After missing 18 races because of long-lasting concussion symptoms, NASCAR star Dale Earnhardt Jr. has officially been cleared to race in the 2017 season. Earnhardt completed a test drive at Darlington Raceway with no symptoms, clearing him to compete again.
“I feel great, and I’m excited to officially be back,” Earnhardt said in a Thursday news release. “I expected things to go really well yesterday, and that’s exactly what happened. Actually getting in a race car was an important final step, and it gives me a ton of confidence going into 2017.”
The five-hour test was attended by Dr. Jerry Petty, a neurosurgeon from Charlotte, North Carolina, and Dr. Micky Collins, medical director of the UPMC Sports Medicine Concussion Program in Pittsburgh. Both declared the driver rehabilitated and ready to get behind the wheel again.
“Dale is one of the hardest-working patients I’ve ever encountered,” Collins said. “He’s done everything we’ve asked, and we believe he is ready to compete at a professional level again and can withstand the normal forces of a race car driver. Dale has been very open with us, and we’ve had plenty of time for his treatment, so we feel very good about his long-term prospects and how this has been managed by everyone involved.”
Following the news, Hendrick Motorsports announced Earnhardt will participate in the season-opening Daytona 500 on February 26.
Earnhardt’s concussion has sidelined the driver since a crash in July, as the racer experienced dizziness, balance, and vision problems. While most concussion symptoms appear immediately and gradually fade away within a few weeks, Earnhardt’s symptoms appeared more slowly and persisted for months. However, after extensive rehabilitation the driver appears healthy and ready to race.
Earnhardt’s injury has shown that concussions are not one-size fits all. But, by taking the injury seriously and putting health first, recovery is possible for even severe and long-lasting brain injuries.