Longtime NTT IndyCar Series race fan Gerry Schroeder remembers how he used to take for granted the role of the AMR INDYCAR Safety Team.
Then three team members saved his life.
The 72-year-old resident of McLean, Virginia, has dealt with a heart condition for years, relying on a defibrillator, pacemaker and medicine to treat an irregular heartbeat. Much to his surprise, he suffered a heart attack while standing in the pits before a practice for last July’s Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio.
After losing consciousness briefly, Schroeder awoke to three members of the renowned safety team that travels to every INDYCAR event tending to him. The first responders had immediately sprung to action, calling for an ambulance and administering cardiopulmonary resuscitation.
Not only did Schroeder pull through after spending a night under observation at a local hospital, he recuperated sufficiently to make a trip with purpose to Circuit of The Americas in March for the INDYCAR Classic in Austin, Texas. He wanted to thank the team personally.
“I was very grateful for what they did,” Schroeder said. “It made me realize how many people see what they do at races, and how many people are driving down the road and pull over because of an ambulance or EMS truck is coming by, and we just sort of take it for granted. Even at a race, you see a car hit the wall, God forbid, and you see the safety team go out and we just take it all for granted.”
The three AMR INDYCAR Safety Team members who tended to Schroeder wish to remain anonymous. They prefer any praise be shared by the entire team, according to Tim Baughman, INDYCAR director of track safety.
But that’s par for the course for the men and women who make up the AMR INDYCAR Safety Team, which is held up around the motorsports world as an industry leader. As trained first responders who hold fulltime jobs as firefighters, EMTs and paramedics, the three who came to Schroeder’s aid reacted as expected – and without fanfare.
“It’s naturally built in them. That’s what we do,” said Baughman, who retired in January after three decades as an Indianapolis firefighter. “We’re kind of a little bit of an insurance policy for INDYCAR to have around.”
Safety team members were touched by Schroeder’s determination to make the trip to Austin. They met him, took photos together and presented him with a diecast replica of an AMR INDYCAR Safety Team Chevrolet Silverado pickup.
“He was just very positive and beaming with enjoying this life now that he had a little extra added on at the end,” Baughman said. “It was special for the team, too. That’s inspirational.
“Not always do we have a positive outcome for the things that we do. To see somebody where things did work right and to have them come back and feel so strongly about thanking us and telling us how it was a goal of his to work hard to make it back to that race, that’s just a good, inspirational story for anyone.”
Schroeder admitted the “reunion” was more important than watching the inaugural race at COTA.
“I walked away on cloud nine,” he said.
It was quite the happy ending compared to how they met. Schroeder remembered how his daughter, Kathryn, feared the worst when she saw her father land face first on the Mid-Ohio asphalt. He suffered a broken nose that would require stitches made for a bloody mess.
“The worst of the whole experience, and none of it was pleasant, was waking up and seeing her standing there crying,” Schroeder said. “She thought I had passed away. When you see a daughter doing that, that just tears you apart.”
Follow-up consultation with doctors back home in Virginia revealed Schroeder was suffering from a lower chamber arrhythmia which resulted in the heart not pumping enough blood.
“They saved me,” he said of the AMR INDYCAR Safety Team. “I’m happy to still be around. I wouldn’t wish on anyone to have to go through what I did to realize how they’re heroes.”
Road America race weekend honors first responders with free admission
Like Schroder’s visit to COTA, Road America is paying tribute to the efforts of first responders with this week’s NTT IndyCar Series event at the Wisconsin road course, the REV Group Grand Prix presented by AMR.
REV Group manufactures fire trucks and ambulances among its special production vehicles. American Medical Response (AMR) is one of the largest medical transportation companies in the United States. Along with Road America, the race sponsors are offering free admission to all active-duty first responders to any day of track activity during the four-day weekend that begins Thursday.
First responders, including law enforcement, firefighters, paramedics and emergency medical technicians, will be admitted free of charge by showing valid identification at the track’s gate indicating active service. In addition, children ages 16 and under are admitted free with a paying adult. Tickets for the REV Group Grand Prix presented by AMR are available at roadamerica.com or by calling 800-365-7223.
Josef Newgarden, the reigning race winner at Road America, issued an invitation to all first responders to attend this year in the following video: