Dale Earnhardt Jr. says pledging brain was spur of the moment inspiration

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MARTINSVILLE, Va. – When he departs this mortal coil (after a planned four to five more decades of good living), Dale Earnhardt Jr. hopes deceased brains won’t be needed for concussion research.

But if it remains necessary, NASCAR’s 13-time most popular driver wants his brain to be studied to further the cause of diagnosing and treating head injuries.

“Anything I can do to help others,” he said. “Hopefully the science has advanced far beyond where it is today, and they don’t need it, but it was something that I didn’t have to ask myself whether I wanted to do it or not.

“I’d gone through (having a concussion) in 2012 and learned so much and had so much respect for the work those doctors are doing. I really was inspired by some of the athletes who pledged their brain before me.”

Confirming an offhand tweet that made national headlines a week ago, Earnhardt said Friday he has pledged his brain to the Concussion Legacy Foundation in a spur-of-the-moment decision he made after reading about Oakland Raiders players and U.S. women’s soccer star Brandi Chastain donating their brains.

“I just thought that was amazing those guys did that in honor of their teammates,” he said. “So that was just really inspiring. I was just in the moment of conversation. That’s sometimes the comfort you find yourself in on Twitter sometimes. I didn’t expect it to turn into the story it did, but by all means, if it raises more awareness and inspires people to donate their brains. They don’t need just athletes. They need everybody.”

The Concussion Legacy Foundation is a partnership with Boston University, and Earnhardt said he wants to tour the facility and meet doctors when the Sprint Cup circuit heads to nearby New Hampshire Motor Speedway in July.

He said the paperwork for pledging his brain was easy.

“I got in touch with the Concussion Legacy Foundation, and they helped me understand exactly what the process is, and it’s very straightforward,” he said. “You get a card like a driver’s license where it says you’re a donor. There’ll be a card in your pocket that you carry like a driver’s license. Your family can refuse, and nothing’s binding, so it’s really just a promise in a way.”

After sustaining his second concussion in six weeks during a last-lap wreck at Talladega Superspeedway in October 2012, Earnhardt missed two races. He returned at Martinsville and since has enjoyed some of his most successful seasons in NASCAR’s premier series, crediting his good health partially to what he learned about concussions during his recovery.

“I’m looking forward to talk to some people up there with the brain bank and learn more,” he said. “I’m really excited and passionate to know more about it and understand the whole process. I certainly want to know everything we can do. That’s a very serious and personal decision. It’d be interesting to go up there and see the bank and understand more.”

Earnhardt said the foundation was appreciative of the exposure gained from his involvement.

“I’ve talked with people within my own family and they’ve been inspired to learn more, so that’s a good feeling,” he said. “And I think that’s sort of the benefit the Concussion Legacy Foundation is looking for when somebody of some notoriety makes that sort of decision. Hopefully it does a lot of good.

“It’s very uncomfortable for me to be in that sort of light in any shape or form. Any time I get a little too much attention, I get a little nervous. But I want to do the right thing, and having gone through that experience in 2012, I’ve been really inspired by what I’ve seen since then from other people.”