NASCAR America: Dale Earnhardt Jr. explores concussion recovery in new book

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A year to the day after announcing he would retire from full-time NASCAR competition, Dale Earnhardt Jr. revealed an upcoming book about his experiences with concussions, notably the one in 2016 that nearly ended his career.

“Racing to the Finish: My Story” is co-written by ESPN’s Ryan McGee and is scheduled to be published Oct. 16. You can pre-order it now.

Earnhardt revealed the book Wednesday on NASCAR America and explained the inspiration behind it.

The 15-time most popular driver missed the final 18 races of the 2016 season after he began experiencing concussion-like symptoms during the July race weekend at Kentucky Speedway. The symptoms stemmed from a wreck at Michigan International Speedway three races earlier.

Many of the details in the book come from a journal Earnhardt began keeping during his first concussion experience in 2012.

“I don’t think nobody outside (wife) Amy and my doctor knows exactly everything that went on, and how bad it was” Earnhardt said. “There’s a couple of reasons I wanted to write this book. My fans ask me all the time about why I retired early from driving when I probably had a couple of more years. I think this will answer all those questions.”

Earnhardt hopes the book will also help those who have gone through similar situations and felt “helpless.”

“There’s some really, really bad moments, very dark moments,” Earnhardt said of his recovery. “There’s some helpless moments. You want to give up. Luckily, I had a really good doctor that I could call at any hour of the night and talk me off this ledge and help me understand that this is going to get better and tell me that you’ve fixed this in someone else.”

Earnhardt was open during his recovery process, posting videos of himself taking part in exercises to show what he was doing to get back to full strength.

“When I was writing all those notes, I didn’t know why I was writing them other than I was scared of what I was feeling and what I was going through,” Earnhardt said. “If something were to happen to me where I couldn’t articulate these experiences, there they would be.”

Even before his 2016 concussion, Earnhardt revealed he would donate his brain to CTE research.

Watch the above video for more.

 

NASCAR announces expansion to concussion protocol

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On Friday NASCAR announced an expansion to its existing concussion protocol.

The changes are part of the recently announced partnership with American Medical Response providing a travelling safety team for all Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series races.

The updated protocol adds a “consistent screening tool for all venues and increasing available neurological support.”

Below are the additions to the protocol.

  • As part of the new rule regarding damaged vehicles, a driver whose car sustains damage from an accident or contact of any kind and goes behind the pit wall or to the garage is required to visit the Infield Care Center to be evaluated.
  • NASCAR now requires that Infield Care Center physicians incorporate the SCAT-3 diagnostic tool in screening for head injuries.
  • AMR will provide on-site neurological consultative support at select NASCAR events during the 2017 season and will work directly with NASCAR in the continued development of concussion protocol.

“NASCAR has worked very closely with the industry to ensure our concussion protocol reflects emerging best practices in this rapidly developing area of sports medicine,” said Jim Cassidy, NASCAR senior vice president of racing operations, in a press release. “We will continue to utilize relationships we’ve had for years with leaders in the neurological research field who helped to shape these updates.”

The updated protocol comes after 14-time most popular driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. missed 18 races last year for a concussion. The concussion resulted from a June 12 crash at Michigan International Speedway, but the symptoms didn’t present themselves until week of the July 9 race at Kentucky Speedway.

Matt DiBenedetto was forced to sit out the Nov. 6 Cup race at Texas Motor Speedway after being diagnosed with a concussion following a crash in a Xfinity Series race.

2012 Cup Series champion Brad Keselowski has been a vocal critic of how concussions are treated in NASCAR.

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Dale Jr: ‘Culture’ view of concussions has changed ‘tremendously’

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Dale Earnhardt Jr. didn’t want to be the face of concussions in NASCAR or sports at large.

But a seemingly innocuous crash at Michigan International Speedway on June 12 followed by the delayed emergence of concussion symptoms four weeks later led to Earnhardt slipping into that role.

“It is not something that I intentionally wanted to spearhead,” Earnhardt said in a Friday teleconference with reporters. “But I have seen a culture change tremendously.”

While sports like football have received intense scrutiny in recent years due to concussions and the danger of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) in players in years later, increased concerns have come to NASCAR after the 14-time most popular driver missed the final 18 races of 2016.

MORE: Earnhardt defends return to racing despite danger of concussions

MORE: Darlington test “recharged” Dale Jr.

Earnhardt, who has had at least five concussion in his career, was treated for his most recent case by Dr. Micky Collins, medical director of the UPMC Sports Medicine Concussion Program in Pittsburgh. It was there that Earnhardt saw the many forms that concussions can come in and the different ways they impact people.

