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Earnhardt Jr. Sees The Light After Suffering Injury

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, October 26 2012

Dale Earnhardt returned to action on Friday. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Christa L Thomas)

By Deb Williams | Senior Writer

MARTINSVILLE, Va. – Dale Earnhardt Jr. said Friday his experience the last two weeks has changed his approach to dealing with concussions and if he has symptoms in the future he will be more responsible about dealing with them.

“I can understand people’s opinions that they would want to try to push through it and ignore it to stay in the car because I did the same thing in the past,” Earnhardt Jr. said. “Some concussions are kinda light and the symptoms are light and you feel you can get through it, but some concussions are really bad.

“I don’t care how tough you think you are when your mind’s not working the way it’s supposed to it scares the shit out of you. You’re not going to think about race cars; you’re not going to think about trophies, about your job. You’re going to be thinking about what do I have to do to get my brain working the way it was before. I definitely take it more seriously now after everything I’ve learned. I’m glad I did what I did.”

Earnhardt Jr.’s remarks came less than an hour before the 38-year-old driver stepped backed into his No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet at Martinsville Speedway following a 2-week absence due to two concussions in a six-week period. The third-generation driver announced two days before the Oct. 13 Charlotte race that he would miss that event and Kansas due to neurosurgeon Dr. Jerry Petty’s ruling that he needed to take some time off and let his brain heal.

Earnhardt Jr. suffered a concussion at Kansas Speedway Aug. 29 when he cut a tire and slammed the wall during a Goodyear tire test. Data showed the hit he took at Kansas was around 40 Gs, double the one he suffered at Talladega the week before the Charlotte race. The concussion he suffered at Talladega came on the final lap in a

Dale Earnhardt Jr. is in Martinsville and ready to roll. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Alan Marler)

25-car pileup.

“The two concussions were completely different as far as where my brain was injured,” Earnhardt Jr. said. “The first one at Kansas was your typical concussion … the frontal lobe (with) the headaches and the fogginess that you typically feel. The one that I had at Talladega was a vestibular. It’s more in the back or the base of the brain where the brain and your spine sort of connect. It sort of mixed up a lot of anxiety and emotional stuff so the symptoms were more anxiety driven. If I would get into sort of a busy situation, I would just get a lot of anxiety.”

Earnhardt Jr. admitted the last two weeks have been frustrating, but he’s been “really honest” with the doctors about how he’s felt each day. After visiting the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center-Center for Sports Medicine Concussion Program, Earnhardt Jr. was on the telephone with those doctors twice daily, discussing everything he was doing and feeling.

“I didn’t want to take any chances and I wanted to make sure it wasn’t too quick,” commented Earnhardt Jr., who admitted he felt “kinda foolish” sitting at home. “Every concussion is different; they’re like snowflakes.”

In treating the concussions, doctors told the veteran driver not to do anything for the first 48 hours. Earnhardt Jr. couldn’t deal with just standing and walking around the house, so he contacted the doctor and told him he needed some type of entertainment. That’s when Petty took him to Pittsburgh and he was given a daily physical and mental exercise program.

“That really made the biggest difference; it was really crazy because I went to Pittsburgh a mess,” Earnhardt Jr. said. “When I say I was a mess, I was just really frustrated and having a lot of anxiety about, man, how long is this going to last, is this ever going to be right again. I had no answers. I didn’t know anything. The doctors up there … we talked for the whole day and went through these exercises and did a lot of stuff and in 12 hours I felt really good. I felt completely different. I couldn’t believe it.”

Earlier this week Earnhardt Jr., crew chief Steve Letarte and Petty traveled to Gresham Motorsports Park in Jefferson, Ga., for a test.

“I thought the laps were great. The times were great. His feedback was as good as it’s always been,” Letarte said about the 123-lap test.

A half-mile speedway, five-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson said he had tested at Gresham and it was “a fast, fast little race track.”

“So if you come out of Gresham feeling good and don’t hit anything over there, I think you’ll come to Martinsville and things will fall in line pretty quick,” Johnson said.

Earnhardt Jr. said the experience had taught him to always be honest with himself as well as the doctors.

“I want to be able to live a full life and not have any issues down the road,” Earnhardt Jr. said. “I feel pretty fortunate to have recovered from this concussion rather quickly. I feel lucky that I made the choices that I did to give myself that opportunity. I think that had I tried to push through this second one I would have really put myself in a lot of danger. I think we can just hope that I don’t have any more big hits for a while and race another five, 10 years and have some fun.”

– Deb Williams can be reached at dwilliams@racintoday.com

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, October 26 2012
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