Need for speed

Cate Swannell
Med J Aust || doi: 10.5694/mja16.0509C1
Published online: 5 September 2016

Dr Brent May has the need, the need for speed, but mostly it’s about responding to a crash on the racetrack as quickly as he and his team of medical volunteers can

DR Brent May leads a fast-paced life packed with adrenalin.

As the chief medical officer for the Australian Motorcycle Grand Prix, the Australian Formula One Grand Prix and the World Superbikes, when they’re here, and Karting Australia, Dr May sees to the medical care of the world’s elite motorsport riders and drivers in the most extreme of situations.

“There are not many places or situations where you get to see the trauma – where you can see the biodynamics – happening in front of you, and can do something about it immediately,” Dr May tells the MJA.

“There are no questions about the forces and impacts involved, or how long ago it happened. It’s a very dynamic situation where your response time can be measured in seconds. All the pathophysiology – the injuries – are still in development.

“It’s addictive.”

Dr May completed his MB BS at the University of Melbourne in 2003, interned at the Royal Melbourne Hospital, did his anaesthesia training at The Alfred Hospital and has been a consultant anaesthetist there since 2014.

He also works for the Ambulance Victoria Adult Retrieval Service.

He has loved motorsport all his life and began volunteering at the races when he was a junior doctor. From there he was hooked. He met his wife – former V8 Supercar and V8 ute driver, Amber Anderson, trackside.

“Anaesthesia was always my intent,” he says. “It’s applicability is quite broad and that’s what interested me. Motorsport gives me the opportunity to use my skills in another way.

“Pre-hospital care is still quite a young discipline. It’s got a long way to develop yet and that’s quite exciting to me.”

The Australian Motorcycle GP returns to Phillip Island in Victoria from 21-23 October and Dr May says recruiting for the medical team began months ago.

“We have about 120 people, all volunteers, lined up for the GP – doctors, nurses, paramedics. We have people posted around the track who are on the absolute front line. We also have a fully stocked medical centre the equivalent of a regional trauma facility, and five medical intervention fast cars.

“We could operate in the centre, but we would choose not to – rather we would stabilise the patient and evacuate them to the closest major hospital, which would be The Alfred.”

Recruits are still needed, Dr May says, for what is guaranteed to be a busy and varied three days of racing.

“We can expect between 50 and 100 riders to fall in a meet,” he says. “It’s a great opportunity to hone your skills.”

Recruits are given accommodation, food and a uniform, as well as a training night at the Alfred prior to race week.

Recruits for the GP also receive appropriate debriefings and peer support in the event of a major accident, Dr May says.

“Thankfully it’s very uncommon to have a major incident or death, but if it does happen it’s such a public thing and can be a very difficult time for anybody that’s involved. Volunteers go there to help and it might be the first time they’ve seen something like that. So, yes, we make sure there is appropriate follow-up and debriefing.”

Concussions and abrasions are the most common injuries in motorcycle racing, and with speeds reaching 250-350km/h, abrasions are treated very much like burns.

Head injuries and blunt force injuries are the most common in motorcycle racing, Dr May says, and vary according to whether the rider has come off “the high side” (flipped in the air), or “the low side” (falling down with the bike).

“Low side injuries tend to be wrist fractures, abrasions, and dislocations. High side injuries tend to be to the long bones and pelvis.

“We learn a lot from motorsport,” he says. “Safety and prevention measures found to be useful in street vehicles – airbags on riding jackets, ABS traction control – all developed out of motorsport, and make a difference to what we see on the roads.”

Anyone interested in volunteering for the Australian Motorcycle GP next month can contact Dr May at or

  • Cate Swannell



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