Nadeau Visits NHIS
July 18, 2003 | 5:40 P.M. EST
IT’S GREAT TO SEE YOU BACK, AND HOW ARE YOU DOING?
Nadeau: "I’m doing great. I didn’t get much sleep last night, but I’m doing great."
GO THROUGH THE PAST 11 WEEKS AND TELL US A LITTLE ABOUT WHAT HAS GONE ON.
"I’m working with great doctors and great therapists. It used to be five days a week I would go to physical therapy and stuff, and then we brought it down to three days a week. I’ve been spending time with my wife Jada and my kid."
ARE YOU PLANNING TO RETURN TO THE COCKPIT AND WHAT IS THE TIMETABLE FOR THAT?
"I do plan to come back. Timetable-wise, I think it’s really a matter of time. I can’t tell you it’s going to happen next week or the week after. A doctor can’t schedule or plan when you can come back. Once I feel good. We’ve already talked about starting out in go-karts and going to some tracks, then taking one of the cars from the shop and going to Concord (N.C.) Motorsport Park. Last week, I ran the go-kart and it felt like I never left."
WHAT HAS IT BEEN LIKE FOR YOU IN THE HOSPITAL, COMMUNICATING AND SO FORTH?
"It’s been pretty good. Obviously, it’s been frustrating to know that you can’t move around. The damage I’ve done to my brain...I can’t really feel the left side of my body, but it’s all there. I can do the same things I used to do before. The doctors have been great. My wife has really been the strong bone of this whole thing and she’s all for me getting back in the car. She knows the dangers and she understands how much I really do love racing, so I have all her support in coming back and being better."
CAN YOU DESCRIBE THE RANGE OF EMOTIONS YOU’RE FEELING RIGHT NOW, COMING BACK TO THE TRACK AND SEEING EVERYONE?
"Do you want me to jump up and scream? It’s been exciting. I’m glad to come back here at New Hampshire. This was the second Cup race I did after Michigan in 1997, and I had three wins here in an open-wheel car. So it’s exciting to come back here at New Hampshire. It’s more exciting to come back because of the team. I have a great team behind me. The U.S. Army, USG Sheetrock, they’ve been so supportive the last two months. If I was with any other team, they would have drop-kicked me, threw me to the curb and said ‘he’s done.’ But I have a great team manager in Jay Frye, he’s sticking by me, and it’s just a matter of time. I’ve got to wait. I’ll know when I’m ready, and I think Jay knows that. It’s more of a mind thing. Physically, I’m fine. I’ve just got to wait for the brain to heal and I’ll be back."
DOES BEING HERE COMPEL YOU TO TRY TO COME BACK QUICKER THAN YOU WOULD OTHERWISE?
"It does. I’m ecstatic to get behind the wheel of a car. I think Jay understands that. If I was any other person, I probably would have retired or done something else in life, but this is all I’ve ever done in life. I’ve been given a second chance and I’m excited and I’m willing to go through the hard road to get back." WAS THERE EVER A TIME DURING THE LAST 11 WEEKS THAT YOU THOUGHT MAYBE YOU NEED TO STOP RACING OR YOUR WIFE ENCOURAGED YOU NOT TO COME BACK? "My wife, no. There have been times that I’ve thought about it, but like I said, it was brief. When I knew I could move my arms and legs, and when I got back in that go-kart, which was last week, I knew right then and there I was going to come back. I felt good enough to drive a kart. There have been thoughts, but this is all I’ve ever done my whole life."
HAVE YOU TALKED WITH RICKY CRAVEN, WHO OVERCAME A HEAD INJURY?
"I spoke to Ricky. He asked me to give him some tips on Sears Point (Infineon Raceway), and I don’t know if that helped or not. He’s been a good guy. Obviously, there are no brain injuries the same, every one is different. We talked about it, and he understands what I’m going through, because he went through the same situation. He’s a good guy to lean on and get some help from. There are some times when you get frustrated and it’s like, ‘God, I wish it would hurry up.’ When I first got to the hospital at Charlotte, they prescribed a drug called Neurontin, and basically it’s supposed to give you better feeling in your left side. I took it and I was figuring that I would take it and it would be like that [snapped his fingers]. I would just snap my fingers, take it and I would be fine. It’s more of a long road. You can’t just take something and think that you’re going to feel better. I know that’s not going to happen. You have to teach your brain basically what you used to do. It’s like training a dog. You have to tell them to go potty here or go potty there. I’m just going through all the procedures of trying to get myself better."
WHAT HAPPENED IN THE CAR AND WHAT HAS NASCAR SAID TO YOU ABOUT MAKING THE CAR SAFER?
