When people think about concussions in pro sports, they think of football, hockey, and combat sports. One sport, however, is just as concerned about concussions, and people don’t realize it. When people think about NASCAR, they likely envision crashes. When drivers make it through, however, there’s a new concern about concussions. Recently, Dale Earnhardt Jr. discussed this on The Joe Rogan Experience.
Laughing off concussions
Speaking about concussions going back over two decades, Earnhardt spoke at great length about the effect they had on his well-being:
“I had concussions throughout my career at many different points and didn’t think anything of them,” Earnhardt said to Rogan. “I thought, when you got a concussion, you joke about it with your buddies, and you just rest through it until it’s gone. You race through it, and eventually, it’d go away and you were fine!
As time has changed, however, concussions have been known to have long-term effects on one’s health. Those who experience prolonged blows to the head have reported memory loss, loss of motor function, premature aging, and many other symptoms. When this information became more mainstream, Earnhardt realized he needed to do so, himself.
Learning from the past
Earnhardt was candid with how his mindset evolved since his career’s beginning. Initially, he treated concussions as one treats a seasonal cold or fought. He lived through it, hoped it would improve, then went on with his life. When it became clear that this was doing more harm than good, however, he began to look internally.
In 2012, Earnhardt was racing in Kansas. After his right front tire blew out at 185 miles-per-hour, Earnhardt crashed his car. This impact, in Earnhardt’s own words, screwed him up. He said the crash was unlike anything he’d experienced in his career. It did something to him he knew was not right.
Earnhardt exited his car knowing something was wrong with him, but just how wrong he could not figure out. He described this particular feeling like that of being hit in the head with a baseball bat. He felt like he was in a cloud, shocked, and unable to pinpoint exactly what was happening at that moment.
Eventually, this feeling turned into an all-out sickness. He couldn’t eat anything, and he couldn’t bring himself back to normal. Eventually, he was laying down in the car feeling worse than ever, went to a football game, and did normal things. He noticed that his awareness of the racing track was shot. Given his father’s tragic passing, this added danger proved to be too much. Eventually, he called it quits for the sake of his health and safety.
To its credit, NASCAR has taken notice of the impact that the dangerous sport has on its racers. In 2017, it unveiled brand-new protocol for concussions to keep the long-term safety of their drivers intact. Senior vice president of NASCAR, Jim Cassidy, spoke about the importance of doing so at the time.
“NASCAR has worked very closely with the industry to ensure our concussion protocol reflects emerging best practices in this rapidly developing area of sports medicine,” Cassidy said per NASCAR.com. “We will continue to utilize relationships we’ve had for years with leaders in the neurological research field who helped to shape these updates.”
The protocol includes mandatory testing after any damage is taken of any kind, implementation of a SCAT-3 diagnostic tool that helps screen head injuries, and neurological consultants on hand for every event. NASCAR is an inherently dangerous sport, but it is good to see that the league is doing something about the health of its drivers. As more research comes out, expect more action to be taken across all sports, too.