Local physician, race car driver smoothly shifts gears through careers

2011-11-07T00:00:00Z Local physician, race car driver smoothly shifts gears through careersBy Times Staff nwitimes.com
November 07, 2011 12:00 am  • 

HAMMOND | A physician and a race car driver have qualities in common, a local doctor said.

"The skills needed to be a doctor and a race driver mirror each other," said Jay Patel, an interventional radiologist with Franciscan St. Margaret Heath hospitals in Dyer and Hammond. Patel also is making a name for himself in Sports Car Club of America national competition. He has been in the medical field for seven years and on the racing circuit for three.

"I equate it to my first experience in an emergency room after graduating medical school," he said. "A trauma patient comes in bleeding, 12 people are running around trying to help. What do you do?"

"It's the same in the race car; there are 12 cars around you, going 120 to 150 miles per hour. You just have to slow everything down in your mind and think about the objective.

"In medicine, it is to preserve the life of the patient; in racing, it is to get in front and win."

Patel said physicians and racers must be prepared to respond to the unexpected, be methodical in their reasoning, and never panic.

"In both cases, after a while, you really don't think about it - you have the answer in your subconscious," he said. "You trust your instincts; you know what to do."

The sense of accomplishment also is similar.

"Taking care of a patient and having a good outcome is like getting to the checkered flag after having a good race - it is what we strive for," Patel said.

Patel has climbed the ladder on the SCCA circuit - winning and finishing near the top of the pack against more seasoned professional drivers. He's been called a natural and has been told he's ready to take the next step in national competition.

His start was auspicious. "I was in upstate New York during my medical training and had an older BMW that I worked on and had modified a little," Patel said. "A guy who turned out to be a BMW racing vice president came up to me, complimented my car and asked if I'd ever had it on a race track."

Before long, Patel found himself and his car on the world-famous Watkins Glen course, getting a driving lesson from the BMW rep.

"I was nervous as can be. I drove like I thought I should, hard cornering, hard throttling and afterward, the guy joked that I my driving made him nauseous.

"He then drove and it was so smooth. He told me to watch what he did and when I took the wheel again, he was shocked that I picked up on it so fast."

Patel is meeting soon with an adviser to decide "what I'm going to do next with racing." Regardless of where his racing career might take him, Patel added, "Being a doctor will always come first."

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