As a result of injuries, including a concussion and internal bruising, sustained in a vicious crash during the Aaron’s 312 NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway on May 5, driver Eric McClure was sidelined for Friday night’s VFW Sport Clips Help a Hero 200 at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway. Instead, Jeff Green filled in to pilot the No. 14 TriStar Motorsports entry.
McClure still made the trip to Darlington, though. And he held a press conference to discuss his crash and injuries. Below, is a transcript from that press conference:
How are things going after the accident?
“The first thing I need to say is that when I started racing, I always dreamed about having this opportunity to be in here (media center) under different circumstances. It hasn’t panned out that way. I’m doing okay — about as well as can be expected. I’m definitely sore and battling some things this week. It’s obviously been a very long week for me and my family. I’m thankful — I’m thankful to be here and certainly very thankful for the safety initiatives and everything NASCAR’s put on display over the years — certainly, firsthand experience — very grateful for that. I would just like to say thank you to everyone. There’s been a lot of calls and concerns about my health and well-being last week — a lot of outpouring of support from the fans and peers in the sport, some of the competitors. Most importantly I would like to say thank you to NASCAR, the NASCAR medical liaison team, Talladega Superspeedway and UAB (University of Alabama Birmingham) — a lot of care there, a lot of professionalism that certainly helped me through the process and I’ll always be thankful for that.”
Do you have any recollection of the crash?
“I remember bits and pieces of everything. It’s very spotty at times after the impact. I just remember being really excited — we were in a good position and I felt like I had an opportunity for our first top-10 and we were just in a pack there. Saw the smoke ahead of me and went to hit the brake pedal and the brakes were not there. At that point, I just remember getting hit by someone and going towards the wall. At that point, I just braced for impact and that’s really all I remember until after the accident.”
Have you ever raced without a HANS device or head restraint?
“No, not even in late models.”
What injuries did you sustain and how soon do you want to get back in the car?
“There was a lot of speculation about what the injuries were. I’m not familiar with the communication process there. The largest thing we battled was the internal bruising, which is still quite painful, and the concussion. As far as getting back in the race car, we’re following the process that NASCAR has in place — it’s a very thorough process and a very good process. We’re consulting with the doctors on that. Once they feel that I’m cleared to get back in the race car and that I’m ready to get back in the car, then I look forward to doing that. We’re definitely preparing the best we can to do that as soon as possible.”
Do you know how your injuries happened?
“I’m not sure. I’m probably not the right one to ask. It’s probably speculation at this point. Honestly, I remember just before the accident and then I remember pieces of the safety workers there — they did an excellent job getting me out of the car and I remember bits and pieces of that and then I remember the helicopter ride. I don’t have a lot of recollection there so it probably wouldn’t be accurate if I speculated on that.”
Did you ask the safety personnel what was wrong with you?
“You know, obviously I’m a human being and it’s a good question. It was all new to me — the surroundings and everything. I was not familiar with what was going on. Once I was at the point where I was able to communicate regularly, if I heard them say something I didn’t understand I would try to get a clarification or something in laymen’s terms that helped me. I remember being really scared of the helicopter because I don’t like to fly. It was just a lot of talking to help me feel better and just waiting to hear what they had to say and what their plans were. Definitely if I didn’t ask a specific question or talk to them or try to be funny to make myself feel better, they weren’t paying a whole lot of attention to what I was saying. They were making a plan and I’m thankful for that too.”
What has this been like for your family?
“I have four daughters and the oldest one is five. I was able to see them Saturday night and I’d be lying if I said it didn’t affect our oldest daughter just a little bit. Fortunately, they didn’t see the accident. They were at the track, but they did not see it live. I think there was a lot of unknowns in the interim right after that. Fortunately, my wife is a nurse so she’s had experience with things like this, obviously not with us. I hate for them to go through anything like that, but I will keep most of it private, but there were times with the family when things died down at the hospital that made me understand how loved I was by them and made me very thankful that I had a family like that. This week, it’s been good. Our three-year-old, she’s tried to doctor me several times — brought the little stethoscopes in and told me she was going to make my heart better and try to rub the bruises away and things like that. It was really sweet and I think they are doing okay with it. I’ve really enjoyed our time together this week.”
How old are your daughters?
“I have a five-year-old, a three-year-old, 21 months and eight weeks.”
What happened to the brakes in your car and how hard was the accident?
“We’ve communicated a little bit about that with the things I’ve had to do medically this week and being in the hospital. I haven’t communicated for the entire data or everything that happened. I do have some idea of the impact and things like that. It was a really high number and it’s pretty awesome except for the fact that we had to go through all of that. I had no idea the brakes were out. We had it the whole race. Right there on the green-white-checkered, on the restart — it was a slow start and everyone bunched up and I remember having brakes because we were dragging the brake a little bit to try to bump someone or stay in line or get a good start and not lose too much time. The next time I hit the brakes was when I saw the smoke and they just weren’t there. It’s a little bit of a heart-sinking feeling right there and, obviously, that created the impression that I was speeding up or going faster than everyone when I hit. Obviously I was — I’m just glad it wasn’t worse.”
