By Geoff Bodine
July 23, 2016
I first saw the news of Dale Earnhardt Jr. out of his racecar last week on the news. If you recall, this isn’t the first time Dale Jr. is sidelined with concussion symptoms, as he sat out two races in October of 2012.
Over the years, NASCAR personnel, drivers, fans and the general public have become more aware of the effects of concussions and multiple concussions long-term.
Back when I raced in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, I know at one time, I had water splashed in my face and was told to “Keep going, keep going, what are you stopping for?”
It seems like awareness on this topic has become more known through football players, soccer players, fighters and boxers over the years. We take it for granted, but our heads are very fragile.
Stepping Out of the Car
It doesn’t matter the sport; any athlete wants to be participating, no one wants to sit out, but I give Dale Jr. a lot of credit. That’s not easy to do.
I praised him for doing it in 2012 and I praise him again because he’s a role model to a lot kids. A role model is supposed to be a great example of how to conduct yourself, and he’s showing the game isn’t the most important thing, it’s your health.
We’re all wishing him well, and only time will tell if he gets back behind-the-wheel.
When I ran full-time, there was no NASCAR protocol for concussions. They have a good protocol now, where they rely on the words of the doctors involved.
They used to check drivers for reaction times and memory, and I’ve been through some of the tests, but NASCAR will be monitoring this situation closely.
Personal Experience with Concussions
My first head injury I can remember was in football, getting a knee to the head and getting knocked out.
Then in a modified racecar, a couple times, blew an engine and backed into a wall. I turned my head to see what I was going to hit, and that wasn’t the right thing to do.
Another time at a racetrack in Seekonk, Massachusetts, a crazy car owner came over and sucker-punched me and knocked me out. That as a bad one. I couldn’t remember where I was, I couldn’t race that night.
We’d shake it off, potential head injuries, and keep going, and not think about possible consequences.
Soft walls help today, but hitting those can still produce injuries and concussions.
I’m very thankful I don’t have any serious effects from all the hits I’ve taken over the years, not yet at least, and I pray to God I never do. My brother Brett stopped racing because doctors told him one more hit, and he may not wake up. He was very sensitive when he hit his head. Todd, our younger brother, was a little more sensitive than I was, but not as sensitive as Brett.
I don’t plan on hitting my head anymore, no matter what I’m doing. What I’ve noticed over the years, jumping off a bench or a three foot jump, my head hurts. I try not to jump off things anymore because of that.
The Return of Jeff Gordon
I was Rick Hendrick’s first driver, and I was thinking before Jeff was tabbed to drive the car, he would call me to fill-in, but he didn’t, ha ha!
Jeff’s been out of the car for only a few months, and it will be as if he hasn’t missed a beat.
When you look at his success at Indianapolis and Pocono, he’s won multiple races at each track.
Realistically, he could win at both venues. He’s not old and hasn’t been removed long from the sport. Of course, aero packages are different from when he ran last year, but he will be fine.
His mouth is watering, he’s ready to show his competition who is boss.
Concussions are a serious matter. I haven’t heard or seen negative things about Dale Jr. sitting out, and I’m glad that’s the case.
Whether he gets back inside the car or not, he will make the right decision.
DISCLAIMER: Opinions expressed are solely those of the writer.