As a doctor, Tim Sprinkle attends to a wide range of injured and sick patients who come to him by walking or being wheeled through the doors of a hospital emergency room.
But when he is not working at Napa‚Äôs Queen of the Valley Medical Center, Sprinkle works in a different kind of emergency room. It‚Äôs on wheels. And his patients can outrace a gurney or wheelchair before you can say ‚Äúdrivers, start your engines.‚ÄĚ
Sprinkle, who specializes in trauma and emergency care, got his medical education at Dartmouth. He got his racing education in a mecca for professional motorsports, Indianapolis.
In addition to learning the post med-school reality of being a doctor while serving out his residency, Sprinkle studied NASCAR, IndyCar and the NHRA up close, working the infield care centers during races at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the dragstrip at Lucas Oil Raceway.
After a tour of duty in Afghanistan as an Air Force battlefield medic, Sprinkle joined the staff at Queen of the Valley, where he attends to ills from sudden asthma attacks and drug overdoses to broken bones and the trauma of car crashes.
A year ago, NASCAR came calling, asking for medical help at its races, such as last weekend‚Äôs Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway. The request was a siren song for Sprinkle, who is a stock car fan.
‚ÄúI jumped at it,‚ÄĚ said Sprinkle, of the opportunity.
To improve safety, NASCAR requested that a doctor and an EMT be available as first responders to an incident on the track, Sprinkle explained. The company that contracted to provide that service, American Medical Response, meets that need by putting a doctor like Sprinkle and an EMT in a ‚Äúchase vehicle‚ÄĚ along with other track safety officials, which is among the first to rush to an accident scene, no matter how minor it may appear.
‚ÄúEvent medicine is a sub-set of emergency medicine,‚ÄĚ said Sprinkle, noting that many major concerts and sporting events, such as the Super Bowl and Boston Marathon, staff impromptu medical centers to care for spectators who become ill or suffer an injury.
A race that attracts over 100,000 fans certainly qualifies, although Sprinkle‚Äôs attention is focused on the drivers while other medical personnel staff the infield care center at Sonoma Raceway.
Sprinkle sees similarities between working on a battlefield or a race track.
‚ÄúYou still have to quickly analyze an injury, whether it‚Äôs a gunshot wound or blunt trauma from a crash,‚ÄĚ he said.
‚ÄúFortunately, we see very few injuries,‚ÄĚ Sprinkle is quick to add, such as bumps and bruises, minor cuts or the occasional broken rib.
He is quick to credit safety systems, such as head and neck restraints, multi-belt harnesses, and seats that provide head and rib protection, for protecting drivers.
‚ÄúThese cars are tough,‚ÄĚ said Sprinkle. ‚ÄúI‚Äôm amazed at the kind of punishment these cars can take.‚ÄĚ
Last weekend‚Äôs race, one of only three times a year when NASCAR drivers race on a road course instead of an oval, was remarkably crash-free with only two caution periods for cars stalled on the track. Even so, Sprinkle‚Äôs day was busy, starting with meeting with track workers and safety crews three hours before the green flag and inspecting the 12-turn, 1.99-mile track for debris before cars were allowed on it.
Sprinkle then watched the race while sitting in a specially equipped pick-up staged near the starting line with its engine running, ready to rush to an incident on command.
When asked about what seemed to be a quiet day, Sprinkle said, ‚ÄúI hate to use the ‚ÄėQ‚Äô word, but for the most part there have been no major problems,‚ÄĚ in the two years he has been working on the NASCAR tour.
All the speed, sound and fury of a NASCAR race was an ironic calm contrast to Sprinkle‚Äôs days leading up to the Save Mart 350, when he worked the previous weekend and the Wednesday night before the race in the hospital‚Äôs emergency room.
‚ÄúMy group has been great about cutting me some slack,‚ÄĚ he said, when it comes to blending his hospital duties with a racing schedule that covers NASCAR races in California, Arizona, Nevada, Texas and Kansas.
Sprinkle enjoys the opportunity to mix his profession with his passion and occasionally trade his scrubs for a uniform and helmet.
‚ÄúIf variety is the spice of life, then I have a lot of spice in my life,‚ÄĚ he said with a smile.