Earnhardt News
2000 Season

Surgery offers Earnhardt extra benefits
David Poole
The Charlotte Observer

(Jan. 13, 2000)
Surgery got rid of one pain in Dale Earnhardt's neck, and the recovery from that operation is helping him avoid two more.

Earnhardt says the operation he had Dec. 17 to repair a painful condition in his upper back has relieved much of the pain the seven-time Winston Cup champion felt during the 1999 Winston Cup season.

Pressure on the nerves caused Earnhardt's shoulders to hurt and brought numbness in his hands after he drove the black No. 3 Chevrolet in many of last year's races. During the second half of the season, he said, the pain often lingered through Sunday night after a race and into the next day or even two.

"I thought it would get better after the season got over with and I had a couple of weeks to feel good," Earnhardt said.

That's not how it happened, though. Finally, after returning from a trip to Texas to make appearances for one of the sponsors in his vast racing empire, Earnhardt went to Wake Forest University Baptist Hospital in Winston-Salem to get the situation checked.

A magnetic resonance imaging test diagnosed the problem and, the next morning, Earnhardt had what he calls a "little tuning up" on the operating table.

The upside of having the surgery as late in the brief NASCAR offseason as he did is that Earnhardt won't be ready to drive the car in any of the January tests sessions that lead up to the 2000 Winston Cup season.

Testing doesn't exactly float Earnhardt's boat, especially when its at Daytona or Talladega. Earnnhardt's record on those two tracks, where Winston Cup cars use carburetor restrictor plates, indicates that there's not a whole lot left for him to learn about driving a race car around them.

"All of the guys on the team said this plays right into my hands because I don't like to test at Daytona and Talladega and you get out of it," Earnhardt said. "I do."

Jim Sauter will test the No. 3 Chevrolet next week when the teams that will race the new 2000 Monte Carlos get their full Daytona test. Mike Dillon tested the car at Talladega last week as well.

The second bit of unpleasantness that Earnhardt's surgery helped him escape was Wednesday night's visit to the Dale Earnhardt Inc. headquarters in Mooresville by the Lowe's Motor Speedway's media tour.

All things being equal, Earnhardt probably wouldn't choose surgery over spending a lot of time with reporters. But he'd likely take a minute or two longer than you might think to make that choice.

Earnhardt didn't duck out all together. He stood on a stage in the middle of the expansive DEI shop's grand foyer and took a few questions from reporters.

He said he hopes to be released to drive in time to get in a test on Feb. 1-2 at Las Vegas, which would give him a chance to get a feel for the new Monte Carlo and for how he's going to feel in a car after the operation.

Before starting, however, Earnhardt told the media that he'd be making an early exit because he still gets tired in the evenings and can't do all the things he'd like to do yet because of the surgery. Earlier on Wednesday, for example, he didn't get to go horseback riding with his daughter.

The truth is that anybody with anything close to a decent reason would duck out on the so-called "one-on-one" sessions that take place during the annual media tour. That term could not be more false. Drivers are sent to various corners of a room and instantly engulfed in sea of microphones and television cameras and stupid questions.

At the DEI shop Wednesday night, the one-on-one session with Dale Earnhardt Jr. was more like a rugby scrum than an interview session.

As the crowd closed in around him on all sides, the two-time defending Grand National champion who will move up to Winston Cup this year must have felt like he was being involuntarily checked for signs of claustrophobia.

Dale Jr. soldiered through the ordeal. He's a rookie and he still has dues to pay. Not dear old Dad.

By the time somebody asked Junior for the 15th time if he thinks his team is ready to make the jump to Winston Cup, his dad was probably home with a comfy pillow bracing his stiff neck. And he almost certainly was smiling, too.


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