"I don’t know what happened in the wreck. I watched the video the other day with Gary Nelson. I really couldn’t tell what happened. All I know is the car just stepped out. Whether I got in the marbles or not, the car took off, spun out and slapped the wall on the driver’s side. It’s hard to tell what happened to me, whether I slid up out of the seat and went to the left side. I think what happened was that it hit so hard, the g-forces snapped my head to the left side. My helmet did not hit the wall."
JAY FRYE, TEAM MANAGER, MB2 MOTORSPORTS:
"We were very good in that practice. We qualified 12th and we were third in the practice when the accident happened. It appeared that he was making real high, very nice arcs in the corner and the car just came around. One of the things that happened that we talked about was that a lot of drivers have a natural reaction to mash the gas when you’re going backward to keep the car off the wall. Well, it seemed like it accelerated going backwards, so that might have made the impact even harder. Instead of having a four-wheel slide, we had a two-wheel slide with the rear wheels and that could have made for a faster impact."
NADEAU: DO YOU HAVE ANY MEMORY OF MAY 2, AND WHAT WAS YOUR FIRST MEMORY AFTER THE ACCIDENT?
"I remember getting up and taking a shower on May 2. We had a good day. I remember qualifying, I remember practicing and qualifying. There are bits and pieces that I remember, but I don’t remember the whole day. I was basically out for two weeks after the wreck and then when I started coming around, realizing what happened became more realistic. I knew the doctors were around, I saw my wife and my parents were there. I knew that it was a tough situation."
WHAT DID YOU LEARN ABOUT YOURSELF AFTER COMING THROUGH THIS ORDEAL?
"I have a hard head! I have become a better person, mainly to my wife and my kid. You don’t realize how precious life is until something like this happens. My wife and my kid are my No. 1 goal right now, spending time with them. The last month has been great. My wife let me go this weekend, and I think she’s pretty excited, mainly for me, to get back to the track. It gives her some time off. Other than that, that’s about it."
HAVE YOU BEEN SURPRISED BY THE OUTPOURING OF SUPPORT FOR YOU DURING THIS TIME?
"It’s been awesome. The NASCAR fans, the race teams, the sponsors have been super. I remember going to Walter Reed Hospital and seeing the kids who got hurt in Iraq, and that’s like an inspiration. It’s like, ‘man, I can get better. I know I can get better.’ It’s been awesome. The U.S. Army and USG Sheetrock have been awesome. It’s been really good. Everybody’s really stepped in and been supportive."
WHAT TYPE OF PHYSICAL REHAB HAVE YOU BEEN DOING BESIDES DRIVING THE KARTS AND WHAT ABOUT YOUR ENDURANCE?
"Yesterday, we did a 45-minute session in go-karts and I was the only one that lasted, so I think my endurance is pretty good. You have physical therapy and occupational therapy, which is where they work on your upper body. There’s mind therapy, speech therapy. It’s not just about talking. It’s about things that can make you think. It’s like card games, stuff that makes you think. There are a lot of things in therapy that really help. I’ll read a newspaper and then they’ll ask me, ‘what did you read? What is the topic?’ There’s a lot of good things that come out of that."
WHEN YOU REGAINED CONSCIOUSNESS, IT SEEMED LIKE YOUR PACE OF RECOVERY REALLY ACCELERATED. DOES IT SEEM THAT WAY TO YOU?
"Yeah. I think my wife was really glad that I went this weekend. I think it was really quick. I’ve been so anxious ever since I woke up in the hospital to get back on my feet and do what I used to do. It doesn’t surprise me that I’ve been able to go as far as I have. It does surprise me how patient my wife and family are. They’ve been very patient throughout this whole thing. I’m so impatient. I thought I’d be perfect. I thought I’d be able to walk again and run. It’s more of a lengthy process. I had to learn how to walk and go from there."
HAVE YOU SPOKEN WITH STEVE PARK AND HAS HE GIVEN YOU ANY HELP IN WHAT YOU MIGHT EXPECT AHEAD?
"No, I haven’t talked to Steve, but I know he has called. He’s been a big inspiration, him and Ricky Craven. There are no two brain injuries alike. He got T-boned at Darlington and I hit on the left side at Richmond. I have not seen or talked to him yet."
CAN YOU TALK ABOUT WHAT HAS BEEN THE BIGGEST CHALLENGE FOR YOU AND WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ABOUT RICHMOND GETTING THE SAFER BARRIER?
"Really, it’s been patience. I couldn’t understand why it was taking me so long to get everything back. It’s a long process, and I’ve learned to have more patience since the accident. As far as the SAFER barrier, I think it’s a good thing, a good step for the track to do that. Would I be better if there was a SAFER Barrier there then, I can’t tell you that. Whatever NASCAR is doing and whatever the tracks are doing is going to be a plus for the drivers."
