With crowds roaring, tires squealing and cars glistening, Circuit of The Americas hosts some of the most exciting motorsport events in Austin and brings in the largest crowds Central Texas sees all year – especially the Formula 1 United States Grand Prix race coming up Oct. 23-25.
But as all eyes are focused on the cars and the drivers steering them to the finish line, there’s another highly skilled team working behind the scenes to ensure fans and drivers have access to the highest level of medical care available.
Ascension Seton operates the only full service emergency room at a Formula 1 race track in the country. It has been part of Circuit of The Americas (COTA) since it opened in 2012, managing the on-site emergency room and multiple first-aid stations positioned around the track. (See the story featuring two of the doctors that aired on Fox 7.)
The trauma services team at University Medical Center Brackenridge also works side-by-side at COTA and operates seamlessly, even when the emergency room they are staffing is located right there along the racetrack.
While it’s louder with cars zooming by in the background, the team feels at home in the ER at COTA because it’s modeled after the UMC Brackenridge ER, using similar equipment and the same sets of supplies. UMC Brackenridge is Austin’s only Level I adult trauma center and COTA fans and drivers have access to the highest trained staff and a full emergency room, if only on a slightly smaller scale.
Dr. John Sabra is a driving force behind all this and was recently named COTA’s Chief Medical Officer. Leading up to each event, Sabra spends weeks reviewing COTA’s medical preparedness plans, preparing his team and holding run-throughs on the track to triple check the protocols put in place.
“When I first read that Circuit of The Americas and the Formula One World Championship might come to Austin, I was a little surprised but mostly ecstatic at the possibility of integrating my passion for motorsports into my life’s work and I jumped at the chance to help shape the level of medical care that Austin would provide for our guests,” said Sabra.
While he’s never taken one of the F1 cars for a spin, Sabra is no stranger to operating in fast-paced environments after completing four overseas tours with the U.S. Navy. His time spent serving in combat zones paired with his experience as part of the Ascension Seton Surgical Group fully prepared him for the intense environment during a race.
Ascension Seton provides two types of care on site at COTA: motor sports medicine for the drivers and event/spectator medicine to keep fans well during sporting events, including MotoGP, ESPN’s X Games, Lone Star Le Mans and the biggest event of the year, the Formula 1 United States Grand Prix.
Sabra recently visited Montreal’s F1 track and attends conferences such as the International Council of Motorsports Medicine that brings together top medical staff from around the world to share best practices and improve motor sports medicine.
“Collaborating with international colleagues gives me a broader understanding of what other tracks are experiencing and how they’re managing medical care for their fans and drivers,” Sabra said. “Considering global perspectives ensures we are always on top of our game at COTA.”
From the drivers and teams to the sponsors and the parking assistants, a COTA race is a coordinated effort involving hundreds of people who keep everything running smoothly.
Serving as one piece of the puzzle, the safety of the drivers and fans is an extremely coordinated effort. For example, a Formula 1 car cannot drive on the track unless a Life Flight helicopter is on site. If ambulances are transporting patients to UMC Brackenridge, the Austin Police Department will help clear the route.
Through these coordinated efforts and thorough planning, COTA and Ascension Seton are well-prepared to take care of visitors, no matter which car they’re rooting for during the race.