Earrnhardt Jr. sustained two concussions in a six-week period last year
MARTINSVILLE, Va. — The driver who helped prompt NASCAR’s move to mandatory baseline concussion testing next year heartily endorsed the decision Friday at Martinsville Speedway.
“I think it’s an exciting opportunity for us to have a better benchmark to be able to diagnose and be able to treat (concussions),” Dale Earnhardt Jr. told USA TODAY Sports before Sprint Cup practice. “It’s one small piece of the entire diagnosis of a concussion, but it’s important and I’m encouraged by it. I hope drivers really wrap themselves around it and take it seriously. I know some guys are going to not feel comfortable with it because it’s not familiar, but it’s a really smart thing to sort of grasp and understand, and I think it’s great NASCAR is taking that proactive approach.”
Earnhardt sustained a concussion in a 25-car crash on the final lap last October at Talladega Superspeedway, causing him to miss the Chase for the Sprint Cup races at Charlotte Motor Speedway and Kansas Speedway.
He revealed after being sidelined that it was his second concussion in six weeks. He hid symptoms after sustaining a concussion in a tire testing wreck at Kansas and was at less than 100% for six races. Earnhardt also disclosed in 2002 that he had raced with concussion symptoms for more than three months during that season.
In mandating ImPACT (Immediate Post-Concussion Assessment and Cognitive Testing) for drivers in its three national series in the 2014 preseason, it should reduce the likelihood of disguising a concussion because doctors will have data to compare from a driver’s brain in a healthy state vs. ImPACT testing conducted after a crash.
“When you’re trying to treat a concussion or even trying to diagnose it, it’s very difficult, because you can’t see it on a CAT scan,” Earnhardt said. “You can’t see it by looking at somebody. The only way a concussion really is diagnosed is by what (a driver is saying), and they’re not always going to be honest. That ImPACT test gives the doctor a bit of a glimpse.”
The ImPACT test, which evaluates verbal and visual memory, processing speed and reaction time, was developed in part by staff at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. While recovering from his concussion last October, Earnhardt visited the UPMC Center for Sports Medicine for a consultation with Dr. Micky Collins.
“Very good guys, and they want to help, man,” Earnhardt said. “When you really get to meet those people, you feel way better about it, because they want to help you, and they want to learn. And what happens is you want to help them learn (and) understand what’s happening.
“Concussions are like snowflakes. Every one of them is different. You want to be a part of the solution and try to figure out how to treat them. They’re really hard to prevent, especially in car accidents, but the next time for you or the next guy, you want to be able to help them have that better treatment and be able to recover.”
Earnhardt hasn’t missed a race since Martinsville last October. He returns to the 0.526-mile oval this weekend enjoying his best Chase for the Sprint Cup in nine years but said his recovery is less about racing and more about life.
“What’s important isn’t tomorrow or the next week’s race, it’s being able to walk and talk and understand what the hell people are telling you when you’re 80 years old,” he said. “You want to have a good quality of life then.”