Thursday, October 18, 2012

Earnhardt's Concussion Has Changed NASCAR

Hamlin OK after testing crash
In less than two weeks’ time, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. has changed NASCAR.

Denny Hamlin crashed in Turn One at Kansas Speedway today, pancaking the side of his No. 11 FedEx Toyota at over 181 mph on Day Two of a Sprint Cup test session at the newly repaved oval. One month ago, Hamlin would have driven his damaged car back to the garage, climbed out and begun assessing the damage. Today, he was summoned by NASCAR to the Infield Care Center, where doctors quickly assessed him for a possible concussion.

Earnhardt suffered a concussion in an Oct. 7 crash at Talladega Superspeedway; his second in the last six weeks. That injury will cause the Hendrick Motorsports driver to miss at least two races. He did not compete last weekend at Charlotte Motor Speedway, and will also miss Sunday’s Hollywood Casino 400 in Kansas. His absence has made concussions a hot-button issue in a sport where previously, tough-guy drivers knowingly competed with all manner of injuries.

Singlehandedly, Earnhardt changed the cavalier attitude that characterized the NASCAR garage for decades.
Thank you, Dale.
In 1980, Richard Petty drove a number of races with a broken neck, knowing that a simple fender-bender could leave him paralyzed, or even dead.

In 1984, Ricky Rudd used duct tape to hold his swollen eyes open and compete in a 400-mile race at Richmond International Raceway, one week after a savage, egg-beater flip at Daytona. Years later, Rudd admitted he was forced to focus on the rear bumper of the car in front of him that day, to ward off attacks of severe vertigo.  
In 1990, Darrell Waltrip suffered a concussion, fractured left elbow and broken left leg in a multi-car crash at Daytona International Speedway. Surgeons screwed an 18-inch metal plate to Waltrip's femur, and days later, crewmembers lifted him gingerly into his race car so he could take the green flag and earn valuable championship points.

Walk it off. Rub a little dirt on it. If it’s not bleeding, you can race.

We’ll never know how many drivers have paid the price for that attitude over the years.

For every Lee Roy Yarbrough, a 1960s NASCAR great who was institutionalized with dementia believed to be a result of repeated crash-related head injuries, there are likely dozens of others who went undiagnosed and continued to race.

Thankfully, Denny Hamlin will not be one of them.
Photo: Mike McCarn, Associated Press


  1. juls881:12 PM

    Been alot of critisium with Earnhardts concussion deal, but, why do some view this in Nascar as OMG really?? i have driven with broke necks, bones concussions,,Suck it up and drive. are drivers going to be whinning and non supportive of nascar's decision to check for concussions. It's a proven fact that too many cause long term problems later in life. I think its good, but the drivers going to be upset if they say u need to be checked out, and if the docs say no ur not cleared to drive, most will be upset.. They might feel it should be their decisions. It will be touchy, and guess im curious as to how the drivers really feel..I believe this is good step..What are your thoughts with this?

  2. Anonymous3:26 PM

    i know that driver should do what will keep them safe, but if it wont for them older drivers driving like that with brokon bones and all other types of injuries nascar would not be here today. thats what got people to tell there friends that this crazy tough mother f'er going to drive a car over 200mph with broken bones and etc.

  3. It's people panicking because they think concussions are more life-threatening than they realistically are. The "cavalier" attitude racers had was because they knew they were strong enough to handle it.

    BTW, Petty used relief drivers numerous times in 1980 after his Pocono wreck - there's a difference between handling the hits and being foolish about it.