IS THIS GOING TO BE A REGULAR THING, YOU COMING BACK TO THE TRACKS THE NEXT FEW WEEKS?
"I hope so. The team is really why I’m here. I remember calling Ryan [crew chief Ryan Pemberton] at Charlotte. They were about to run the 600 and I wished them good luck. He was pretty ecstatic. The team has been really excited since I’ve been awake and alert. They keep me more motivated than anything else. I plan on coming to most of the races with the team to give them my support."
HOW IS YOUR VISION SINCE THE ACCIDENT?
"Am I cross-eyed? We’ve done vision tests and it’s been good. I feel like I’m cross-eyed, but I’m not. My mind is playing some tricks, and it’s just a matter of making it better and that’s what I’m waiting for."
YOU SAID YOU DIDN’T SLEEP WELL LAST NIGHT. WAS IT BECAUSE OF COMING HERE, AND WHAT WAS IT LIKE COMING THROUGH THE TUNNEL HERE?
"It might have been because my dad was snoring, I don’t know. I’m so used to sleeping in my bus at the track that it was pretty hard to sleep last night. I might have gotten a couple of hours, but I’m here."
TELL US ABOUT THE JERRY NADEAU 100.
"I have a good friend who owns a go-kart track about 20 minutes from here, Sugar Hill Speedway, and I’ve sponsored a race the last three years. It’s a fun go-kart track and it’s a fun race to watch."
YOU TALKED ABOUT YOUR WIFE BEING BEHIND YOU ALL THE WAY. HAS THERE BEEN ANY DISCUSSION ABOUT WHAT YOU’VE ALL BEEN THROUGH AS A FAMILY?
"She’s had it tough. Her grandfather passed away two days before my wreck. She was very close to her grandfather, and that was tough. She got the phone call to come down to Richmond, they flew up there and picked her up. I can’t imagine what she went through. She is one tough cookie, and I have to say that she’s been the strong bone of both of us throughout this whole process."
JAY FRYE: WHAT HAS BEEN THE RECEPTION IN THE GARAGE AREA? "We had a few things to do this morning and we really just got here. There have been a few people that have seen him, and they were excited. A lot of people were anticipating knowing that he was coming today, so it will be fun once we walk out of here to go see everybody."
DR. JERRY PETTY: WHAT TYPES OF TEST HAVE YOU ADMINISTERED FOR JERRY IN HIS RECOVERY?
"The testing that Jerry is already doing with the rehab people will continue to affect what tests are done until he’s ready to be tested manually on his driving skills. The battery of tests he’ll go through, he’ll start with neuro-psychological testing to see about recall, memory and that type of thing, which he should do well with. The type of injury Jerry has is one that caused him more in the way of numbness or tingling. It’s not numbness in the sense that he can’t feel you touch him or if you put something in his hand, he recognizes what it is. It’s just that he can feel it much better than he can demonstrate it. Once the lesion in his brain gets better, we’ll start the manual type of testing. The type of tests for Jerry, a driver who has to be in a race car, there is no test that I know outside of that that’s going to tell you that somebody’s capable of going 180 miles per hour with 42 other cars. He’s made tremendous progress. When Jerry asked me to come up here, I called the doctor who is supervising his therapy, and he was definitely positive." CAN YOU FURTHER DESCRIBE THE LESIONS ON JERRY’S BRAIN? "I think that Jerry has three areas of bruising. On all our scans, two of them are very hard to identify right now. The one that is causing the persistent funny feelings on his left side is still present, but it’s getting smaller and this type of lesion should continue to heal."
JAY FRYE: THE INCLINATION IS FOR A DRIVER TO GET BACK IN THE CAR AS SOON AS POSSIBLE. ARE YOU THE CHECK AND BALANCE FOR THIS TEAM TO DECIDE HOW THAT TAKES PLACE?
"I think it will be a group decision. The go-karting part that he talked about, that was something we were talking about having him start in a couple of weeks. He went out on his own and started doing it last week. He was racing his dad, and that might have been the reason he was the only one that lasted. I’m glad to hear he’s reading, that’s good. There are a lot of things going on that he didn’t do before, so that’s good. We’re going to take it very slow. Once he graduates from go-karts, we’re going to give him a little team so that he can go to Concord any day he wants, just wear the tires out on the car, whatever it takes. Once he graduates from that we’ll take him to Kentucky. There’s no timetable, no hurry. This is his team, this is his car. We’re going to take it slow. We’ll all know. The go-karting, the lap times he was running were very similar to the ones he did before, if not faster, so that’s obviously a good sign. We’re very proud of him. He’s worked extremely hard, and a lot of the reason that we are here today is because of his motivation and how driven he is to get back and get better. We’re very proud of all he’s done."