NASCAR legend Dale Earnhardt Jr. said Friday his career behind the wheel — facing death-defying turns and crashes each weekend — helped "insulate" him from the terror of a near-deadly plane crash.
Speaking to reporters for the first time since he, his wife and year-old daughter survived the fiery crash in Tennessee earlier this month, Earnhardt said a lifetime of going 200 mph had him uniquely prepared for the emotional fallout from the brush with death.
“Being in a race car … you crash into the wall and flip upside down and the first thing you think of is, 'How good is the backup car?' and 'Why did that happen, how can we stop the next car from doing that?' " Earnhardt said at Darlington Raceway in South Carolina.
"I think the repetitiveness of doing that all my life has insulated me from some of the typical emotions and reactions you might have in a situation like that."
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During his 20-minute meeting with reporters, Earnhardt Jr. repeatedly said he didn't want to discuss details about the terrifying Aug. 15 accident at Elizabethton Municipal Airport.
"I don't want to get into all of that, the investigation is going on," Earnhardt said, before relenting and discussing some of his emotions.
“Lot of things in your life that you go through help you sort of order your priorities, reminds you sometimes ... of what's important, what’s not so important. And unfortunately, you don’t want to go through a situation like that. But certainly, there are some positives that come out of it. Remembering what matters, like your family and friends."
Earnhardt stepped away from full-time racing in 2017 and now works as a NASCAR analyst for NBC Sports.
The third-generation driver followed in the footsteps of his father, Dale Earnhardt Sr., a seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion, and his grandfather Ralph Earnhardt, the 1956 NASCAR Sportsman champion. Earnhardt Sr. died in a crash Feb. 18, 2001, at Daytona International Speedway.
Earnhardt also weighed in on this past weekend's stunning retirement of Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck. Colts fans booed their 29-year-old star off the field when word of his retirement leaked before his formal announcement.
The driver said fans need to appreciate all the years Luck put into the sport in high school and college, not just his NFL career.
"He’s at a point now where he wants to go and do something different," the racer said. "I applaud it. I think it's awesome."
David K. Li
David K. Li is a breaking news reporter for NBC News.