#TBT: Broken collarbone can’t keep Dale Earnhardt down at Watkins Glen


Editor’s note: This story originally ran in August 2015.

Dale Earnhardt earned his “Intimidator” nickname by handing out some lickings on the race track, but he could take one, too, as he proved in 1996 at Watkins Glen.

Earnhardt couldn’t breathe and he couldn’t raise his right arm as NASCAR’s premier series headed to the road course in New York. He had been in a hard wreck at Talladega two weeks earlier, and suffered a dislocated sternum and broken collarbone. But he wanted to both qualify and race at The Glen after running just six laps at Indianapolis one week earlier before handing over the No. 3 to relief driver Mike Skinner.

Dr. Jerry Punch recalled in 2013 for NASCAR.com how he was called to the motorhome with Dale and Teresa Earnhardt and Richard Childress as the debate went on about whether Dale would pilot the Goodwrench Chevrolet that weekend.

“In spite of us telling him how dangerous it was, and how painful it was, he wanted to be in that car,” Punch said. “Richard and Teresa were getting me to help convince him to not get in the car, for his own safety. He looked right at Richard and said, ‘If you tell me, Richard, I’m going to hurt this race team by being in your race car, I won’t get in it.’ Richard said, ‘Are you kidding me? You’re Dale Earnhardt. I can’t tell you you’re going to hurt my race team by being in my car.’ And Dale said, ‘All right, it’s done.’ “

A loose sternum was very disconcerting at the road course, as any impact could send bone fragments into nearby vital organs — the heart and lungs.

But those around Earnhardt seemed more worried about his body, while he concentrated hard on the racing. All that shifting and steering didn’t stop the tough-as-nails driver, who reportedly used his knees to help steer on his way to winning the pole for The Bud at The Glen.

Earnhardt stayed in the car for the whole race on Aug. 11, 1996, as well — despite Jeff Green standing by in case he needed or wanted relief. The No. 3 finished sixth.

After finishing the 220.5-mile race, Earnhardt said, “It hurts. But it’s a good hurt.”

That season he wound up fourth in the points standings.

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