Over the years, NASCAR has been a sport riled with frightening crashes, often leading to drivers suffering significant injuries. Dale Earnhardt had his fair share of ailments throughout his racing career. In one of those instances, Earnhardt chose to go against the grain to compete on NASCAR’s most challenging track.
Dale Earnhardt suffers broken collarbone and sternum at Talladega
Throughout Dale Earnhardt‘s illustrious NASCAR career, he suffered several significant injuries.
One of which came at Yellawood 500 at Talladega Superspeedway in July 1996. Earnhardt was involved in a multi-car crash that saw his car slam hard into the outside wall nearly head-on while being t-boned in the roof.
The accident resulted in him suffering a broken collarbone and sternum. Among the 15 cars involved in the accident, Earnhardt was the only one that suffered any significant injuries.
The health situation put his status for the rest of the season in question, but he somehow managed to defy the odds at Watkins Glen.
Dale Earnhardt defied the odds to compete on NASCAR’s most challenging track
Despite the significant injuries that would have kept any driver out of the car, Dale Earnhardt remained on the track.
Following the crash, he competed at The Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway and had Mike Skinner relieve him. He then attempted to stay the course for The Bud at Glen at the Watkins Glen International with eyes on staying in the entire race at one of NASCAR’s most challenging tracks.
His planned decision received significant pushback from Richard Childress and Dr. Jerry Punch voicing that a crash could cause a bone fragment from his loose sternum to hit one of his vital organs, such as his heart and lungs.
During a recent interview on the Dale Jr. Download Podcast, Dr. Jerry Punch recollected the infamous conversation that Earnhardt convinced Childress he could race.
“He looked right at Richard and said, ‘If you tell me, Richard, that being in your car, I am going to hurt your team and be that bad for you, I’ll get out,'” Punch recalled. “I’ll never forget Richard looked back in the eyes and said, ‘How am I going to tell Dale Earnhardt being my race car is going to hurt my race team? Hell, with one arm, you’re better than 99% of the people in that garage there anyways.”
Even with the life-endangering concerns hovering over the situation, Earnhardt pushed forward, earning the race’s pole position. He had the option to substitute himself out at any pitstop or caution with Jeff Green but elected to compete in the entire race.
Earnhardt managed through the pain to finish in sixth place. He wound up landing in fourth place in the Cup Series points standings in that season.
Remains part of his incredible NASCAR legacy
Dale Earnhardt risked his life by competing in the event at one of the most difficult NASCAR tracks.
His determination to race despite the significant injuries speaks to his mental fortitude and tremendous belief in his ability. He battled through the situation by even using his knees to help him steer and turn through the challenging course.
It’s a part of his reputation and image of “The Intimidator” that greatly endeared him to NASCAR fans. Earnhardt held a tremendously strong passion for racing, and no injury was going to take him off that track at Watkins Glen in 1996.