NASCAR & Auto Racing

Dale Earnhardt Jr.: Easy decision to pledge brain to research

Dale Earnhardt Jr. says he will donate his brain to concussion research after experiencing two concussions and missing two races in 2012.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. says he will donate his brain to concussion research after experiencing two concussions and missing two races in 2012. AP

Dale Earnhardt Jr. called it a “no-brainer” to pledge his brain for concussion research.

NASCAR’s most popular driver for the past 13 years spoke at length about his decision on Friday at Martinsville Speedway, saying he had been inspired by former women’s professional soccer player Brandi Chastain and a trio of Oakland Raiders who made similar statements recently.

Earnhardt formally announced that he’d donate his brain to the Concussion Legacy Foundation, which is partnered with Boston University.

“I was a donor already for many years, as my driver’s license would attest,” said Earnhardt, driver of the No. 88 Chevrolet. “It seemed like a reasonable thing to do for me. Anything that I can do to help others. … It was something I didn’t have to ask myself whether I wanted to do it or not.

“Going through that process in 2012, I learned so much and have so much respect for the work that those doctors are doing and really were inspired by some of the athletes that have pledged their brains before me.”

I have been healthy and successful and I learned a ton. I may be even a better race car driver today, and I’m definitely getting the results on the track that I’ve always wanted.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. after doctors helped him overcome two concussions in 2012

Earnhardt missed two races in 2012, being diagnosed with two concussions in a two-month period. He had one in August 2012 during a test session at Kansas Speedway, after blowing a tire and crashing into a wall. That October at Talladega Superspeedway, he had another after spinning rapidly multiple times, a concussion that led to severe anxiety and him missing two races.

Earnhardt recalled going to the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center Sports Concussion Program, and how much those doctors helped him recover and return to racing.

“[The doctors] gave me the confidence going through that process that I could be successful and get through it,” Earnhardt said. “I have. I have been healthy and successful and I learned a ton. I may be even a better race car driver today, and I’m definitely getting the results on the track that I’ve always wanted.”

Concussions have become a significant issue in contact sports nowadays.

Multiple former NFL players have been diagnosed with chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a degenerative brain disease that is linked to concussions and repetitive blows to the head.

Three teammates of former Raiders quarterback Ken Stabler pledged to donate their brains for CTE research in his honor last month. Stabler, who died in July, was found to have CTE.

Chastain, the star of the 1999 Women’s World Cup, made a similar pledge in hopes of finding whether heading balls in soccer relates to concussions and CTE.

Earnhardt is the first NASCAR driver to make a pledge to donate his brain, announcing his plans on Twitter over the weekend.

Hopefully I’m going to live 40, 50 more years and the science has progressed so much that they don’t need it. But if they do it’s there.

Dale Earnhardt on donating his brain to concussion research

Talk of concussions in auto racing have become a focal point in recent weeks. IndyCar driver Will Power was misdiagnosed with a concussion that kept him out of the season-opening race on March 13.

Power had an inner-ear infection that caused dizziness, headaches and nausea, all symptoms of a concussion.

Asked about whether there should be better track testing for concussions, Earnhardt said: “As a driver I think the real purpose of the conversation should be to help drivers understand that it’s OK to self-diagnose and go get help. I feel very good about the protocols that are in place.

“I’m excited about what NASCAR has done. They have really taken this head-on. They are talking and involving themselves with the right folks to get the best information to be able to protect the drivers the best way they can.”

Earnhardt said there is more to be done. He took pride in announcing his decision to donate his brain, and he hopes that others follow his lead.

“I got in touch with the Concussion Legacy Foundation and they helped me understand exactly what the process is and it’s very straight forward,” said Earnhardt, who hopes to visit with doctors at Boston University when the NASCAR circuit is in New Hampshire this summer.

“Hopefully I’m going to live 40, 50 more years and the science has progressed so much that they don’t need it. But if they do it’s there.”

Drew Davison: 817-390-7760, @drewdavison

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