According to Dr. Barry Myers, Dale Earnhardt, Sr. died when his head whipped violently forward. Earnhardt died during an impact with the wall on February 18 at the Daytona 500. Dr. Myers' conclusion was the result of his review of Earnhardt's...
According to Dr. Barry Myers, Dale Earnhardt, Sr. died when his head whipped violently forward. Earnhardt died during an impact with the wall on February 18 at the Daytona 500.
Dr. Myers' conclusion was the result of his review of Earnhardt's autopsy images, subsequent to an agreement reached between the Orlando Sentinel and Teresa Earnhardt, the widow of Earnhardt.
Due to the three related deaths in NASCAR last year, the Sentinel had published an investigative series of articles on NASCAR safety prior to the Daytona 500. The agreement with Teresa Earnhardt allowed the Sentinel to have Myers evaluate the photos to determine whether Earnhardt's skull fracture was due to head whip, a blow on top of the head, or his chin striking the steering wheel. (Earlier story)
In the report, Myers, a professor of biomedical engineering at Duke University, stated "Earnhardt didn't die from striking his head on a steering wheel because of a malfunctioning seat belt, as NASCAR officials have suggested."
What killed Earnhardt, Myers stated in his report, was the weight of his unrestrained head whipping forward beyond the ability of his neck muscles to keep it from snapping away the base of the skull, just seconds after the impact with the wall at the Daytona 500.
In the early reports released at the time of his death, Dr. Steve Bohannon, Daytona Speedway physician and the emergency room trauma surgeon, said, "My speculation would be head injuries, basically to the base of the skull." (Earlier story)
In an later report, Dr. Bohannon stated that "Mr. Earnhardt more than likely contacted the steering wheel with his face." Bohannon further speculated that with the broken belt, Earnhardt's body could have been thrown forward and to the right, thrusting him into the steering wheel.
Earnhardt's chin might have hit the steering wheel, causing the major head injury that killed him on impact. A skull fracture ran from the front to the back of his brain. "If his restraint system - his belts - had held, he would have had a much better chance of survival," he said. (Earlier story)
In his autopsy study report, Myers stated,"As such, the restraint failure does not appear to have played a role in Mr. Earnhardt's fatal injury."
Other racing and medical experts had determine that Earnhardt likely died because his head and neck were not held securely in place. In his findings, Myers sided with the other experts and he concluded that due to the injuries sustained, indications are that the seat belt functioned properly through much of the crash, holding back Earnhardt's body.
The autopsy report did find that the underside of Earnhardt's chin struck and bent the steering wheel. That in itself, was a blow that could have been enough to cause a fatal skull injury. However according to Myers, the head whipping by itself would have killed Earnhardt.
Myers concluded his report by agreeing with other experts that better head-and-neck protection devices would have the potential to prevent head injuries but may not have been enough to save Earnhardt. Skull fractures have claimed the lives of as many as five NASCAR drivers in the past 11 months.