Dale Earnhardt Jr. has had a rough couple of weeks. A plane carrying him, wife Amy and daughter Isla crashed while landing in Tennessee on August 15.Â Earnhardt and his family, along with two crewmembers, were able to escape injury after the Cessna Citation owned by the retired NASCAR driver turned broadcaster crashed near Bristol Tennessee. Everyone was checked out and released from a local hospital, but Earnhardt elected to take that weekend off.
Friday at Darlington Raceway, he made his first media appearance since the crash. He did suffer some bruising to his back but said he was checked out and cleared to race in Saturdayâs NASCAR Xfinity race at Darlington. Â
âIâm feeling great,â he told the crush of reporters gathered behind his team hauler.Â âReal nervous about getting in the car just because I havenât been in a car in a really long time. Iâve only drove at Richmond last year, in 24 months that was the only time Iâve been in a racecar. â
Although retired from fulltime NASCAR competition, the 15 time most popular driver does still run in at least one race per year. That one race this year is at Darlington and the throwback paint scheme heâs campaigning on Saturday mirrors the first car his father Dale Earnhardt Sr., made his NASCAR Cup debut with at Charlotte Motor Speedway in 1975.
âItâs a real blessing for me to run at least one race a year and sort of re-live my past,â he said. âThatâs kind of why I picked this race at Darlington because of the throwback weekend, such a great celebration of the history of the sport and I wanted to me more a part of that. I got to experience it from the broadcast booth last year and I thought âman I run a race a year why donât I just go to Darlington and do something fun with a throwback carâ and draw some awareness not only to dadâs story but Ed Negre and Norman Negre the guys that owned that racecar that dad droveÂ in 1975.â
He will not only honor his late father on Saturday but is using this weekend to help heal from the crash. According to him his racing experience helps in his recovery and helps keep his emotions in check.
âBeing in a race car âŚ we go out there in the racecar on the racetrack andÂ crash into the wall and flip upside down and the first thing you think of is, ‘How good is the backup car?’ and ‘Why did that happen, how can we stop the next car from doing that?’ ” Earnhardt said. “I think the repetitiveness of doing that all my life has insulated me from some of the typical emotions and reactions you might have in a situation like that.”
As for the actual crash itself:
“I don’t want to get into all of that, thereâs an investigation going on,” Earnhardt said. ââIâm just going to wait and let all that play itself out.â
The incident did help put things in perspective, however.
âLots of things in your life that you go through help you sort of order your priorities, reminds you sometimes … of what’s important, whatâs not so important,â he said. âAnd unfortunately, you donât want to go through a situation like that. But certainly, there are some positives that come out of it. Remembering what matters, like your family and friends.”
Earnhardt said he wonât have a problem flying again, nor will he dwell on the crash. Â
âEverybody is OK. We just get to carry on,â he said. âThereâs no point in wasting any time being upset about it or being sad about it. Weâre all processing it differently and I feel better every day about what I need to be doing tomorrow and the next day. I feel more confident about moving forward in my life and putting that in the distant past.â