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iRacing Creates Necessary Outlet for Frontline Healthcare Worker

Mazda Cares featuring Dan Williams

This is Mazda Cares. In light of COVID-19, we’re sharing stories of how our Mazda family is coping with (and even combatting) the crisis. Tracing back to our Hiroshima roots, Mazda has a deep history of helping communities in times of need. Our aim is to share stories that highlight our belief that what matters most is one another — because through the power of humanity and community, we can overcome any challenge.

As the coronavirus pandemic began to sweep across the nation, healthcare workers prepared for the day the virus would arrive at their hospital. For Dan Williams and his wife, both of whom are anesthesiologists at their region’s primary hospital, this story is all too familiar. “I find myself living in a world I had never imagined. The stream of information from sources worldwide is truly astounding,” says Dan. Despite these long days of preparation and the ways this has altered family life, Dan has continued to find respite in his favorite pastime — racing his MX-5 cup car — albeit in a slightly different form.

“Like many Americans, our family has spent a significant amount of time rediscovering the important things in life,” said Dan. With their three daughters at home, the Williams family has taken on numerous projects — including a clubhouse — and found new ways to enjoy time together.

Offering a rare glimpse into preparing for the unknown, Dan shares that he and the team of medical professionals found themselves “plowing through pages of information from our medical societies, joining podcasts with Italian intensive care physicians, and things such as following Facebook groups for physicians only. We are then taking this information and attempting to rapidly develop and deploy quality protocols to keep our patients and ourselves as safe as possible.” Dan describes the preparations as a “monumental task.” The ever-evolving understanding of the virus itself, daily influxes of new information and disparities in available resources have only furthered the grueling nature of this experience. “Just to keep us on our toes while we plan, we have very little idea what supplies we will be able to obtain as we run through current stocks.”

In addition to Dan’s responsibilities at the regional hospital, Dan also travels to several small rural hospitals throughout Nebraska. Given their size and resources, these hospitals generally send all acutely ill patients requiring ventilation to the regional hospital. “It has been an interesting and challenging project to attempt to find ways to help these small hospitals care for these patients in the event these tertiary centers become unable to accept ventilated patients,” Dan says.

Typically for Dan, respite comes in the form of racing. When COVID-19 not only altered his work life but caused races to be canceled, he joined an iRacing league started by a friend.

Through Discord, a chat app for gaming, these racers let off steam together as they compete in near-daily races. “At the same time, we take it seriously and are trying to stay sharp during this trying time,” says Dan. As the regional director for the Rocky Mountain division of National Automotive Sports Association (NASA), Dan notes, “We would all rather be out racing our MX-5 cup cars!” Currently the group is running the Mazda MX-5 and are focusing on tracks where the MX-5 cup is scheduled to race. However, they also branch out and race other cars and try their digital wheels at simulations of iconic American tracks like Dan’s personal favorite, Watkins Glen.

“Like many Americans, our family has spent a significant amount of time rediscovering the important things in life.” For Dan and his family, this has meant iRacing, creating a basketball court out of crushed asphalt, allowing their teenage daughters to redo their bedrooms and tackle creative projects having “a few more movie nights than usual.” Despite the difficult work of preparing and working on the frontlines, this family is making the best of a challenging situation.