Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s new book details many racing crashes through the years that left the popular driver with concussion-like symptoms.
Earnhardt, of course, missed half the 2016 season with concussion-related symptoms, and his history of concussions prompted his surprise retirement last year at age 43. But there were apparently many more such incidents that left him feeling foggy, which he kept a secret.
The book, “Racing to the Finish: My Story,” set for release Oct. 16, is co-authored by ESPN’s Ryan McGee, who sat down with Earnhardt for an interview. McGee noted that Earnhardt had sent him extensive notes, going back years, on a number of crashes that left him feeling woozy. “Monday felt dizzy, Tuesday felt drunk, Wednesday felt better, and then the next weekend you’d go out and get a top-5 finish,” McGee told Earnhardt.
“It was like therapy for me, keeping those notes,” Earnhardt said. “It was the only place where I could really be honest about how I felt. But that also really made me worse in the long term. Because what I know now that I didn’t know in 2014, ’15, ’16 was that whole time, the stress and anxiety of keeping it all a secret, the chemistry that comes with those emotions, it made my symptoms way worse.
“People will see in the book how many times I suffered a hit and didn’t feel right and did nothing about it. That was my fault. When I finally was forced to get help, it saved my life. I’ll always be angry at myself for not doing it sooner.”
Yet despite the hard crashes that left him feeling bad, Earnhardt only missed two races in 2012, after two concussions in six weeks, along with 18 races in 2016. Why did he keep racing despite the issues?
“Because I’m a race car driver, man. That’s what we do,” Earnhardt said. “We wrote about that a lot in the beginning of the book. Every professional athlete plays through injuries and pain, but race car drivers have always been the guys who take it to the greatest extreme.”
Earnhardt told McGee that mentality has made him eager to share his experiences, in hopes others will get the medical help they need.
“The people I am hoping to reach with this book are the people who are out there in the same situation I was in,” Earnhardt said. “They feel awful, but they don’t want anyone to know, so they keep it to themselves. They try to tough it out. Meanwhile, not only are they feeling bad because they aren’t seeing a doctor, the stress and anxiety of keeping the secret is keeping anything from healing like it should.”
Earnhardt’s history of head injuries eventually affected his racing. In an excerpt from the book, he recalls a 2014 race at Talladega Superspeedway where he dropped to the back of the field in hopes of dodging the so-called “Big One.”
“I wasn’t going to make any moves. My only move was to stay safe,” he wrote. “That was my whole goal. Don’t get hurt. Not again.
Earnhardt, who is now an analyst on NBC’s NASCAR coverage, urges any drivers who are suffering in silence to contact him.
“They all have my phone number,” Earnhardt said. “I hope they know they can call me. Just like I hope they read this book and think, ‘Damn, I don’t want to be like that guy.’ Learn from me.”