Dale Jr: I made peace with Daytona a long time ago
Dale Earnhardt Jr. may have retired from NASCAR at the end of the 2017 season, but he’s hardly let his foot off the gas.
Since last fall, the 15-time winner of the sport’s Most Popular Driver award has added a variety of new thrills to his life, becoming a fixture in the NBC broadcast booth at Cup Series events; starring with his interior-designer wife Amy in a home-improvement series for the DIY Network; and welcoming his first child — Isla Rose Earnhardt, in April.
Next up? Earnhardt’s hotly anticipated tell-all book, “Racing to the Finish: My Story,” which documents in raw detail his secret struggle with multiple racing-related concussions and all of the factors that did (and didn’t) play into his decision to close out his career.
The release date is still over a month away (it drops on Oct. 16), but we got our hands on an advance copy and selected five excerpts that should further whet the appetite of Junior Nation.
1. While coming clean about his head injury at a press conference in October 2012, which he describes as the moment when he suddenly — “whether I wanted to be or not” — became the spokesperson for concussions in auto racing:
“I’ve always known that my voice has carried some weight, just because of my name and the popularity that’s always come with that, and then, thankfully, because we’d had some success on the racetrack. I don’t think I realized it right in that moment as it was happening, but that weekend at Martinsville, that was the first time I had a platform to really help people that I hadn’t thought about before. All those patients I saw at Micky’s (Dr. Michael “Micky” Collins, director of the concussion program at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center) — and he sees thousands of patients every year — and how many others who don’t go to the doctor? Instead they sit at home, in the fog, just hoping it will clear up one day.
“From October 2012 until this day, I’ve been trying to speak to them.”
2. And yet, after a crash at Texas Motor Speedway in April 2014, when he suffered another concussion:
“I told no one. Amy (Earnhardt, his wife) knew I didn’t feel well because she’s the one who has to look after me every day, but I didn’t share everything with her either. The only place where I exposed the true details of what I felt was in the notes app on my iPhone. The morning after the Texas crash, I opened that app and started regularly writing out the details of whenever I felt bad. I’ve been doing it ever since. A journal of symptoms.
“At first, I don’t think I even really understood why I started doing it. This sounds morbid, but when I look back now I realize that what I was doing was leaving a trail for others to discover in case something happened to me that kept me from being able to tell them myself.”
3. On keeping secrets about his concussion-related symptoms throughout successful 2014 and ‘15 seasons:
“I felt very guilty about that. I was a hypocrite and I knew it. ...
“I’m willing to admit now that I was hiding my symptoms at the same time I was telling people that other drivers shouldn’t hide theirs. I had fallen right back into that old-school racing mentality. Tape an aspirin to it, tape your eyelids open, put a washcloth on it, write it into your iPhone when no one was looking — whatever it took to stay in the racecar, especially when it was running so well.”
4. Describing the summer of 2016 and the insinuation that his then-fiancee/now-wife Amy had lobbied for him to quit racing:
“This is for anyone who tried — and might still try — to blame Amy. The people who said stuff like, ‘Well, she doesn’t want him to race, so that’s why he’s getting out of the car’ or ‘Getting engaged to her has made him soft’ or ‘I bet while the doctors won’t let him race, she’s at home trying to talk him out of ever coming back.’
“Do you want to know who was setting the alarm every morning and dragging my miserable butt out of bed to do my exercises? Amy. You want to know who set up my gym in our garage and then went in there every day, putting me through my paces like a personal trainer-turned-drill sergeant for two or three hours a day? Amy. It was Amy who recorded video of my exercises in case Micky or Dr. Petty (neurologist Jerry Petty) needed to see them. It was Amy who stood behind me catching that medicine ball and tossing it back, over and over and over again. Amy put up with my whining and complaining. Amy listened to my rambling hours of self-analysis of how my body and brain were feeling and functioning. Amy took the brunt of my temper tantrums on the days when my condition left me no control over my emotions. Amy drove my everywhere. Amy put her shoulder under me when I lost my balance and she caught me when I fell down. ...
“You want to know how many times she said, ‘Dale, I think you need to quit driving racecars’? Zero. Not once.”
5. Immediately after wrecking at Daytona International Speedway in February 2017, Earnhardt was spotted giving himself an eye test to detect symptoms of a concussion in the driver’s seat of his racecar. It garnered a lot of attention, and reminded him that he had the opportunity to use his experiences to educate people. But it also clarified another point for him:
“I think I knew then what I had always known, but Daytona made it official. I didn’t have it in me to do what I needed to do to keep going over the long haul. I was thinking about my head. I was thinking about getting hurt. You can’t race that way. You just can’t. People have always said about racing, ‘Hey man, if you ever get scared, you gotta get out. If you’re out there distracted, you gotta get out.’ I had both of those boxes checked. As February rolled into March and we posted a bunch of so-so finishes in races, I wasn’t shaking those feelings and those distractions. I started worrying that I was wasting Greg’s (crew chief Greg Ives) time and I was wasting the team’s time. I didn’t need to keep doing this.”