“Mickey sees two dozen patients a day with various types of injuries,” Earnhardt said. “And every day he learns something new; obviously he has seen a million people with the same thing that I had, but every day they learn something new. Every day as a patient I think you learn something new. It’s incredible the progress that is being made, but it is happening right now. It is happening right in front of us. It is being taken more seriously, and I think that is great.”

Earnhardt wasn’t the only NASCAR driver to fall victim to a concussion this season.

John Wes Townley, a driver in the Camping World Truck Series, missed two races this season after incurring concussion symptoms in a race where he crashed multiple times.

In November at Texas Motor Speedway, Matt DiBenedetto was forced to sit out the Sprint Cup race for what was believed to be a concussion received in the Xfinity Series race a day earlier. DiBenedetto believes he was completely fine and that NASCAR was being cautious in its decision.

DiBenedetto’s case led to 2012 series champion Brad Keselowski once again raising questions about the relationship of doctors to the sport.

But it was the absence of Earnhardt from the track that drove the conversation about concussions while he traveled back and forth between North Carolina and Pennsylvania, working his way back to the cockpit.

“I obviously don’t want anyone to go through the injury, much less the rehabilitation,” Earnhardt said. “It’s been great to have the opportunity to go to Pittsburgh; to meet Mickey and his whole staff and have exposure to everything that they are doing and get to understand how much they have learned and what they are capable of doing.

“It’s given me so much confidence to be able to come back and race again knowing that those guys are there, and they are able to patch you up and get you stronger. What they have been able to do is incredible for people like me. They are doing that every day with dozens and dozens of folks.”

Dale Jarrett on concussions: ‘I do struggle with memory loss’

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FORT WORTH, Texas — Concussions and how they’re diagnosed were pushed back into the spotlight this weekend with the news that Matt DiBenedetto was put into NASCAR’s concussion protocol and would miss the AAA Texas 500 at Texas Motor Speedway.

The news brought criticism from Brad Keselowski about the nature of concussion diagnosis.

During NBC’s rain delay coverage of Sunday’s race at Texas Motor Speedway, analyst and Hall of Famer Dale Jarrett spoke about his experiences from concussions he suffered during his career.

“In three weeks, I will be 60 year old and I do struggle with memory loss, with things in my brain I know probably came from some of those concussions, that’s what I’ve been told,” said Jarrett, who retired from racing in 2008. “Would it have happened anyway without the concussions that I went through? I’m not sure.”

Jarrett directly addressed active drivers and told them to “appreciate” the protocols NASCAR has in place now that weren’t during his career.

“Appreciate that someone is looking after you in this day and time,” Jarrett said.

 

NASCAR America: Exploring head trauma and Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s history with concussions

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In the first of a multipart series (video above), NASCAR America spoke with some renowned researchers in the field of head trauma and what Dale Earnhardt Jr. is facing in his recovery from a concussion.

Earnhardt will miss at least two more Sprint Cup races after being sidelined for the past five. He believes his struggles with balance and gaze stability began with a June 12 crash at Michigan International Speedway. Earnhardt said the impact’s severity shouldn’ t have caused a concussion, and symptoms “crept in” that took him out of the No. 88 Chevrolet three races later.

Concussion Legacy Foundation co-founder Dr. Robert Cantu said symptoms usually don’t lie dormant so long and could have been provoked by returning to the car. Cantu also explained the cumulative nature of concussions, noting there are statistics that show someone is four to six times more likely to have a repeat concussion after sustaining the first.

“Nobody agrees exactly on how many concussions you can have, or how long the concussions can last before they clear, or whether you should go back (to playing a sport after several concussions),” Cantu said. “The big red flags, though, are when an individual has required very heavy blows to the head to produce concussions, and now they’ve had a number, and now the blows that produce concussions are getting more mild and are now involving not even a hit to the head in some cases, but just the head being shaken.

“And if on top of that, they’re now lasting longer whereas they used to clear up within days or a week. Those are the red flags that in terms of when we professionals say, ‘It’s time to think about walking away from the activity.’ ”

Cantu also explained there as many as two dozen possible symptoms for concussions that can fall into several “baskets,” such as behavioral, cognitive and physical categories.

Earnhardt has sustained at least four concussions during his 17 seasons in NASCAR’s premier series, starting with a head injury in an April 2002 wreck at Fontana, Calif., that Earnhardt hid while racing through it for a few months. In 2012, he missed two races after suffering two concussions in two months.

Watch the video above for more details. Below is a discussion that followed the airing of the report on Thursday’s NASCAR America.