Dale Earnhardt Jr. has earned a reputation for being one of the most progressive and aware NASCAR drivers when it comes to brain injuries. While many drivers largely ignore the danger of brain injuries in the sport, Earnhardt has made headlines for sitting out of big races when his health was in jeopardy.
Earnhardt recently pulled himself from racing from a Sprint Cup Series Event in New Hampshire due to concussion symptoms the racer believes stem from a crash over a month before. The NASCAR star says his doctors have traced the symptoms to a June 12 crash at Michigan International Speedway.
The majority of brain injuries follow a similar pattern, which most people are familiar with. Symptoms like headache, confusion, and nausea typically appear within 24 hours of the injury and fade relatively quickly. However, this isn’t always the case.
As Earnhardt’s recent brain injuries show, brain injuries aren’t always so quickly apparent. Symptoms can take days or even weeks to start appearing and each injury can take different forms. While some concussions can cause nausea or vision problems, another brain injury could take its shape in the form of balance problems, cognitive trouble, and headaches.
“Obviously with my history of concussions, knowing the event I had in Michigan, that wreck right there is where they believe I picked up this issue,” Earnhardt said Monday night during a new episode of his weekly Dale Jr. Download podcast entitled ‘Concussion Discussion.’ “I didn’t feel anything that next week. The off week, I went to Germany (on vacation), went to Sonoma, ran good, felt awesome.
“I’ve never had a concussion that came on weeks after the event,” said Earnhardt, who has now missed three Sprint Cup races due to this concussion. “Most of them you feel it immediately, and then they get better over time, whether it’s 72 hours or a month. This has been the opposite.
Perhaps the most frightening part of his experience has been how unique this brain injury has been.
“This is scary for me because of the way it’s been different. I’m having balance issues. I’ve never had balance issues before. The eye issues with the stability, I’ve never had that before.
“It started very slowly, gradually and continued to progress until it stopped and stayed where it is. I don’t know what that tells me about how long this process is going to be. I felt I had a good understanding of concussions in the past, but this is certainly a new one. They all have different symptoms and they all do react differently to treatment and they all have their own time and the length of the recovery is different for everyone.”
It is important for people to recognize that concussions can come in many shapes, and be able to recognize the variety of symptoms as they appear. While headache and nausea are the most common symptoms, they may not always be present after a concussion. Health officials and athletes need to be watchful for other symptoms like confusion and vision problems to identify concussions.
Earnhardt’s handling of his brain injury has been a textbook case of how athletes should respond to concussions. He has taken the injury seriously from the moment symptoms appeared and seems to be trusting his doctors to help him get back into racing shape – even if it means being patient and sitting on the sidelines.
The racer says he is still experiencing symptoms, though he is improving thanks to several therapies his doctors have suggested. It is unclear just how long his brain injury will keep him off the track, but it is admirable to see an athlete speak openly about his concussion and help educate others about atypical brain injuries.