(WOMR file photo)
Dale Earnhardt, Jr. knew fairly quickly after a horrendous impact with the turn #1 crash wall during a tire test at the Kansas Speedway back on August 29th, that he wasn’t quite right.
“You know your body and you know your mind, and you know when something is not quite right,” Earnhardt said.
But he didn’t realize how much might be wrong until he was involved in another accident last Sunday on the final lap of the Good Sam Road Side Assistance 500 at Talladega Superspeedway. That led to him seeking the advice and examination of neurologist Dr. Jerry Petty, who told Earnhardt on Wednesday night that he needed to sit out at least the next two Sprint Cup races.
Hendrick Motorsports announced Thursday morning that Earnhardt will not be behind the wheel of his customary No. 88 Chevrolet for both this Saturday night’s Bank of America 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway and the following week’s race at Kansas Speedway. Earnhardt was diagnosed with the concussion Wednesday afternoon in Charlotte, and Regan Smith will be the team’s substitute driver at Charlotte and Kansas.
Earnhardt Jr., car owner Rick Hendrick, crew chief Steve Letarte and Dr. Petty met with the media later Thursday morning at CMS, where Earnhardt admitted he should have gone to a doctor earlier after experiencing concussion symptoms following the incident in Kansas.
“Going into Turn 1, I remember everything about that accident and everything after that accident,” Earnhardt said. “But you know your body and you know how your mind works, and I knew something was just not quite right. I decided to just try to push through and work through it. I had concussions before, and thought I knew what I was dealing with.
“I felt pretty good after a week or two. Definitely 80 or 90 percent by the time the Chase [for the Sprint Cup] started [on Sept. 16], and by Talladega I felt like I was 100 percent. But, at the end of that race, I was hit in the right-rear quarterpanel. It was sort of an odd kind of a collision where the car spun around really quick and sort of just disoriented me. And I knew then that I had sort of regressed and had a setback. Again, you know your body and you know when something is not quite right. And I knew as soon as it happened that I had re-injured myself, for lack of a better way to describe it.”
Earnhardt dropped to 11th in the Chase for the Sprint Cup standings, 51 points behind leader Brad Keselowski, after finishing 20th at Talladega as a result of being caught up in the last-lap wreck. But because Earnhardt was able to drive his #88 Chevy back to the Cup garage following the incident, he even gave Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson a ride on his driver’s side window, Earnhardt was not required by NASCAR to visit the infield care center after the race.
So, once again, Earnhardt waited. But this time, when he continued to have headaches, he decided to see Dr. Petty after consulting with his sister and business partner, Kelley Earnhardt-Miller.
Earnhardt confirmed Thursday that he self-diagnosed himself with a concussion then, but at the time he did not reveal it until several weeks later. Officials from NASCAR then said doctors at infield care centers could require drivers to undergo CT scans or MRIs if they suspected a concussion.
Clearance to race after suffering a concussion is not given until after a driver obtains a medical release, which Earnhardt, Hendrick and Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR’s vice president of racing operations, all confirmed on Thursday would be left up to Dr. Petty in Earnhardt’s case.
Nevertheless, the doctors at the infield care centers at all NASCAR race tracks, are not required, and therefore, do not perform a test for concussions when checking out the drivers brought to them after a crash. It seems elementary, and very essential to me, that a concussion test should be one of the items that the doctor at the infield care center administer to all drivers that are carted in after a race crash.
With the news that Dale Jr. has come forward, and divulged the nature of his closed head injury, this could be an area that all sports should pay closer attention to! Just like the safety precautions that were instituted after the tragic death of Dale Earnhardt, Sr., closed head injuries, concussions, should be investigated more thoroughly, practices and procedures should be closely examined, and changes should be made, in accordance with the findings of those investigations. This area of safety, head injuries, very possibly should be the next focus of safety for NASCAR.
TIL NEXT TIME, I AM STILL WORKING ON MY REDNECK!