Dale Earnhardt Jr. Puts his Trust in Doctors and his Priorities in Order

Dale Earnhardt Jr. has missed the last three NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races after suffering concussion-like symptoms. Monday he participated in The Dale Jr. Download podcast to discuss his treatment progress, future racing plans and the decision to make his health a priority.

According to his doctors, Earnhardt’s symptoms trace back to an accident that took place during the FireKeepers Casino 400 at Michigan International Speedway on June 12. It took several weeks before the symptoms appeared that prompted him to see a neurological specialist in mid-July.

This should be familiar territory for Earnhardt who sustained two concussions during a span of six weeks in 2012 which led to him being sidelined for two races. But as he explains it, this time is different.

“I’ve never had a concussion that came on weeks after the event. Most of them you feel it immediately and then they sort of get better over time, whether that’s 72 hours or a month, whatever. So this has been the opposite. This is scary for me,” he admitted, “because of the way it’s been different. I’m having balance issues; I’ve never had balance issues before. The eye issues with the stability; I’ve never had that before. And how it didn’t begin at the event, it started weeks later and came on very slowly, very gradually and kind of continued to progress until it  stopped and sort of stayed where it is.”

Earnhardt’s described his most persistent symptoms, gaze stability and issues with balance, and detailed his struggle to remain optimistic as his progress is often sporadic.

“There’s days when you’re feeling positive and then there’s days when you’re frustrated and that certainly comes and goes with the process. There hasn’t been a lot of change over the last couple of weeks. The symptoms have sort of plateaued,” he continued. “There are days when I feel like that the balance is better and then there’s certainly moments when it’s not.”

“But again,” Earnhardt stressed, “the balance is up and down. The main issue that I have is called gaze stability. That’s the main problem. And that is what I believe is tied to the balance, the gaze issue and the problem with my eyes. Being able to fix on an object at a great distance and stay there with head movement. That’s the problem; when I move my head I lose the object that I’m trying to target. That is hand and hand with the balance so I think as one cleans up and improves, so will the other.

“It’s only been three weeks since I really went and first got checked out so that’s really a short period of time in the grand scheme of things when you’re dealing with these types of situations. But I’m very impatient and I want change now and I want improvement now.”

Earnhardt‘s treatment program consists of both visual and physical exercises as well as putting himself in situations that may increase his level of discomfort. It could be something as simple as going to the grocery store or a place that he is unfamiliar with so that his brain can learn to adapt to different situations.

These types of activities can cause his symptoms to “ramp way up.” Then, he explained, “after an hour or two of being in new environments, your brain kind of calms down and regroups and gets a hold of the situation and calms down.”

Earnhardt’s doctor advised him, “Live your life, don’t shy away from doing these things, because you think it’s going to make you feel bad. But don’t make yourself sick. Don’t get so overwhelmed your nausea picks up. But then, go to somewhere comfortable. Expose yourself and then recover, over and over again.”

This experience has been completely different from what he experienced in 2012.

“I felt like I had a good understanding of dealing with concussions in the past. But this is certainly a new one. And they all do have different symptoms and they all do react differently to treatment and they all have their own time and the length of the recovery is different for everyone.”

He’s putting his faith in the doctors and the belief that if he follows their treatment plan, he will get better.

“I have to buy in 100 percent that what they’re telling me is gonna fix it.”

There is no timetable for Earnhardt’s return to racing but he emphasized that his plan is to “race more, I have plans to keep going. I’ll worry about that when I’m well. I’ll talk to my doctors and say, ‘What do I have left?’ as far as the racing.”

But, he added, “The doctors are confident that they can make me stronger than I was before this event.”

For now, Earnhardt’s focus is on his health.

“The hardest thing to understand is what’s most important in life. It might be easier for someone who has children, which I don’t but, I plan to have children in my future. For people that do have kids, you can look at those kids and it registers right away what’s most important

“For someone like me or a young racecar driver that’s not in that situation, the only thing that matters is racing. It’s hard to put your priorities in order.”

Update: Earnhardt met with his team of doctors Tuesday where he underwent more testing to chart his progress and update his treatment plan. Afterward, Hendrick Motorsports announced that Earnhardt has not yet been cleared by his physicians to race. He will not compete in the next two Sprint Cup events at Watkins Glen International and Bristol Motor Speedway. Jeff Gordon will fill in as the substitute driver in both races.


The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of SpeedwayMedia.com

Angela Campbell
Angela Campbell
A native of Charlotte, NC, Angela (Angie) was first introduced to racing by her father. An avid fan of NASCAR, she found a way to combine her love of racing with her passion for writing. Angie is also an award-winning member of the National Motorsports Press Association. Follow her on Twitter @angiecampbell_ for the latest NASCAR news and feature stories.


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