Did you ever question whether you wanted to race again?
“No. I love to race. Sometimes I question how good I am at it sometimes. Never had a doubt that I wanted to do it again. Obviously, when you’re in a situation like that and things are happening fast and you’ve just been through something like that, you’re a human being and thousands of things run through your head. As far as questioning my desire to do this, I don’t. I look forward to going through the process that NASCAR has laid out, getting the right clearance when it’s time to come back and at this point, when they do that, I look forward to doing it and racing again and trying to get better.”
How can you compare safety improvements in NASCAR to the NFL?
“I think you can’t put into words the advancements that NASCAR has made in safety. I love football. I study the NFL (National Football League) and college football and I think the concussion reports are apples to oranges based on the nature of our sport. You generally don’t hear a lot of stories or reports of concussions in our sport and I think that’s a testament to NASCAR and what they’ve done. We’re all fans of NASCAR. We all grew up watching it, wanting to be a part of it and I think we’re guilty sometimes of trying to be critical of NASCAR as a whole sometimes and point out things that we don’t always agree with. I was a skeptic of the new car and everything they did and never questioned the safety and the SAFER barrier, but I was always one that, ‘Hey, they need to worry about this instead of this,’ but experiencing it first hand, I think the initiatives they have put in place is very good and I think a lot of people don’t understand how proactive NASCAR has been. We know all about the media and the racing and the venues and everything, but what we don’t always see and I was guilty of not paying attention to it is what they’re doing behind the scenes to stay ahead of the curve on all the safety and things like that. I experienced it first hand and all I can speak from is my experience in NASCAR and it’s been amazing what they’ve done and I’m thankful they did it.”
Have you spoken to your uncle, Larry McClure about the accident?
“Well, I spoke with Larry (McClure) — I’ve spoken to a lot of people and it’s amazing to see how many people have come forward and offered their support and assistance and that’s really humbling for me as a somewhat anonymous guy. Larry was one of the first people to call, as were — my father was there and as were there brothers. They’ve seen a lot over the years, both good and bad. They certainly, I guess because I was a family member, they didn’t want to say anything other than they were worried, they were praying for me and concerned. I was appreciative of that. Growing up working at the shop, I’ve seen some of the cars that have come back from tracks and you just look at it and be like, ‘Wow, somebody was lucky. Somebody was blessed.’ And I don’t really know how to say anything other than say the same thing. In our family, we’ve seen a lot, but I think that’s the first time we’ve experienced something that close.”
What is your timetable for returning to your vehicle?
“That’s a good question. I don’t have an answer for that. I would hate to speculate on when I get back in the car. Like I said, NASCAR has a great process in place and we’re following it in trying to do everything that they say. There’s various time periods that are needed for proper healing and things, but once we go through this process and the doctors feel that medically I’m cleared to race then that’s what we’ll do. I can’t speculate on when that is. I would love to be back in the car as soon as possible. I look forward to doing that — I’m excited. I really hate not being in the car here (Darlington Raceway). I really like this place and I feel like I’ve been fast here, so I wish there weren’t fun race tracks coming up. I wish it some of my worst ones and then I would be like, ‘Well, maybe we’ll take some more time,’ but right not we’re just doing what they say. I got back for more evaluations next week and, at this point, I would just say week-to-week.”
Have you ever had a fear of racing and do you consider yourself tough?
“Well that’s a good question. Thank you. I think I’m a lot tougher now. Mario Andretti said on Twitter I was really tough, so that must mean I’m really tough. You know, I’m not worried about the race car. I’m not scared, especially now. I think that I’ve hit about as hard as you can hit. I never have been scared of the car. That’s one thing I can — some of the frustrations I’ve had in my career, I can’t credit that to fear and uncertainty, but certainly not now. I joked with Jeff Green and Mike Bliss just this week that maybe I can drive the car harder now, because I don’t have to worry about it because everything’s in place — the safety equipment is amazing. It’s just been a crazy thing. You can talk yourself into or out of anything, but if anything I think my confidence will be a little higher just from the safety initiatives and how safe our sport really is. It’s always dangerous, but it’s a lot safer than it ever has been. For me, it’s just a neat opportunity to be able to come and talk to you guys and be here and watch how it works from outside the seat. I will say this — this is probably neither here nor there — there has been some good things come out of everything this week. I got to meet Jeff Gordon and that was really cool — I’ve never got to do that in the five years I’ve done this. And growing up with Morgan-McClure (Motorsports) and watching him revolutionize the sport was kind of cool. So, evidentially a lot of people have paid attention to this, so we felt like it was a neat opportunity or necessary to come and just let everybody know that we’re doing okay and we’ll push through it the best we can and get back as soon as possible.”
Photo courtesy of Getty Images for NASCAR