Former NASCAR driver, Dale Earnhardt Jr thinks he had 20+ concussions; He kept them a secret from everyone including NASCAR to protect his racing career
Dale Earnhardt Jr: “I got way too far down the line before I raised my hand.”
That’s new to me and it’s new to you. As far as I knew, Dale Earnhardt Jr only had 5-6 concussions. But, it turns out that’s only the number Dale Earnhardt Jr shared with us, NASCAR and everyone else. Until now…
Dale Earnhardt Jr is a 15-time winner of NASCAR’s most popular driver award. He spent 19 years in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. Starting 631 races netted 26 race wins.
However, Dale Jr was dealt the final blow to his career on June 12th, 2016. He didn’t feel right after getting into the wall at Michigan International Speedway. On July 2nd, 2016 he was involved in two more incidents at Daytona International Speedway.
On July 9th, he finished 13th at Kentucky Speedway. However, he still doesn’t feel right and elected to pull himself from the race car. Jeff Gordon came out of retirement to fill-in and Alex Bowman also ran a few races.
In 2017, Dale Earnhardt Jr returned for one final NASCAR season. He was cleared by the medical staff in December 2016. Yet, it took a lot of work for him to get to that point.
During recovery, Earnhardt stated that his eyes weren’t in sync and he would get dizzy at random moments. For everyone, our eyes move together in tandem. His would not work like that after his 2016 concussion. That’s an item that would alarm anyone.
Now, he’s no longer in the driver suit. Dale Earnhardt Jr is a part of the NBC Sports broadcast team. That’s a new role for 2018. But, the retired NASCAR driver is still concerned about his future.
“I’m real concerned about what this means for me as I get older,” Dale Earnhardt Jr told Graham Bensinger on ‘In Depth’. “Am I going to have issues with my memory and my personality?”
“Are those things going to be affected? Are they already affected and I’m just not aware of it? I worry about that.”
“I read articles about all athletes that deal with that stuff. Or athletes that are old and retires and are dealing with it. Or seeing changes in themselves.”
“I will always be curious about what other people are dealing with that have had concussions. I want to be equipped with knowledge.”
So how many concussions does Dale Earnhardt Jr think he’s had in his NASCAR career?
“It may be 20-25. The majority of those I wouldn’t have told anybody about.”
It wasn’t just NASCAR that was kept out the loop on the bulk of his concussions. It was everybody. He was concerned about what would happen to his career. He wasn’t ready to be forced out of the race car.
“Any time you have a head injury — your brain is your computer — people don’t have faith in it healing like a broken bone. There’s instances in the past where guys have had head injuries and visually you can see that it’s affected them permanently.”
“If you go to someone and say, ‘Man, I rung my bell. I’m real messed up and I’m going to take a break. I’m going to come back 100%.’ ”
“You know that person is always going to have that in the back of their mind. When you don’t have a good race are they going to go, ‘Hm, I wonder if he’s just not the same anymore.’ ”
“I’ve heard that talk, about other drivers. Even guys that don’t have any history of concussions.”
NASCAR has come a long way. In 2001, the sport lost an icon. Dale Earnhardt Jr’s father Dale Earnhardt passed in a crash at Daytona International Speedway. Since that day, the sport was changed forever and those changes have trickled down to just about every form of racing.
Following 2001, NASCAR and Indycar have introduced safer walls. The walls are steel and cushioned by foam. The sanction also requires head and neck restraints for the drivers. Beyond that, they’ve also made impact testing mandatory.
“I’m thankful for that. I’m thankful they have a neurosurgeon that travels with us, every race.”
That was an important move. NASCAR only recently hired a medical staff to travel full-time with the series. In the past, the medical staff was different at every race track. Now, the drivers know who they’re doctors are at the race track. In some case, by first, last and middle name.
If Dale Earnhardt Jr was the head of NASCAR? What changes would he make?
“I would do as much as I could to protect the drivers from themselves. The drivers are never going to raise their hand. It took me a lot to go, ‘Hey! I got a problem.’ ”
“I got way too far down the line before I raised my hand. So, I’m aware that drivers are their own worst enemy in that scenario. They’re going to do everything they can to keep racing, keep their job and not let anyone in on this information.”
“It would be annoying at times to the drivers. But, my intentions would be to take care of them.”
This has happened a few times this year. NASCAR appears to be moving in a direction of protecting them from themselves. Noah Gragson wanted to race earlier in the season at Pocono Raceway. The NASCAR medical team told him he couldn’t. The point where doctors step between the drivers and the race car is already here.
It hasn’t exactly been met with open arms. Gragson was frustrated with NASCAR’s decision that day. His team owner Kyle Busch isn’t sure how he feels about the medical staff forcing drivers out of the seat.
Ironically, we’re at a similar point with Kasey Kahne at this very moment. Kahne has been suffering from severe dehydration during the summertime races. He’s in his final season as a result of health issues. Now, he’s pulled himself from the race car after eye and stomach issues following Darlington Raceway.
“When I wrecked in my 20’s, I didn’t know I was hurt. I get out of the car and go, ‘Yeah, I feel funky. I did have a hard crash. I’m going home.’ ”
“If I’m an neurosurgeon at the race track, I’m saying, ‘Hey, let’s hold this guy here. I know this is inconvenient but I want to keep you here for an hour and make sure you’re fine. Maybe even make you do the impact test and compare that to your baseline.”
Dale Earnhardt Jr’s
Here are the timeline of events leading up to the retirement of NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt Jr.
October 7, 2012:
Dale Earnhardt Jr suffers concussion at Talladega Superspeedway.
June 12, 2016:
Dale Earnhardt Jr didn’t feel right after hitting the wall at Michigan International Speedway.
July 2, 2016:
Dale Earnhardt Jr was involved in two incidents at Daytona International Speedway.
July 9, 2016:
Dale Earnhardt Jr finished 13th at Kentucky Speedway. After that race, the incidents from Michigan and Daytona caught up to him. Dale Earnhardt Jr pulled himself from the car.
December 9, 2016:
NASCAR clears Dale Earnhardt Jr to return to the race car following concussion therapy.
Related: Dale Earnhardt Jr cleared to drive
April 25, 2017:
Dale Earnhardt Jr announces his retirement at the conclusion of the 2017 season.