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The need for speed

July 2008

Published in the July 2008 issue of Today’s Hospitalist

GROWING UP IN A SMALL TOWN in Ohio, Patrick Renaud, MD, says the only things for teenagers to do were work on cars during the week and race them on weekends. It helped that the father of his best friend was a mechanic.

Now age 34, Dr. Renaud, who is director of the eight-member hospitalist program at King’s Daughters Medical Center in Ashland., Ky., has moved from drag racing to amateur road racing. As a member of the National Auto Sport Association Midwest Region’s time-trial class “which includes, he says, a “fair number” of physicians and engineers “he spends one day a month racing throughout the summer.

“That seems to calm the need,” says Dr. Renaud.

How fast does he go? Up to 150 miles an hour on straight-aways, although the courses he races are jammed with turns. His car, a 1997 Super Sport Camaro with 400 horsepower, has road-race specific suspension, braking and oiling systems that he built, as well as an engine he built with the help of that best friend, Kevin Porter.

The car is equipped with safety features that go well beyond what’s required in his class. (He’s married and has a young family.) Those include a five-point harness, a roll cage and a master electrical shut-off to avoid an electrical fire in the event of a crash.

Both medicine and racing have taught him that “a very small problem that’s missed or a small mistake can have very dramatic effects in short order.”

But cars provide a much surer route to problem-solving. “Cars don’t lie to you, and there are no ‘poorly understood’ diseases of the automobile,” he says. “But there is still a great deal of mystery in medicine. With cars, there is always an answer. Often times in medicine, the answer just isn’t there.”