It was decades ago that a nursing co-worker invited Lori Sheppard and her husband to the Star Speedway in Epping, N.H. Before this, Lori had little experience with the sport.
“It took just one night assisting in the scoring tower, and I was hooked on racing. I spent the next 14 years in the scoring booth while my husband managed the pit area,” she says.
Then NASCAR came to town.
This changed the Sheppard’s lives forever. He secured a job with the racing giant and ultimately became the Busch North Series Director. She began working as a part-time employee for NASCAR as a scorekeeper. Several years later, she discovered NASCAR had a medical department consisting of registered nurses.
“I applied, got the job, and 14 years later – I still love it,” exclaims Sheppard, RN and senior director of the NASCAR Medical Liaison Department.
We sat down with Lori to find out more about this exciting specialty.
“My mom was an LPN, and I always wanted to help people. At six years old, I told my mom I wanted to be a nurse,” she says.
For a short period of time, around the age of 13, Sheppard explored the idea of being a police officer or a lawyer but quickly returned to nursing.
She started out in a small rural hospital in Amesbury, Mass., working on med-surg floors while going to nursing school. Upon graduation, she quickly moved into critical care and emergency medicine.
“I loved the fast pace and the challenge of dealing with the unexpected and the variety of trauma cases. After twelve years of hospital nursing, I moved to office nursing in the role of primary care nurse and nursing supervisor.
A NASCAR medical liaison coordinator (MLC) is a Registered Nurse who no longer practices “hands-on” nursing. Five full-time nurses are based at corporate headquarters in Daytona Beach, Fla, but Sheppard does a lot of traveling for her job.
NASCAR nurses utilize their cognitive nursing skills and expertise on a daily basis.
“We ensure that local medical staff caring for our NASCAR family has the means of providing simple medical procedures, such as suture repair and removal of foreign bodies from the eye to efficiently handling a full blow trauma,” she says. “As a liaison, I provide the local medical staff with the racing competitors’ and NASCAR officials’ current medical history.”
They have electronic medical records that can be easily updated across multiple racing venues.
“My responsibilities consist of managing the day-to-day operation of the department and focusing on the medical needs of our Racing Series. A minimum of two MLCs travel to a new racetrack on a weekly basis,” she says.
“The NASCAR season runs from mid-February to mid-November. We visit nearly 30 race tracks in 25 states and in Canada. We have established relationships with the drivers and crews, and we are the familiar face when they need treatment by track medical staffs or local medical facilities.”
“Our team provides a constant line of communication with race teams, monitoring their progression through follow-up care and their return to competition.”
The nurses also work with NASCAR’s Research and Development team in the never-ending effort to improve competitor safety.
“We are also part of the annual NASCAR Summit in January, which brings in over 650 medical staff and track services, security, and operations personnel to share best practices in preparation for the upcoming season,” Sheppard explains.
“Every day as a NASCAR MLC is a great day. I have the great opportunity to travel to a different state and work with a different Infield Care Center staff each week.”
The NASCAR community is very much like an extended family, she adds – supporting and being there for each other.
“We are the familiar faces to those competing during an emergency and will accompany them if they are transported to local hospitals for additional evaluation,” she says. “The best part is, my love for nursing and racing is met.”
“I’m not sure I have experienced a “worst day,” but I can say there are some challenging days.”
The goal each race weekend is to be available for all those involved in the race – but it is always the hope of all nurses that no serious medical situations occur.
When there are injuries that require medical transport, the situation can be tense.
“This is where my past trauma nursing experience kicks in. My role as a patient advocate is the priority while assuring that our executive leadership is always kept abreast of the situation while maintaining HIPAA compliance,” she says.
Being a member of NASCAR’s MLC team has been one of Sheppard’s most rewarding professional experiences.
“I am inspired every week by the dedication and commitment to being the best that permeates every member of the NASCAR team,” she says.
“Any new job posting that becomes available is posted on NASCAR.com. The majority of nurses have emergency room, trauma, cardiac, intensive care, and flight nursing experience, as well as medical-surgical and case management.”
“It is comparable to the nursing salaries in Florida hospitals.” According to the BLS, the average salary is $64,630 for Registered Nurses in Florida, with a range of $46,550 to $83,390. The average hourly wage is reported to be $31.07 per hour.
“At this time, the average number of years a nurse liaison has been on the job is 8 ½ years, with me going on 14 years and the news member starting 1 ½ years ago. Our newest member replaced one of the founding team members after she retired. It is a great job that has very little turnover,” she says.