Craven’s experience sparked new perspective on concussions in auto racing

All of the NASCAR world is buzzing about Dale Earnhardt Jr.
What a courageous guy he is for getting out of the car because of concussion issues! How brave! How it may cost him a championship but that it’s the right thing to do!
Here’s what I say.
Where were all the accolades when Maine’s Ricky Craven did the same thing. He crashed. Got a concussion. Suffered postconcussion syndrome. Decided to get out of the car and get healthy…then lost his ride.
Many New England race fans remember what happened back in ’90’s: the Talladega crash in the No. 44 Kodiak car in 1996; the Texas Speedway crash in the No. 25 Bud car during practice in 1997; the Wally Dallenbach takeover in 1998.
Back then, concussions led to garage whispers. “Perhaps he’s lost that toughness. Won’t put the peddle to the metal. Driving a little tentative?”
The fact is Ricky Craven was a trailblazer on this issue. Earnhardt and every other NASCAR driver should thank him.
I remember 1997 so well. Craven was driving the prestigious No. 25 Budweiser car for Hendrick Motorsports. At the Daytona 500 the team finished 1-2-3. Jeff Gordon-Terry Labonte-Ricky Craven. Five weeks later, fourth place in points, Craven crashed in that practice session at Texas and missed the two races. When he returned Craven scored a win in the mid-summer all-star race. For the season he finished 19th in points.
In 1998, Craven drove in the first four races. But something wasn’t right. I remember him telling me he was having trouble with his balance. It really bothered him to fly. He decided to get out of the car to get healthy again. He had postconcussion syndrome.
After missing 13 races, he came back to race the Bud car in the Loudon, N.H., race. Craven won the pole position and finished 29th.
A 41st-place finish the next week followed by a 17th and a 35th finish and that was it.
Just before the 1998 Michigan race, Ricky Craven was out and Wally Dallenbach took his job. Thanks for the patience, Hendrick Motorsports.
The NASCAR garage didn’t seem to care much about concussions at the time. Just win baby!
To Craven’s credit he came back and had some good times with the No. 32 Tide Ride team in the early 2000’s and retired in 2005. I think he’s one of best analysts on ESPN today.
In my opinion, Ricky Craven’s story started a new look at concussions in his sport, just as it’s happening these days in the NFL, the NHL, all sports really.
Here’s hoping Dale Jr. gets healthy…and keeps his job more than four weeks after his return.

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