Doc on the track: Round Lake native on trackside medical crew for Indy 500
WORTHINGTON -- A Round Lake native is experiencing a dream come true this month after being selected as one of eight medical residents to serve as trackside medical crew during the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500.
WORTHINGTON - A Round Lake native is experiencing a dream come true this month after being selected as one of eight medical residents to serve as trackside medical crew during the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500.
Jessica Vogelaar grew up in the racing industry, the daughter of Brenda and retired sprint car driver Gordy Vogelaar.
“Mom and Dad thought they were safe having two daughters, but that wasn’t the case,” said Vogelaar.
The eldest of the two girls, she began racing go-karts at age 11 - considered to be young in the industry at the time, she said. Nowadays, kids start racing go-karts at age five.
She still races go-karts, though she has advanced to the more challenging pavement road course races to get her need for speed.
“It’s definitely a passion,” Vogelaar said. “I would have loved to race sprint cars like my dad, but my parents wanted me to pursue a career in medicine. They preferred that I not get killed in a race car.”
Vogelaar graduated medical school in 2013 and will complete her pediatric residency at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester in June.
It was four or five years ago, while she was in med school, that Vogelaar first applied to the trackside medical crew at Indy. She was told then that because of the famous drivers racing at the track, she couldn’t be hired while still a student.
Fast forward to today, and Vogelaar is now walking among those famous drivers at the Racing Capital of the World - the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. It’s a big year for the race, and events are planned daily through Race Day May 29.
Working alongside seven other medical residents - all of whom are doing their residencies at University of Indiana - Vogelaar said they are stationed in a medical truck on pit road. Various practice and qualifying races are happening daily and nightly concerts are bringing hundreds of thousands of people to the track.
“We have to take care of the drivers if they come into the infield care center, as well as spectators,” Vogelaar said. “Throughout the course of the month I expect to see a variety of minor injuries such as lacerations, strains and sprains, dehydration and heat exhaustion. There is potential for serious injuries as well, as demonstrated by a near-fatal practice crash last year.”
Vogelaar said the skills she learns on the trackside medical team at Indy will give her the experience she needs as she eyes joining the medical team at local race tracks, including Badlands Motor Speedway (formerly Huset’s Speedway) in Brandon, S.D.
Powderpuff to pediatrician
Vogelaar said her start in racing began with a Powder Puff contest among fellow female racers. She placed third in the race and now, 17 years later, she is still pursuing her passion on the race track.
For years she raced on dirt oval tracks, winning 31 of 34 races in her final season before steering into the next challenge, racing go-karts on pavement road courses where she reaches top speeds of 120 miles per hour. Her fiance, Creighton Olcott, races go-karts as well.
The racing season extends from May through September, with Cokato home to the only racing track in Minnesota. Vogelaar races for points there, and in Eau Claire, Wis.
“It’s more challenging,” she said of the pavement road course races. “I definitely have my ups and downs. It’s fun - it’s still my passion. A bad day at the track is still better than a bad day at home.”
Initially considering a career in motorsports medicine, Vogelaar instead focused on pediatrics after volunteering in the neonatal intensive care unit.
“Indiana University has a special motorsports medicine side track, but I liked pediatrics better,” she said. “I did pediatrics knowing that on the side I’d still be able to be at a track and help kids.”
Now, she’s on the track at Indy, ready and able to help the spectators and the race car drivers she admires.
“It’s a dream come true to be around such a high level of motorsports for the month and be able to combine it with my love for medicine as well,” said Vogelaar, who attended the Indianapolis 500 in two of the past three years as a spectator. This time, while she’s working in the pit, her parents will be the ones sitting in the stands. It’s their first time going to the Indy 500.
“I bought them tickets,” Vogelaar said, adding that tickets for race day have sold out for the first time in more than 20 years. More than 350,000 spectators are expected for the race.
By the way, Vogelaar said if she had to choose one driver as her favorite, she’ll be rooting for Scott Dixon on race day. She met him Friday at the track and had her picture taken with him.
In early August, Vogelaar will begin her career as a pediatrician at Sanford Children’s Hospital in Sioux Falls, S.D.