Dale Earnhardt Jr explains his note taking system; Following multiple concussions from NASCAR crashes, he was prepared
Dale Earnhardt Jr spent 19 years in the NASCAR Cup Series. However, his career was cut short following multiple concussions that forced him into an early retirement.
On June 12, 2016 Dale Earnhardt Jr hit the wall at Michigan International Speedway. In early July the following month, he was involved in two incidents at Daytona International Speedway.
A week after Daytona, Dale Earnhardt Jr ran the race at Kentucky Speedway and finished 13th. After that, he pulled himself from the race car for the remainder of the season.
He went into a very complex recovery period. It took a little more than half a year for Dale Earnhardt Jr to return to the cockpit of a race car. He announced his retirement tour. 2017 would be his final full-time season in NASCAR.
Now, Dale Earnhardt Jr details his story…
“In 2014, the worst would be feeling drunk. It felt like I was not able to do the simplest tasks around the house because I was drunk,” Dale Earnhardt Jr explained to Graham Bensinger via ‘In Depth with Graham’.
But, there was no alcohol involved here. Dale Earnhardt Jr has suffered 20+ concussions in his NASCAR career. A crash in 2014 forced him from the seat. It later led to his retirement from full-time competition.
“Buckling a belt or tying a shoe lace was a challenge. You couldn’t put a sentence together because you couldn’t remember a word. If you had a word with two consonants or three like, ‘match’ you would struggle. Your tongue would feel like it was a big ballon in your mouth.”
But, concussion symptoms vary widely.
“If I looked at something very close to me and then look at something outside, in the yard. It would take my eyes a few seconds to focus on that item.”
Dale Earnhardt Jr kept all of these things to himself. He didn’t tell his wife about his symptoms. As mentioned previously, Dale Earnhardt Jr even went to the length of hiding concussions from NASCAR.
“I was scared to death. I was just really frightened. I wasn’t ready to let everyone know that was going on. I was hoping it would go away.”
“This may be wrong. But, I think if you had any kind of illness, you wouldn’t be so ready to share that with people. You might need some time to yourself, to process it. Before you’re ready to be open about it an get into the details of what this all means, going forward.”
“The other thing to this is trying to explain this problem to someone who’s never had a concussion — Is really frustrating. Trying to tell, even my wife, that my eyes aren’t working, it just really builds a ton of frustration inside.”
“Having these symptoms, you’re mad yourself. Now, trying to explain this to someone who’s not a doctor and not really someone that can do anything about it — Even though she’s my wife and I love her to death, it does me now good to share it with anyone who can’t help me,” Dale Earnhardt Jr stated.
In June 2015, Dale Earnhardt Jr and Amy Earnhardt announced they would be getting married. In October 2017, they announced that a little girl was on the way.
All of that coincides with the concussion symptoms.
“I was annoyed. Obviously, I want him to share everything. That’s not something you hide. That’s really severe and serious. He should have been treating it versus hiding it,” Amy Earnhardt explained.
“I was relieved a little bit. I could tell there was something wrong but I didn’t know what it was. So, now we had something to work from. He had so many notes in his phone that it was easy for him to explain it to me.”
The notes were very important to Dale Earnhardt Jr. Given he was being shy about announcing his symptoms, to anyone, he had a backup plan. If things went horribly wrong, there was a trail of evidence for people to see.
“I felt compromised in my head,” Dale Jr explained. I felt delicate. If I was to have another random, rare, high impact crash that could injure me severely — So severely, that I wouldn’t be able to communicate properly — I wanted there to be some sort of documentation of what had been happening to me and what I had been going through.”
“I was doing that out of fear. I was having these simple little crashes that were giving me problems. Why? Why am I not able to deal with these crashes that everyone else around me can deal with? And that I used to be able to deal with.”
“Let me write this down. That way, it was there on paper. It was just a way for me to draw a timeline of my improvement or progression through each incident.”
“That way if it was helpful to my doctor — Because I wasn’t going to be able to remember it.”
What symptoms are we talking about?
“To get up out of this chair, turn and walk to the door was dreadful. Every time you stood up, you knew you were going to get dizzy.”
“Riding on the road. You know, if there’s a road sign and we’re driving toward this road sign — Me trying to look at the road sign, my eyes just bounced. My eyes are just bouncing all over the place. My eyes couldn’t stay still and watch the object go by.”
“Your eyes are tethered together. When you look left, they both go left. My eyes didn’t work together. There was no chance in hell I could drive anywhere.”
“I had these symptoms for four months. Before they started to improve.”
Dale Earnhardt Jr’s last race in 2016 was July 2016. That means he didn’t feel better until around October-November 2016.
In December 2016, NASCAR announced that Dale Earnhardt Jr had been cleared by their medical staff to return to the car. He ran the full Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series schedule in 2017.
Dale Earnhardt Jr ran 631 MENCS races between 1999 and 2017. He collected 26 race wins and 260 top-10 finishes throughout his racing career.
Dale Earnhardt Jr hasn’t escaped racing entirely. He has a job in the broadcasting booth for NBC, coving NASCAR races. In addition, he ran a lone Xfinity series race at Richmond Raceway. He has another one-off race tentatively scheduled for 2019.