Column: Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s nausea at Martinsville reaffirms decision to walk away


By George Diaz - Orlando Sentinel



Unlike his father, Dale Earnhardt Jr. has never been driven by an end-all passion in the pursuit of racing.

It is a bit of an acquired taste, something you would expect when your father is a NASCAR legend.

Daddy died as a NASCAR icon. Junior just wants to stay alive enjoying life’s other pleasures.

His decision to retire and focus on family and health was recently reaffirmed while watching a Martinsville practice round. He felt nauseous from concussion issues that played the major role in his decision to retire after the 2017 season.

“My doctor explained that my vestibular system had never been in that situation before,” Earnhardt said during his “Dale Jr. Download” podcast last week.

“And I got to thinking that, ‘Yeah, I had never been down in the corner watching cars practice.’ Never have. Never been there since I’ve been a kid. Never done that in years, since I’ve been in the car. When I was out of the car, I was never standing 25 feet away from them watching practice.

“That was a real extreme environment to be in, and it made me trip out,” Earnhardt said. “Gave me some symptoms and stuff that reminded me of the illness I had a couple years ago with the head issues.”

Junior already has said he would donate his brain for research — more specifically, the Concussion Legacy Foundation — in the fight to connect the dots between a contact sport like racing and the perils of CTE.

But he has other less pressing battles that reflect a man at peace. Junior and his wife Amy Earnhardt are expecting their first child, a life moment that truly brings him joy.

“One month to go!” Junior tweeted last week. “@AmyEarnhardt has been amazing. She’s very tired but feeling good. She’s my hero through these last 8 months.”

Between tweets and podcasts, Junior remains one of the most accessible athletes in cyberspace. He doesn’t just tweet, he responds to fans, always willing to engage.

That takes him into fantasy land as well. He will be part of the “NBC Sports NASCAR America” fantasy league that begins this weekend at Texas Motor Speedway. Available on NASCAR’s Fantasy Live platform, the 10-week league will allow fans to set their fantasy lineups and play against some of the most notable names in the business.

That includes Earnhardt Jr. (@DaleJr), Dale Jarrett (@DaleJarrett), Jeff Burton, (@JeffBurton), Kyle Petty (@KylePetty), Steve Letarte (@Steveletarte), Rick Allen (@Rickallenracing), and Krista Voda (@Kristavoda).

Junior being Junior, he announced his plans to participate before NBC released the news to the masses.

“I sent this tweet out a lot earlier than my employer wanted me to. I’m just excited,” he tweeted. “There will be an official announcement later about all this that will make lots of sense. #NASCARAmericaFantasy.”

No worries, Junior. What you are doing these days makes a lot of sense. Here’s to a good life.

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Three athletes from Bethune-Cookman University were among the seven participants in the recent NASCAR’sDrive for Diversity Pit Crew Combine at Daytona Beach.

Quarterback Larry Brihm Jr., linebacker Alexander Morales and Courtney Walker, who ran track in high school and college, joined four others with aspirations to become a professional pit crew member on a NASCAR national-series team. Participants tested their strength, agility and power in a series of skills.

The goal is to be selected by program director Phil Horton to take part in the national-developmental combine in May in Charlotte, N.C.

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Morgan Shepherd will attempt to make his 1,000th career NASCAR national-series start at Texas this weekend.

He is 76 years old.

Assuming he qualifies for the Xfinity Series race, Shepherd will join seven other drivers who have made 1,000 or more career starts, including Richard Petty.

“I don’t keep count,” Shepherd told espn.com. “I enjoy the race fans and the racing. God has blessed us being here this long.”

Shepherd has 517 Cup starts, 425 Xfinity starts and 57 Truck starts. A devout Christian, he races as a means to spread the good gospel.

“It’s more or less an opportunity,” Shepherd said. “We carry the cross on the hood of our car and we’re ministry-minded. I try to encourage people to get up off the couch and do something with their life.

“That’s what I do.”

Nothing against religion or a man chasing what he wants to do at a later stage in life, but Morgan is wasting valuable real estate on the track. He hasn’t won a Cup Series race since 1993 and his overall average finish during the last four years is 37th.

Would anyone like to see Tom Brady, LeBron James or Manny Machado playing sports at 76?

Thank you.

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By George Diaz

Orlando Sentinel