IndyCar Track Physician shares how the pandemic has impacted her role: ‘We are here for the drivers’


INDIANAPOLIS – The stands may be empty this year, but IndyCar races are full speed ahead. As drivers travel across the country to race for first place, there are doctors on the front lines taking extra steps to keep the entire team safe.

“We have to be prepared at any moment’s notice because things happen in a blink of an eye out here at those speeds,” said Debra Rusk, a Physician who spends her time on the track for IndyCar.  

When disaster strikes on the track, Dr. Debra Rusk and the safety team of firefighters, paramedics and physicians have to be ready to respond in seconds.

“In Indy when you hit a wall going 230 miles per hour it’s not a car accident,” Rusk explained, “It’s a plane accident. An incident happens on track, we get the yellow, yellow, yellow from the command center and we are dispatched and ready to go.”

Rusk holds multiple titles. She’s part of the faculty of the Emergency Medicine Department for IU School of Medicine, but during race season – she’s an IndyCar Track Physician.

She’s witnessed everything from the winning car crossing the finish line to near death experiences.

“Those moments can be very scary,” said Rusk.

But racing during a pandemic, is unlike anything she could have ever imagined.

“Our big role hasn’t changed,” she said, “We are here for the drivers, point blank – end of story. Our role in terms of our response really hasn’t changed, in terms of protection, yes.”

Policies are in place to keep the team and the driver safe. Everyone is screened, masks and gloves are required, and temperature checks are mandatory.

“The drivers are under helmets, as long as they can extricate themselves from the car we let them do that. We are wearing masks at all times,” said Rusk. “So, when we respond to an incident on track, we will not only have our fire-suits and our helmets on, we’ll have a mask on as well and gloves.”

Traveling is a major factor of being an on-track physician and for Rusk, she had to make a very tough decision this season.

“It changed my life significantly,” said Rusk, “I’m taking all of the measures necessary to protect myself and the decision was traveling for this year was just too big of a risk.”

Due to the coronavirus, she needed to step back from her role for now. In 2017, Rusk underwent a lung transplant putting her at an increased risk for infection.

“My decision was for my own safety and protection to step out,” she said, “There’s always next year and the years after that, and the year after that.”

And as she looks forward to watching the 500 from a distance, rather than from the on-track physician vehicle, she’s reminded of the how special the Indy 500 is, and how she can’t wait until next year.

“We have to take safety precautions. We are a team,” said Rusk, “I pinch myself every once in a while when I’m down there – I’m really apart of this?”

Rusk is very passionate about organ donation programs. Click here to learn how you can become a donor.

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