On Friday, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. made his return to the race track at Watkins Glen International. Instead of making left and right hand turns, he was there to discuss his concussion-like symptoms.
Earnhardt, 41, has credited his doctors for keeping him out of the racecar for the past four weeks, starting at New Hampshire in mid-July. He has made it public that he won’t get back into the No. 88 car until he is 100 percent healthy.
With a history of concussions starting in 2012 during a testing accident at Kansas Speedway, Earnhardt has been vocal about concussions. Promptly, he has been one of the larger advocates in the sports world about athletes recovering from concussions.
“It’s really hard as a driver to say that you’ve got a problem,” Earnhardt said on Friday during his first press conference since stepping out of the racecar. “It’s hard to tell someone what to do in that situation. For me, I was sort of scared to get checked out when I got hurt in 2012, it was so severe in my body change and my mind changed so much, I couldn’t go every day trying to self manage my issues.”
Though Earnhardt has 26 career wins, including two Daytona 500 victories, he is not ready to give up racing. The No. 88 driver will honor his current contract at Hendrick Motorsports, which runs through the end of next season. Prior to missing these events, he had a discussion with owner Rick Hendrick about a possible extension.
Earnhardt, owner of JR Motorsports, a team has had a lot of young, developmental drivers go through his team such as Brad Keselowski and now Alex Bowman, understands the position that they are in. He believes it would be harder to step out of a position than another driver is in if they are new to the sport.
“I feel like it would be even harder the younger you are or the situation you’re in when you’re trying to get a career going and just try to make a living driving cars,” he said. “Being in the situation that I’m in now, I’ve ran for so long that maybe it wasn’t as challenging or as hard of a decision to make to make the right choice. But if I was 21 and just getting started, it would be so hard to make that decision, so I can definitely understand the point of view from the drivers.”
Regardless on if a driver is driving or not, Earnhardt believes that the quality of life outweighs driving a racecar. If he were to get back behind his Chevrolet now, he would be putting his life at even a greater risk, and he has no intention of getting back into a racecar before he is cleared. The doctors will ultimately decide when he can come back.
As Earnhardt has kept Junior Nation and the NASCAR fan-base up to date with a weekly podcast on Dirty Mo Radio, the pressure to come back right away is not there. He misses his team, teammates and driving the machine, but he hopes that every other driver could make the decision that he has made.
“I feel like hopefully anytime anybody gets banged up or realizes that they are just not right or they are foggy or whatever their symptoms are that they would reach out to a neurologist and get checked out,” Earnhardt said of his competitors. “There is easy access with our sport. We have great people that are a part of the sport, and have been a part of the sport for long time that handle those issues and can get you to the right people.
“It’s hard because you put yourself out there to be pulled out of the car, but man your quality of life is so important. Your health beyond your driving career is so important if you plan on having a family or have a family already, those things are going to be a priority. There are so many reasons to do the right thing and go ahead and get the help you need and get back in the car when you’re healthy. I learned a lot through this experience in the last three to four years and I feel like it’s a hard decision to make.”