NASCAR great opens up about a career cut short

NASCAR's most popular driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. will miss another two races after a hard crash earlier this year resulted in concussion-like symptoms. 

Former NASCAR great Ernie Irvan sat down with FOX 46 Charlotte to discuss the eerie similarity he shares with Dale Jr. 

Auto racing is as dangerous as it is exciting. In the blink of an eye a driver could go from battling for a win to fighting for their life. 

Ernie Irvan nearly lost that battle on August 20, 1994 at Michigan International Speedway. He hit the wall with enough force to cause skull fractures and lost the use of his left eye. But after a year of intense rehab Irvan returned to racing.

"I had went through all the doctors and they physically told me they said you know 'you can do everything that you could do before so we feel like you can go racing'" Irvan said. 

Irvan would continue racing. Then on August 20, 1999, the fifth year anniversary of the crash that nearly killed him at Michigan, history repeated itself.

"Racecar drivers normally, nah it ain't going to happen to me again," Irvan said. 

In a practice session Irvan slammed into the wall and was knocked unconscious. Two weeks later his family by his side, Ernie Irvan retired from racing. 

"I had basically the same type of accident that ended my career," Irvan said. 

Now, almost 17 years since Irvan stepped away from the sport he loved he's seeing an uncomfortable similarity with the sports' most popular driver. 

"All the stuff that Dale Jr. is going through, I mean I had that problem," Irvan explained. 

Dale Earnhardt Jr. made a shocking announcement in July he was going to miss a race because he was experiencing concussion-like symptoms from a crash earlier this season at non other than Michigan International Speedway.

"I'm having balance issues, I never had balance issues before. The eye issues with the stalibility, I've never had that before."

"I have hardly no balance. I still have short term memory problems."

Dale Jr. is now on pace to miss his fifth consecutive race on August 20 at Bristol. 

"My plan is to race more, ya know I have plans to keep going and I'll worry about that when I'm well. I'll talk to my doctors and ask what do I have left as far as the racing."

"Dale Jr. is smart. If Dale Jr. does it then now other people are going to start looking at it and saying I need to think about that."


August 20 is another dark reminder of the crashes that nearly took his life but after seeing what Earnhardt is going through, Irvan has been inspired to help the drivers of tomorrow. 

"I commend Dale Jr. for saying hey I'm going to donate my brain to science and try to help with head injuries. I would do the same thing."

"If somebody would ask I would go through and do tests and things like that and know what I have gone through and look at all of the test and figure out what they could do maybe in the future for other race car drivers."

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