Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s Concussion Battle (Full Segment) | Real Sports w/ Bryant Gumbel | HBO

I’m Bryant Gumbel
with HBO’sReal Sports.NASCAR legend Dale Earnhardt Jr. has just begun his second career having moved from Pit Road to the broadcast booth. The change was prompted
by a series of concussions about which Earnhardt has said
fairly little. Tonight, he reveals
the startling details of the health battle
that has changed his life. (CAR ENGINES ROARING) MARY CARILLO:It’s the heart
of the NASCAR season
and America’s best drivers
are in Bristol, Tennessee.
Competing on a short track,known as the fastest half mile
in the world.
But if you think
the biggest star
at this speedway
is in one of these cars,
going round and round
at nearly 200-mph, think again.
Oh, look at Harvick!
He has a big moment there. CARILLO:For the first time
in nearly two decades,
Dale Earnhardt Jr.
is not competing
in NASCAR’s biggest racesbut rather calling them
from a broadcast booth.
…and they’re just switching
back and forth, “Man, I’m not loving the top, so I’m going back
to the bottom.” What made you decide to be
a broadcaster -when you could be doing–
-Doing anything else -or nothing–
nothing at all, right?
-Or nothing. Yes. I’m in the broadcast booth
because I wanna be at the track. You wanna be there,
you wanna see it, you wanna watch it,
you wanna experience it. He gained so much on entry
and he maintains off and he just keeps chopping away,
chopping away, chopping away. CARILLO:For Earnhardt,stepping away from the world
of racing was never an option.
he was born into.
The world in which
he’s considered royalty,
which is why that world
was stunned last year,
when in the prime of his career,Earnhardt made a sudden
and unexplained announcement.
I’ve decided to make this season my last
as a NASCAR Cup driver. CARILLO:Behind that statement
was a secret,
one Earnhardt had been keepingfrom everyone in his life
for years.
One he says, he’s finally ready
to fully reveal.
I kind of surprised everybody
with that retirement and I just felt like,
“Man, I gotta come clean on why I retired.” This information is going
to tell people, “Yup, that makes sense.
I get it.” COMMENTATOR 1:
And around goes Earnhardt
up in the air and over.
CARILLO:Earnhardt endured
countless crashes and collisions
in his career.
That much everyone saw.
What no one knew,
what he refused to tell anyone,
was that many of them
left him concussed.
-CARILLO:He now estimates,he suffered
around 20 concussions
and that his brain
could simply not handle another.
COMMENTATOR 2:Oh, look out! Oh,
and upside down is Earnhardt.
hard for me to accept that.
Like, why did this happen to me? If that didn’t happen,
I’d still be racing today. CARILLO:Racing after all,
is all he ever wanted to do.
As a child he had one goal:to follow in the footsteps
of his legendary father…
…Dale Earnhardt Sr.
Perhaps the most
celebrated driver
in the history
of American racing.
I was just in awe of him.
He was larger than life,
superhero, almost not human. Even to you as a little boy
he was a mythic character. Yeah, you know,
just like everyone else, I wanted to be as close to him
as I could. I’m here with Dale Earnhardt
after he just won DieHard 500. -What’s the question, dude?
-(CHUCKLES) Uh, well, um, how was the race? Well it was hot,
but it was fast. -Yeah? Did you–
-Just like– -Just like you told me to go.
-Yeah. Are you gonna give me
some money when you get home? -I doubt it.
-(LAUGHING) You spent enough
down here this week. Oh, okay. CARILLO:In public,
the popular Dale Sr.
was charismatic and likable.But behind closed doors,
Dale Jr. says,
he was distant and aloof,
even with his own children.
You ask him a question, man,
he wouldn’t even real– he wouldn’t even recognize
you’re in the room. He wasn’t ignoring you,
he just wasn’t hearing you. You know what I’m saying?
So much going on in his brain. He was a great man
in many, many ways. He was not the best father. CARILLO:Kelley Earnhardt
is Dale Jr.’s older sister.
I think he came
to my high school graduation but he didn’t come to Dale’s,
never seen me off to prom, never seen me play softball. I don’t even have any pictures
of my dad in birthdays. CARILLO:And when Dale Sr.
was around, Kelley says,
he was a strict disciplinarian.When Dale Jr. acted out
at the age of 12,
his father shipped him off
to military school.
Over the Christmas break,
I’m enrolled. Boom! Going to military school.
I cried for two weeks. CARILLO:His father’s rejection
stung, Earnhardt says,
especially because he feltthe punishment didn’t fit
his so-called crimes.
EARNHARDT:This is like
what people do, I guess,
when they get sent to prison
or something, they’re like, “I don’t belong in here!
I’m not this bad, you know. I’m– This guy,
he’s killed somebody.” And all the kids around me
were telling me -what they had done,
-(CARILLO CHUCKLES) that got them sent there,
and I’m like, “I’m not– I don’t belong here.” I mean, he is this tall,
everybody else is this tall.He just stood out
like a sore thumb.
And I’m like, “He’s gonna get
picked on really bad here.”
