Dale Earnhardt Jr: “I started realizing that every time I turned my head I would lose my balance. I knew I couldn’t drive race cars anymore.”
Dale Earnhardt Jr spent 19 years of his life in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. In fifteen of those seasons, the son of NASCAR legend Dale Earnhardt, was voted NASCAR’s most popular driver on a vote from the fans.
In 2017, Dale Earnhardt Jr was forced into an early retirement. He estimates that he’s suffered from 20+ concussions throughout his racing career. In the most recent string of crashes, those concussions were hidden, from everyone.
All he’d ever known was racing. By hiding symptoms, Dale Jr was attempting to prolong his racing career, without help. Instead, those decisions came back to bite him, forcing him from the car for six months of recovery.
“After that crash in 2012, I finally went to a doctor,” Dale Earnhardt Jr said of his concussions in an interview on the Jim Rome Show.
Mickey Collins is a doctor based in the Pittsburgh area. He works with the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Pittsburgh Penguins. As far as concussions go, Collins is the guy to go see.
“He’s an amazing doctor. At the lead of the concussion discussion, every day. He’s the guy.”
Mickey Collins fixed Dale Earnhardt Jr after that 2012 crash. He’s healed and ready to keep going. Dale Earnhardt Jr went without a win in 2013.
“He fixed it. The issue in 2012 took about two weeks. I was back to normal and back in the race car.”
In 2014, his season opened up with a bang, winning the biggest NASCAR race of the year, the Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway. In the same race he swept both Ponoco Raceway races and he also went to victory lane at Martinsville Speedway.
It was his best season since 2004. As far as wins go, 2014 is Dale Earnhardt Jr’s second best season, ever.
“All while I’m winning, I’m crashing. Just typical crashes. Nothing crazy, nothing serious. But they’re bothering me.”
“I started taking noted in my phone about how I was feeling and dealing with these symptoms. I documented all these accidents where I had problems and symptoms from them.”
Other than the notepad, Dale Earnhardt Jr kept all of these symptoms to himself. After all, he had just won four races in a single season. He didn’t want anyone, including NASCAR to force him from the seat.
“I was just trying to get to the end of my career. Hoping that I wouldn’t have to go back to see Mickey or have any real problems.”
“It eventually caught up with me. I got to where I couldn’t even keep my own balance. My eyes weren’t working the right way. I couldn’t focus on things.”
“I started realizing that every time I turned my head I would lose my balance. I knew I couldn’t drive race cars anymore. I knew I needed to go see Mickey again and I knew that he was going to be mad that I didn’t see him when I started feeling these issues, long before.”
“I hadn’t told anyone about it. My wife, my sister, my business partners. Nobody had known about these issues or these notes that i was keeping.”
“When I went to go see Mickey, I was ashamed because I had held this information from my doctor. I knew he was going to be so frustrated with me.”
Dale Earnhardt Jr missed Charlotte Motor Speedway and Kansas Speedway in 2012. He returned at Martinsville three weeks later, finishing 21st. But, Dale Earnhardt Jr’s most recent concussions forced him from the car for six months.
“It only took that long because I continued to work through through those issues as I kept getting injured. I tried to handle it myself. That is definitely not the way to do it.”
Dale Earnhardt Jr ran his last full-time NASCAR season in 2017. Recently, he ran a one-off NASCAR Xfinity Series event with his JR Motorsports team. For 2019, he has another one-off event on the schedule. However, beyond NASCAR, Dale Jr has plans to return to the short tracks in a late model.
Dale Earnhardt Jr has a memoir in stores ‘Racing to the Finish’. It can be purchased here.