Dale Earnhardt: Should NASCAR Establish a Protocol for Driver Concussions?

Michael Guadalupe@The_GuadaFeatured ColumnistNovember 15, 2012

CHARLOTTE, NC - OCTOBER 11:  Dale Earnhardt Jr. speaks to the media at Charlotte Motor Speedway on October 11, 2012 in Charlotte, North Carolina. Earnhardt will miss two races after suffering a concussion from a wreck in Talladega last week.  (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
Chris Graythen/Getty Images

Dale Earnhardt Jr. has been relatively quiet after recovering from two concussions he suffered during the season.

Jr. ended up sitting out two races in order to take some time off and recover.  He would go through rigorous tests, and eventually get cleared to race once again.

Now, with the season coming to a close, NASCAR needs to decide if they should establish a protocol for driver concussions.

Other sports use protocols for when athletes suffer a concussion, so why not NASCAR?

A driver might potentially be putting themselves and others at risk if they decided to hide a concussion and try to drive while suffering from the symptoms. After what happened to Dale Earnhardt Jr., NASCAR needs to establish a protocol for driver concussions in order to protect the sport's athletes.


Jr. Learned His Lesson

After suffering from one concussion this season, Dale Jr. wasn’t trying to hide from his second one.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. was quoted by Nate Ryan over at USAToday.com as saying:

Some concussions are really bad, and I don't care how tough you think you are. When your mind's not working the way it's supposed to, it scares the (crap) out of you. You're not going to think about race cars, about trophies, about your job.

You're going to think about what do I have to do to get my brain working the way it was before. That's going to jump right to the top of the priority list. I definitely take it more seriously now after everything I've learned.

His first concussion came during a Kansas Speedway crash, and Jr. suffered headaches from it.  By the time Talladega rolled around, Jr. was healed up.

He hid the symptoms when he had from his first concussion, but after his Talladega incident, Jr. learned his lesson and needed to be sidelined for two races in order to fully heal.

He left the decision up to doctors, and clearly they determined that Jr. should be kept out of the car.

What happened to Dale Earnhardt Jr. is a clear example of why NASCAR needs to establish a protocol for driver concussions.  Who knows what type of damage Jr. could have done to himself or someone else if he had remained in his car after his Talladega concussion.


The Problem With Concussions

Of course, not all of NASCAR's drivers feel the way Jr. did about hiding his concussion.  Jeff Gordon was quoted by Steve Reed over at Huffingtonpost.com as saying:

If I have a shot at the championship, there's two races to go, my head is hurting, and I just came through a wreck, and I am feeling signs of it, but I'm still leading the points, or second in the points, I'm not going to say anything. I'm sorry.

You know, that's the competitor in me, and probably many other guys. And, that's to a fault. That's not the way it should be. It's something that most of us, I think, would do. I think that's what gets a lot of us in trouble.

Gordon does bring up an interesting point about hiding a concussion if you are in the running for the championship.  But is winning the championship really worth a drivers long-term health?

Not to mention the potential of injuring other drivers because of the symptoms of a concussion. The sense of confusion or dizziness which comes with a concussion would affect a driver's decisions and could endanger other drivers as well.

Concussions can also have long-term effects, which would impact a driver's mental ability further down the line.

Some drivers may have the same attitude as Gordon, but in the end, concussions shouldn't be taken lightly, and can affect a driver both long term and short term.


Continuing to Improve Safety

NASCAR has done a lot over the last decade to improve the safety of its drivers. Establishing a protocol for driver concussions would be another step in the right direction.

There are several different levels of a concussion, and smaller ones more than likely wouldn't keep a driver out of a car.

But bigger concussions, like the one Jr. had, need to be examined, and should sideline a driver for their own safety.  Of course, drivers wouldn't like to be sidelined, but before racing, or anything else, their health comes first.

NASCAR needs to establish a protocol for driver concussions so the health of their drivers isn't put at risk. Driver long-term and short-term health always needs to come first.