So about three weeks later,I raised my hand and said,
“I wanna go out there too.” That’s a remarkable thing
for you to have done. KELLEY EARNHARDT:You know,
the dynamic of our house,
it was just Dale and I.
It was kind of emotional. -You were on your own a lot
in your childhood.
-Yeah. It’s a good thing
you had Kelley. Yeah, without Kelley I would be,
um, a mess. CARILLO:But the more
Dale Sr. pushed his son away,
the more Dale Jr. wanted to pull
his father close
and as a teenager,he decided to try to follow
his father into racing.
Why did your brother
decide to be a race car driver?
KELLEY:He wanted
to somehow find a way
into my dad’s circle.You know, that was a way
for him to have dad’s attention. That’s all
Dale really ever wanted. CARILLO:Earnhardt raced
his way up the ranks
and eventually made it
to the big leagues,
signing with Dale Sr.’s
NASCAR team.
The first appearance
in a Winston Cup car
of Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Suddenly, father and son
were competing
on the same track.
And in the 12th race
of his rookie season,
Dale Jr. made his daddy proud.COMMENTATOR 4:
Dale Earnhardt Jr.,
first-time Winston Cup winner.I’m like, “I won. I won.”
You know, I finally won. I dreamed of this all my life.And I see dad and he leans in
and he’s like, “Good job.
I’m so proud of you.”He’s talking about
coming to Texas and winning his first cup race, he won
his first Busch race here. We knew the kid could do it. I mean it was just… (IMITATES EXPLOSION)
It blew up.Now, me and him are doing
photo shoots together.
We’d be doing an interview
just like this, together, side by side. -You’re a teddy bear.
-Polar bear. You got a polar bear on your car
but you’re a teddy bear. Polar bears are a lot different
to a teddy bear. And in the down times
of those moments, we would– We’re talking. This is the greatest thing ever. CARILLO:Then,
in Dale Jr.’s second season
in 2001, at the Daytona 500,
NASCAR’s marquee event,
Dale Jr. was poised
for an even bigger trial,
as he was running a close second
with one lap to go.
CARILLO: Tell me
about the last lap of that race.You knew where your dad was
on the track, right?
right behind me.
-COMMENTATOR 5: Get him in–
-COMMENTATOR 6: The three car– COMMENTATOR 5: Oh! Big trouble.
Big wreck behind them. EARNHARDT:I look in the mirror
and I saw Dad crash.
And, you know,
I didn’t think anything of it,
other than, you know,
it’s a wreck.
You know, you see ’em
all the time.
I just hope Dale’s okay. I guess he’s all right,
isn’t he? CARILLO:But Dale Sr.
wasn’t all right.
He’d sustained
a severe head injury
and was rushed to the hospital.There was nothing
the doctors could do.
After the accident, in turn four
at the end of the Daytona 500, uh, we’ve lost Dale Earnhardt. CARILLO:Dale Jr.
was at the hospital
waiting with his uncle
and cousin when he got the news.
I sat with Tony Sr. and Tony Jr. and cried with them
a little bit, and… I don’t remember
what we did after that. We went home. (CHUCKLES) Sometime eventually
we went home. CARILLO:What he didn’t do
was stop racing.
-Not even for a week.
he even returned to Daytona,
the scene of his father’s death,
and he won.
Dale Earnhardt Jr.
using lessons learned
from his father
to go from six to firstand score the victory
in the Pepsi 400.
He was with me tonight,
I– I don’t know how I did it. CARILLO:But before long,the sport
that took the life of Dale Sr.,
began to take
its first bites out of Dale Jr.
In 2002, he endured a crashthat looked eerily similar
to his fathers.
And like his father,
sustained a head injury.
-COMMENTATOR 8:Oh, that’s a–
I’m telling you that is–

It’s a brutal hit.

-COMMENTATOR 8:It is.EARNHARDT:I didn’t know
what was wrong with me.
I just felt like a shotgun,
had went off beside my head. (TIRES SCREECHING) EARNHARDT:The violence
of that crash was shocking
and, uh, I was like radioing
to my crew…
a serious concussion
but didn’t seek medical help.EARNHARDT:Back then
we didn’t have the awareness
and the education,the information
that we have today, to go, “This is a concussion.
I need to take this seriously.” You’d get banged up and go,
“Man, you know, I’m– Whoo! I’m dizzy guys.” Uh, “Wow what a hit,”
you know, it was almost like you’re backslapping about it. CARILLO:By ignoring
his concussion
and staying on the track,Earnhardt was able to keep
his momentum going.
And soon, he was on a roll.COMMENTATOR 10:
Dale Earnhardt Jr.,
four straight wins at Talladega!CARILLO:He grew into
the biggest star in the sport,
backed by not just his own fans,but the millions
who’d loved his father
and had transferred
their support to him.
-KELLEY:The loss of my dadjust put Dale in that place,
I mean, he– They– It lifted him to the place
to really carry the sport. Not only did we take care
of that, uh, core fan base, we grew it. (CROWD CHEERING) CARILLO:Dale Jr.
was seen as a kinder,
gentler version of his father.
