Moment of reckoning: Brain injuries end a racing career

We have seen other sports reach a tipping point where those in charge had to deal with the issue of concussions and other head injuries. We've may just taken another step toward a similar point in motorcycle roadracing.

Josh Day announced last week he will no longer race motorcycles professionally. He said he did not want to use the word "retire" because it sounds so inappropriate for a 27-year-old. It's most accurate to say the MotoAmerica Superstock racer was knocked out of the sport he'd devoted his life to.

In 2016, few people in any sport took a beating like Josh Day took. First, he crashed at the opening round at Circuit of the Americas, hitting his head. A week later at Road Atlanta, he suffered a vicious high-side that slammed his head into the pavement.

Though the following video is mostly an advertisement for his sponsors, Josh does talk with optimism after his Road Atlanta crash about coming back as if nothing happened.

It wasn't to be. Weeks later, he suffered another horrendous high-side at Road America that knocked him unconscious.

“After the Road America incident and the brain injury I suffered there," Day said in a news release issued last week, "my treatment and rehab revealed that the concussion I sustained at COTA was exacerbated by the second concussion I suffered at Road Atlanta, and what happened at Road America was basically ‘three strikes’ for me, to put it in baseball terms. And I was out, not only out as in knocked unconscious, but out of the sport of racing motorcycles.”

Day turned pro in 2007 and raced in the United States and in Europe, finishing second in the 2011 FIM Superstock 600 championship and racing in the German superbike series, among others. He came back to the United States to race in the MotoAmerica series and rode for the Yamalube/Westby Racing in the Superstock 1000 class.

“Racing a motorcycle has been a dream profession for me, and I have so many people to thank for helping me along the way," Day said in the news release. "I’m so grateful to my family, my friends, and all the fans for believing in me. I’ve met so many fantastic people all over the world, been to countries that I never even imagined I’d visit, and shared success with a lot of great people who I will never forget. I’m very blessed to have the racing career I did.”

Other sports have been forced, sometimes unwillingly, to pay attention to the short-term and long-term effects on athletes of concussions and brain injuries. The NFL has been forced to shift from celebrating head-banging collisions to policing them due to publicity about concussions, including multiple cases of former players who killed themselves because of the problems they endured. Then there's boxing, a sport in which the entire point is to inflict a concussion. Day says he has learned a lot about the issue from his experiences and wants to improve the way his sport handles head injuries.

"Concussion assessment and protocols are obviously hot topics these days in most of the stick-and-ball sports, but it’s an underserved area in motorcycle racing, not only here in the U.S., but around the world," Day said. "I’d like to be an advocate for baseline testing of riders so that a formal concussion protocol could become a required safety procedure in motorcycle road racing."

Already there has been some attention to the issue. To get a competition license for the American Flat Track series, riders are now required to have had a neurocognitive baseline assessment by a certified neurologist within the past two years. Some teams are already doing this on their own in roadracing. Roger Hayden recently stated that it's a standard practice for his Yoshimura Suzuki team. The purpose of the baseline assessment is to provide a point of comparison, so if a rider takes a blow to the head during the season, doctors can see more precisely how he was affected — and decide when he's ready to return to the track.

Cases like Day's, and the devastating and career-ending head injury suffered by roadracer Kenny Noyes a year and a half ago, should bring the same level of awareness and care to professional roadracing that organizations like the NFL have been forced to adopt. After all, it may hurt to get smacked in the head by a 260-pound linebacker, but getting thrown 10 feet in the air at 100 mph and landing face-first in asphalt is no small matter, either.

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