Nascar

Dale Earnhardt Jr. opens up about trying to ‘get over’ fear of flying after 2019 plane crash

The plane quickly bounced twice before catching more air and continuing down the runway outside of Elizabethton, Tenn., in the middle of August. Aboard was NASCAR legend Dale Earnhardt Jr., his wife Amy and their young daughter Isla.

The right main landing gear had collapsed and the Earnhardts, along with their family dog and two pilots, kept moving past the runway, onto an area of open grass, through a chain-link fence and up an embankment, before finally coming to a fiery stop on the edge of Tennessee Highway 91.

“[It’s] something you will never be able to forget,” Earnhardt Jr. said at a press conference ahead of the Daytona 500.

The passengers on board were able to escape the plane with minor injuries, but the emotional scars are still fresh.

“It’s really tough on me getting back in the plane, and it will never be the same now that you know the real realities and dangers,” he said. “It will never, ever be the same again.”

The Earnhardt family has made a living racing at high speeds in dangerous conditions. He can’t control everything, but after the August crash, Earnhardt said his perspective about flying has changed. He is going to try and control as much as he can. Earnhardt has studied the optimized lengths of runways for takeoffs and landings. Extended look weather reports have become essential as well.

“I’ve learned so much in such a short period of time,” Earnhardt said. “It’s kind of empowered me and given me more confidence in what we’re doing and that we are safe. … I don’t want to just quit flying; I don’t want to just quit getting into an airplane. I need to get over that fear and work hard to get through it.”

Earnhardt has stepped away from full-time racing, but he remains close to the sport. He’s driven on the NASCAR circuit in each of the past two seasons. He’s scheduled to race at the Dixie Vodka 400 in Miami next month.

He said getting into a race each year helps him in his role as a NASCAR analyst for NBC Sports, but he admits he misses racing and “it’s getting worse.”

“It’s a healthy thing to miss it, to want to do it,” he said. “I think it helps me in the booth to have that energy as a fan. I think one’s plenty, probably one’s more than I should be doing. I got my wife and Isla and all that. I should devote as much as I can to them. One’s just perfect. I think it really helps me remember what drivers are thinking about.

“I really look forward to getting some seat time and smelling the smells and hearing the noises and just enjoying being in the car.”

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