a HANS device at the time of the crash.

He was told that he also has a hair-thin fracture of the tibia in his lower left leg, but the bone is not displaced. The hairline crack is next to a locking screw still in his leg following an operation he needed when he broke that leg in an Indy car crash last June at Texas Motor Speedway.

Cahill Racing Team Manager Mike Horvath said that the Cahill Racing Dallara Chevy #10, which is sponsored by Scottrade, Dollar Rent a Car and the Indianapolis Downtown Marriott, was destroyed in Sunday's crash.

McGehee became the first driver to hit the Indianapolis Motor Speedway's new SAFER (Steel and Foam Energy Reduction) barrier, which is a series of steel and foam barriers designed to absorb the energy of a car hitting the wall at speed. McGehee is convinced that the new system worked well and helped save him from more extensive injuries.

"I guess I'm the first driver to test the new barrier system, which is a distinction I'd rather not have," he said. "I hit hard. But I can also assure you that I'm very glad it was there. I think the angle that I hit made it a lot worse than it would have been otherwise, but I think the new SAFER system saved me from being hurt a lot worse. They tell me I hit at 40 Gs and 70 Gs, not over 100 Gs, due to the new barriers."

The accident occurred at 4:36 p.m. Sunday afternoon in turn three on McGehee's ninth lap. He had just turned a lap at 218.003 mph. His best lap of the session was run at an average speed of 220.055 mph.

According to reports, McGehee spun and hit the new outside SAFER barrier in turn three at a 90-degree angle with the rear of the car and then hit the wall again with the car's right side. The car then turned over onto its right sidepod and slid along the wall, with an oil fire going on simultaneously. The car then came down across the track and finally stopped in the grass in the short chute between the warm-up lane and the track.

McGehee was helped out of the car by the safety crew on the scene and walked under his own power to the safety vehicle. He was examined at the track's infield care center before he was transported by ambulance to Methodist Hospital for more X-rays.

"I went through [turns] one and two flat out; the car felt solid," McGehee recalled. "It had a slight push, but the car was really good.

"I turned in [to turn three] and the rear end just broke loose real fast," McGehee said. "The left rear may have jumped down a little before that; I don't really know. There was a fraction of a section there were I just thought, 'This is going to be bad,' and then I waited for the hit. I hit hard. When I went to get out, the whole right side of the car was gone.

"It's a shame," he continued. "I'm sore as hell, but I'll be fine. It hit backwards and then flipped on its right side. They say I was in the air, but I can't remember that because it all happened so fast. The fact that I hit the wall that hard and I don't have a head injury is a testament that the SAFER wall worked. I think I would have had a head injury for sure without it.

"I didn't want to be the test guinea pig for the new wall barrier; I was joking about that yesterday," McGehee added, "but here we are.

"That was our only car," he continued. "I haven't talked to Larry [Cahill, the team owner] yet but I know he can't be happy because we barely had enough money to do this in the first place. I don't know when he'll be able to put another car out there.

"But the car was really good before the accident," McGehee added. "And not only was it handling well, but before we got out there everybody was complementing us on our new iridescent purple paint job. The whole thing is just a shame, but we'll regroup."

-rm/lm-

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Robby McGehee