Friday, May 21, 2010

Speed, Blood, and Risk

Risk - Part 1

From the "What Were They Thinking?" files:

This past week, Don Krusemark died when the Corvette in which he was riding blew a tire and hit a concrete wall.

Sad stuff, although not exactly newsworthy, except the Corvette was being driven by professional speed driver Andre Vandenberg on the NASCAR track at the 100,000-seat Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth. Vandenberg suffered significant injuries, but survived.

And, oh yeah: 87-year-old Krusemark was the guest of Carter BloodCare, one of the largest blood collection non-profits in North Texas. Carter BloodCare cooked up the idea of rewarding their top platelet donors with a trip around the speedway’s track in a fiberglass sportscar.

Which granted, to a lot of people would sound perfectly harmless. Except it’s not, is it? If it was perfectly harmless, it wouldn’t be fun to so many people. And yes, harmlessness is relative. Shucks, driving a Corvette on LBJ Freeway across North Dallas is probably more dangerous than screaming around the speedway's closed course at 100 mph.

But it took a zany PR wonk at Carter BloodCare to test the limits of common sense – and their liability insurance – by inviting over 100 of their volunteer donors to experience the sanitized thrills first conceived by moonshine runners in the deep South.

Yee-haw.

Now, I have friends who love NASCAR. Even the highly-esteemed music secretary at my Presbyterian church can’t get enough of it. So I’m not going to launch into what I think about a “sport” in which highly-modified vehicles hurtle around a track hundreds of times only to end up where they started. I’m just not going to spend the time to tell you what I think about that.

Although I can’t deny that "professional" speed car racing has given the driving public a lot of safety technology that might not otherwise have been invented. But even that fact speaks more to the inherent dangers of high-speed driving than its benefits.

Last year, Carter BloodCare hosted their first ride-along speedcar event, and it went off without a hitch. People were so pumped about it that doing it again seemed like a no-brainer. The drivers were certified, professional high-speed drivers; and the Corvettes, although they have fiberglass panels, are built for speed and performance. Texas Motor Speedway offers one of the most respected tracks in the NASCAR and IndyCar circuits, and the whole event is completely on a volunteer basis. Nobody forced these riders into the cars; indeed, witnesses said Krusemark was one of the most excited participants they had. Like all the other riders, he wore a helmet and other safety gear.

Unfortunately, even the best tires blow out, don’t they? I’m sure legions of lawyers have already begun descending on the TMS track and the garage housing the Corvette’s remaining shards to try and determine if the tire was defective or if there was debris on the pavement. And at speeds of 100 mph, even a professional driver can’t guarantee they’ll be able to maintain control of a vehicle whose tire has blown. So accidents happen. Tragic ones.

Which makes this whole tragedy that much more ironic. Not just that it was a volunteer affair, not that the victim was 87, but that a blood collection agency was its sponsor. Should their motto now be “If you crash, at least we’ll have plenty of blood on-hand?” How much donated blood did Vandenburg need so he could survive?

Isn’t Carter BloodCare an organization which usually encourages safety, prudence, and prevention?

Even if Krusemark hadn’t been killed this week, how much wisdom does it take to realize that safer and more prudent ways of rewarding people exist? What's the point of pushing the envelope in finding creative ways of saying "thank you" when the price could be so high? Carter BloodCare is in the life-saving business, not risking-life business.

I understand volunteer appreciation banquets can get stale and dull, and kudos to Carter BloodCare for trying to get a bit creative. But providing a full-scale real-life depiction of the need for donated blood should not have been a scenario which eluded their staffers when they were planning this event.

Don't trivialize risks. They exist for a reason.

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