In the Oct. '12 issue of CT (One Hit Too Many), we outlined what had happened to a fellow racer who had encountered too many concussions. That piece provided a lot of educational value for us and hopefully our readership. Now, Dale Earnhardt Jr. has proven to be subject to multiple (more than one) concussions.
As of this writing, Dale is sitting out two races since suffering two concussions within six weeks including his crash at Talladega that caused continual headaches. After consulting with doctors, it was recommended that he take time off to recover. But recovery might not be an appropriate term for a concussion.
If you break an arm or collar bone you will recover, the break will heal and even sometimes be stronger than before. Not so with a concussion. What we know now is that there is an accumulative affect with brain injuries that has to do with both the connection between the brain and the skull, and with the brain tissue itself.
We're not sure a person can "heal" completely from a concussion. The symptoms can go away to where you feel fine, but it becomes easier and easier to have future concussions. If that is the case with Dale Jr., then just as it might be with an athlete with bad knees or a pilot who cannot see well anymore, it might just be time to quit driving.
Big time NASCAR racing is a big time money machine and it's very hard to bring that train to a halt in many cases. The death of a superstar does that immediately, but lesser injuries merely slow down that train. In this case, in my opinion, everyone needs to take a long look at the consequences of continuing down this path. Consider what the fans reaction to the sport would be if, and maybe when, Dale can no longer function normally due to lingering symptoms of having repeated concussions.
Here is a quote from my story, PCS (Post-Concussion Syndrome) is a set of conditions that occurs after a concussion and CTE (Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy) is the result of multiple concussions and other forms of head injury. Both can last for weeks or months, and in extreme cases, for years as is Jeff's case.
Since that article was published, I have had numerous other drivers tell me stories of their own experiences with PCS and even CTE. It has happed to more people than we know and it will continue to happen to others.
With all of the attention concussion has raised recently related to the NFL and players who have suffered the affects of PCS and CTE, NASCAR has stepped up its already excellent safety program and drivers are being monitored more closely than ever for this problem. Over the years, this group has been a model for other sanctions and racetracks on how to provide a measure of safety and a professional response to driver injury.
We would hope that a group of doctors could be assembled who could formulate a set of rules governing dealing with the progression of concussions for drivers. At some point, we need to say stop. At some point drivers must be overruled and made to quit if the symptoms show a progression toward CTE before that point is reached.
When this issue reaches your mailbox, it will have been several months since Dale resumed his racing, or made the decision to retire. If the later were true, many hard-core fans would be disappointed and some upset. But hopefully they would understand and applaud his brave and sensible choice.
If not, so be it. He has to live out the rest of his life with his decisions, not the fans. They will get used to it and maybe someday come to understand that it took a lot of guts to make the right decision for himself.
If you have comments or questions about this or anything racing related, send them to my email address: Bob.Bolles@sorc.com, or mail can be sent to Circle Track, Senior Tech Editor, 9036 Brittany Way, Tampa, FL 33619.