Dale Earnhardt Jr. was “pretty sick” when he was diagnosed with a concussion eight weeks ago and faced a long, hard road while recovering.
He is making significant progress, however, and credits not only his doctors but also the help of his family and friends. At the top of that list is his fiancée, Amy Reimann, whom Earnhardt says plays a key role in his recovery.
“Amy has been there every step of the way pushing me to stay focused and to realize the progress we have made and to keep working hard,” said Earnhardt, who will miss the rest of the 2016 NASCAR season but hopes to return for 2017’s season-opening Daytona 500.
Though Earnhardt has a ways to go before he can resume racing, he says he’s making progress in his daily life. And that is key to reaching Dr. Micky Collins’ goal “to get Dale feeling as normal as a human being.”
“Aside from just not being at the track and doing what I’m used to doing, the first four or five weeks were really difficult,” Earnhardt said Sunday in a news conference at Darlington Raceway. “I was very ill and it was hard to enjoy even the simplest activities. But in the past couple of weeks I’ve really gotten to where I feel a lot more comfortable about going out and doing and being out an about and being observed.”
Earnhardt said simple trips to the store were a challenge.
“I go to Target or somewhere and I have symptoms and I might stumble across the aisle or something, or need a little more sidewalk than a normal guy,” he said. “But, I’ve got to put myself through those situations for that to sort of correct itself. Really, like (Dr. Collins) said, the anxiety and the nervousness of the whole process drives all that and makes it much more than it really is. And that’s why I feel awesome at home because there’s no anxiety or issues at home. You sit on your couch and almost convince yourself you’re 100 percent. And then you’ll walk outside and realize you’re not. Or, you go somewhere and you’ll have a symptom and realize that you’ve still got a ways to go.”
Earnhardt credits his fiancée for helping him work through those daily challenges and return to a normal life.
“Amy’s been great. She’s been there every single day pushing me. Without her, this would be nearly impossible to go through,” Earnhardt said. “So, that’s been awesome to have her with me every day, and available to help me. And she doesn’t complain and she’s right there with me doing all the exercises. She even does the exercises that I’m doing just to be healthy herself.”
Earnhardt chuckled when asked if he and Reimann had to alter plans, including their offseason wedding. He hinted that those plans remain in place.
“Yeah, we’ve got some great things that me and her are going to do this offseason that I’m excited about,” he said. “No, nothing has really changed. We’re very fortunate that our plans are going to work out just fine.”
Sunday’s media conference was Earnhardt’s second trip to the track since he decided he needed medical attention after July 9’s race at Kentucky. He missed the first of six races at New Hampshire on July 17. He continues to make appearances for his sponsors, however, and attends meetings at Hendrick Motorsports. He can even drive a car — just not a racecar.
“I’m well enough to continue to honor my commitments with my partners,” he said. “Really, the only thing I can’t do is just get in a car and race. I can drive down the highway. Now that my symptoms have improved I feel much more comfortable doing that. Getting back to normal is right there in the near future. I’m getting better every day.”
Collins confirmed Earnhardt’s assessment, while stressing that Junior has a ways to go before returning to racing.
“I’m pleased to tell you that the fruits of that labor are now paying off,” Collins said. “Dale has been a model patient. I know this is cliché sitting up here, but Dale has worked as hard as any patient that I treat currently or in the past. He has been very diligent about doing his therapies and we actually have very specific treatments that are targeting these problems that Dale has and we are seeing the benefits of that.
“When I first saw Dale a month and a half ago, I can tell you he was pretty sick,” said Collins, who said Earnhardt was having problems with both his vision and balance as well as anxiety and mood swings. “When I first saw Dale, my goal was to see Dale become a human being again and I can tell you with confidence that is occurring in front of our eyes. He is feeling better. He can tolerate a lot more. He is having fewer and fewer symptoms and is doing very well.
“To me, that is the number one goal is to get Dale feeling as normal as a human being. The second goal is Dale becoming a racecar driver again. Yes, we will be working on that as well. I’m very confident that we are moving in the right direction in that respect.”