Younger and hipper too,
able to market himself
and his sport,
beyond the sports traditional
Southern base.
-I like my music the same way
I like my race cars: fast, and loud as hell. CARILLO:He appeared onMTVand made cameos
in Hollywood movies.
You still owe me that 30 bucks. Oh, no, man.
You said that was a gift. You’re a dirty liar. What you got? CARILLO:He was even featured
in a music video with Jay-Z.
helped NASCAR’s ratings sore
and made Earnhardt
a staggeringly wealthy man
with a fortune estimated
at 400-million dollars.
Rich, famous and single,
he indulged.
He bought this 300-acre property
in North Carolina.
Then, of all things,
had builders recreate
an old Western frontier town,
from the saloon to the chapel.
It’s called Whiskey River. Now, why’d you build
a Western town? Well I wanted a place for me
and my friends to hang out and I didn’t want to destroy
my house. That suggests
some hard partying. Yeah, we would drink a lot
of beer and hang out and have fun
and stay up all night. CARILLO:But when Earnhardt
decided to have
a proper home built
on his property,
his bachelor ways came
to an end
because one of
the interior designers
hired to decorate it
was a woman named Amy Reimann.
EARNHARDT:She’s like,
“What carpet do you want
in this room?
What do you wanna do here?
What do you wanna do there?”
and I’m like, “I don’t care.
I don’t– I don’t– It looks fine. That’s great.
Do it– Do it however you want it ’cause you’re gonna be living
in it one day.” -Did you really say that?
-Yeah. It’s almost too silly
and too good to be true. But it kinda turned out
that way. -It did.
-When you came to understand how big Jr. Nation was, was it a bit overwhelming
to you? It’s pretty nuts
how many people actually love… love my husband
just as much as I do, and they do. CARILLO:Loyal fans,
a wife to be,
success on and off the track,outwardly,
Earnhardt seemed to have it all
but secretly,
concussions were haunting him.
In 2012, he sustained
his worst one yet.
Here I am,
like a month down the road, still waking up everyday
and as soon as you open your eyes you’re like,
“Yup, still there.” What was still there? Just the fogginess
and the mental fatigue, and– It’s almost like a hangover. It’s there every minute
of the day. CARILLO:Still,
Earnhardt kept racing
and eventually
a pattern took hold.
Crash, get concussion symptoms,
suffer in secret,
then race
the next weekend anyway.
I felt like I was supposed
to push through. I felt like I was supposed
to try to make it work ’till it went away. You must have been scared
to death every time you kept
climbing back into that car? There’s so many things
that are depending on you. I gotta try to get through it
and it may go away, and then it’s gone. Nobody needs to know,
problem’s over. CARILLO:But in the middle
of 2016…
Oh! Oh, man. CARILLO:…Earnhardt
finally hit his breaking point.
I started having…
some blurred vision like, at distance way off. I started feeling
some kind of balance problems. CARILLO:At his worst,Earnhardt could barely drive
to the grocery store,
let alone around a race track.My visual was moving
and bouncing and– and independently, you know,
you just– You could– You just– you just have to look
at the ground. Riding in a car, you just stare
at the floorboard and– or– ’cause you couldn’t look– Looking outside would
just make you wanna vomit. CARILLO:Finally,
Earnhardt told someone
what he’d been dealing
with secretly for years.
When he was honest
with me about it, I was really angry. But I didn’t show that
as much as I did my concern because that was
really more important and how do we fix this
and move on. I don’t regret not telling
my wife. I don’t. I– I should have got my ass
to my doctor. CARILLO:Earnhardt knows
that the years of damage
could have long-term effects.During his ordeal,even as he spoke nothing
of the problem,
he wrote meticulous diary notes
to himself.
“Every morning has been
a real challenge with worry about my future. How I’m changed now, how much of myself
I will never recover.” After the injury, the rest of your life
is version two. You’re never the same. Even if you’re 100 percent
symptom-free. I always wonder like, “Hmm,
would I have remembered that if I hadn’t had
that concussion?” And that’s not a symptom but that’s always gonna be
with me. CARILLO: How much
do you worry about him because of all the concussions
he’s had? I don’t worry about him. -CARILLO: You don’t?
-I don’t worry at all. Surely, you’ve read up on CTE.
You know how dangerous… -Yeah.
-CARILLO: …the future could be for your husband. That doesn’t keep you up
at night? Just as I don’t choose to worry
and think about… the concussions in general, I don’t think about CTE or–
or anything like that. CARILLO:For now,
Earnhardt is focused on learning
how to make his new life work,learning how to be
a broadcaster,
not to mention a father,and learning to accept the part
of his life that’s gone.
CARILLO: Are you still sometimes
calling a race in the booth… wishing you were
in one of those cars? If I just think about the pure joy of driving race cars,
and competing, I go, “You know,
I’d love to do that.” If I think about
what I went through with the head injuries,
and the rehabilitation, am I willing
to go through that again? No. Thanks for watching. Remember you can catch the rest of the latest edition
ofReal Sportsall month long on HBO. ♪ (HBO SPORTS THEME PLAYS) ♪

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