Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s decision inspires NASCAR Hall of Famer to donate brain for CTE research

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LOUDON, N.H. – Dale Earnhardt Jr., who will miss Sunday’s Sprint Cup race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway with concussion symptoms, is making significant inroads with raising head injury awareness in racing.

NASCAR Hall of Famer Fred Lorenzen will join Earnhardt in pledging to donate his brain to the Concussion Legacy Foundation, according to the Associated Press. In an interview with Dan Gelston, Lorenzen’s daughter, Amanda Lorenzen Gardstrom, said the decision was inspired by Earnhardt’s announcement in March that he would join other pro athletes in brain donation for chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) research.

“”As a family, we decided we wanted to support Dale Junior and all work together toward a healthy future for these drivers,” Gardstrom told Gelston.

Lorenzen, 81, retired from driving nearly 45 years ago and was elected to the NASCAR Hall of fame two years ago. The Elmhurst, Illinois, native, who was nicknamed “The Golden Boy,” suffers from dementia that his family believes is related to crashes during his career.

“He never stopped to heal,” Gardstrom said. “”It’s the younger generation that we really need to educate. They’re young, they’re hungry, but when they get in a wreck and get a concussion, they know if they don’t get back in the car, someone else is going to take it. We want to change the culture of the sport.”

Many in the racing industry have pointed to Earnhardt’s decision to seek a diagnosis for his recent concussion symptoms as an impetus for change.

In an interview with USA TODAY Sports’ Brant James, three-time Indianapolis 500 winner Dario Franchitti said he also plans to donate his brain for CTE research. Franchitti retired from the IndyCar series after sustaining a serious head injury in an October 2013 crash in Houston. He said he suffered from the cumulative impact of multiple concussions from crashes.

“It’s a really tough situation because outwardly there’s no signs,” Franchitti told James. “It’s not like a broken leg or broken back or something. You can’t tell, so it’s easy to kind of ignore it. I had some (minor) concussions and ignored them and probably paid the price. I think in my situation, I wasn’t really given an option. It was kind of so bad by this point, that there was no other option.

“But the fact that Dale Jr. has decided, ‘OK, this isn’t right …’ you have to take your hat off to him because it’s a big decision to make, and I’m sure there’s a lot of pressure on him, too, to keep going. It’s not a nice situation to be in.”