SPOKANE, Wash. - It's the chance of a lifetime for AMR paramedic John Karuza, who's been a long time NASCAR fan.
"I started watching when I was probably five to six years old, Richard Petty was the king," said Karuza.
After taking a chance on a company wide email searching for applicants, the paramedic of 17-years decided to go for it.
"I just kind of threw my hat in the ring," Karuza said,"then I got sent off to the hurricanes and forgot all about it."
But a few weeks later he got the call, and after a number of interviews wound up becoming a member of the 11 man NASCAR Safety Team.
"Its going to be a change and a big learning curve," Karuza said. "Right now I'm scheduled for a Chicago, Indianapolis, Texas, Kansas and Daytona."
He said the training has been both in the classroom analyzing prior NASCAR wrecks, going through what their approach would have been, and what ultimately it should have been, in addition to time spent with the drivers out on the tracks. He says responding to NASCAR wrecks is a whole different ball game.
"First of all we have to understand how these cars are built, we have to understand the kinetics of when and how the drivers hit to ultimately understand what kind of injuries we might be looking at," Karuza said.
AMR doctors, paramedics and physicians were selected from all over the country, including Lexington, KY, Roanoke, VA, Sonoma, CA, and Rochester, NY.
Karuza said part of the reason he may have been selected is because he has a background of working Motocross and other small races in the Spokane area, but that this opportunity will be his first with NASCAR.
He says last week he had the opportunity to meet with the drivers off the race track, who's health he would be responsible for. He said a number of them apologized about any curt language they may use with him during a race, and that they appreciate the work he does.
"They want to get back into the race, they are worrying about their sponsorships, and the damage to their cars after a wreck," said Karuza.
The response crews are aided by some high-tech equipment as they assess injuries. One toll is having a live camera inside of each car so that they can see what the drivers condition is during or after a wreck.
"As we are arriving, we are able to see the driver live," Karuza said, "we are able to tell if he is moving around, if he is talking on the radio or if he is trying to start his car back at up."
Training to become a NASCAR chase medic has also been about learning the dangers he as a responder might face.
"You have to watch out after a wreck because the cars themselves can still be moving at 60-70 mph, and you have to watch out for fluids on the speedways to make sure you don't slip," he said. "The high banking is a real challenge."
But even with the stress, pressure and responsibilities of treating the best drivers on a nationally televised stage, he's ecstatic for race season to start.
"I'm excited," Karuza said. "I've had a grin on my face ever since I heard about this."