Racing, Concussions and the Road to Recovery

Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Dr. Michael “Micky” Collins

Thursday, December 19 at 2:00 pm

Speaking in Maine takes us next to the University of Southern Maine, for a talk with NASCAR race car driver Dale Earnhardt Jr, and his doctor, Dr. Michael “Micky” Collins, about Earnhardt’s experience with and recovery from concussions. Together they will share the story of Dale’s return to health after suffering multiple racing-related concussions and Micky’s unique treatment approach that put him on the road to recovery

In 2012 and again in 2016, Collins, a world-renowned concussion expert, helped Earnhardt recover from severe concussions and return to racing.

“It’s easy to get up here because Micky gave me my life back twice,” Earnhardt said. “When somebody does that for you, you do whatever they need, any time they need it, for the rest of your life.”

On the first occasion, Earnhardt suffered the worst crash of his career during a test run.

“We were running at 190 miles an hour and my right front tire blew and I hit the wall,” Earnhardt told a sold out crowd at Hannaford Hall. “It was a singular event. It was a hard impact.”

At first, he hid the effects of his injury.

“I would never in the first part of my career thought to seek medical help for a concussion or head injury,” he said. “It was nothing to worry about, and it would go away. I know now that it’s not the case at all.”

After telling his doctor, he was quickly taken to the Sports Medicine Concussion Program at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, where Collins serves as the director.

In just two weeks, Earnhardt was driving again. The second time, it was worse.

“He was very sick,” Collins said. “I didn’t even care about race car driving.”

Rather, Collins treated a man with a severe injury that stole his feeling of being connected to the world. It literally shook his vision and filled him with anxiety.

Collins and his program gave Earnhardt computer-guided eye exercises, prescribed a rigorous exercise regimen and told him to be active.

“With his kind of concussions, you have to attack it,” Collins said. “You can’t let it attack you.”

There are six different kinds of concussions, he said. Among them are vestibular, ocular, cognitive/fatigue, post-traumatic migraine, cervical and anxiety/mood. All require different treatments.

Earnhardt’s recovery is chronicled in his book, “Racing to the Finish.”

“Mickey was extremely great at spelling out everything that was going on,” Earnhardt said. “In 2016, the rehabilitation was six months: four months till I felt normal and six months till I felt like a racecar driver.”

And Collins gave Earnhardt faith that he could get better.

“In the short term we’re very good at treating this injury,” Collins said. “Advances have been made. We know a lot more about this injury. We can get (patients) to feel normal.”

Collins' Pittsburgh center is the largest research and clinical program focused on the assessment, treatment, rehabilitation, research and education of sports-related mild traumatic brain injury in athletes of all levels. He has been an instrumental source across the nation in developing concussion-management policy in youth sports, state legislation on youth safety, the Centers for Disease Control's concussion toolkit, and pioneering targeted treatment pathways for his patients. He is also a co-founder of ImPACT (Immediate Post-Concussion Assessment and Cognitive Testing), the most widely used computerized sports-concussion evaluation system that has become a standard of care in nearly all organized sports at all levels.

At USM, Collins earned a bachelor's degree in psychology and biology in 1991. He earned a master's degree in psychology in 1995 and a Ph.D. in clinical psychology in 1998 at Michigan State University. He received an honorary degree from USM in 2019.


Music by Our Alarm Clock