CONCORD, N.C. (Dec. 22, 2003) -- NASCAR driver Jerry Nadeau, who suffereda serious head injury in a racing accident May 2at Richmond International Raceway, continues to make progress. In a question and answer session below, the 33-year-oldDanbury, Conn.native talks abouthis onging recovery and howblessed he feels to be home for the holidays.
Q: How special will thisholiday season be for the Nadeau family?
JN: There's no doubt that I have been blessed to be here -- I don't know how else to say it. I had a very serious accident and was lucky to survive. I don't remember anything about the accident -- I was out cold. But from what I have heard, there was a lot of concern that I wasn't going to make it. This is going to be a very special holidayfor us with it being my daughter's (Natalie Kate, 10 months-old) first Christmas. And I am here to enjoy these precious moments of life. Some people might say I had a very unfortunate year, but I look at it so much differently. We had a healthy daughter come into our lives and I survived a serious accident. That's anything but unfortunate and I feel extremely blessed.J
My good friend (IRL racer) Tony Renna didn't make it. We raced together as teammates in England in the Formula Opal Series. I am so sad about his loss and feel for his parents and fiancee. I was glad that my dad (Girard) and I were able to go to Florida to visit Tony's parents after his accident. His parents were very supportive of him and unfortunately the Good Lord has a list up there and his name was up. He was a good person and I will miss him.
Q: How has your recovery been going?
JN: As fast as I can go. The good news is that I can do what normal people do everyday, I just can't race. I know I have a brain injury that I have to let heal and I am not rushing it. Myleft-side is not coming in as fast as I thought it would. I have feeling, but it just doesn't work right. It's like when your arm falls asleep with a tingly feeling. For me, it's like that 24 hours a day. The doctors say that it should go away, but the problem is they don't know how long it will take. I have accepted that I'm not fully recovered right now, but I am making progress everyday and I will get there. I know I will.
Q: What have you been doing to keep busy?
JN: As much as I can. But I do get bored pretty quickly. I have a shop near my house and built a little dirt track there and we play around with dirt bikes and mini bikes. I also have been making a number of appearances and was honored to be asked again to go to Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington D.C. (Dec. 12) to visit the wounded soldiers. The visits I had there really make you sit back and truly feel how precious life is. I hope I have been as helpful to the soldiers as they have been to me. I am so proud of all of our troops for what they do and the sacrifices they make.
Q: At one time you were planning to be back competing in Daytona for the 500. How hard was it to accept that you weren't going to be ready?
JN: It was more of a relief because I was praying every night for somebody to zap me so I could get better. The guys and Jay Frye (MB2 Motorsports general manager) were encouraging me, but deep inside I couldn't see myself being ready and it was frustrating. I wasn't upset that Joe (Nemechek) was going to drive the U.S. Army car in 2004 -- I was more relieved than anything else. You can only do so much to get better. I try to sleep as much as I can to get more rest for my head and do whatever I can to get better. The doctors say I am doing perfect and feel that I will regain at least 95 percent. But what they (the doctors) can't tell me is how long it will take. I'm going to take it slow, hopefully do a few races in ARCA, Busch and Cup next year and see how I do. If I feel great, then I am going to bust my butt to make sure I am perfectly right for 2005. I can only do so much.
Q: How much pressure are you putting on yourself to get ready for 2005?
JN: None. I am not going to rush or force this recovery program. There is no magic formula for a brain injury. The goal right now is to make sure the U.S. Army car is going to be fast for Joe next year. I am proud that Joe will be driving the Army car -- he's a great guy The Army has been superb to me. They're such wonderful people to be associated with.The Army's motto isnever toleave a fallen comradebehind and that's exactly the way they'vetreated me. I am proud and honored to be part of the Army team.
Q: What have you learned throughout this ordeal?
JN: I've learned plenty about myself.My view on life is a whole lot different. I want to tell everybody who has children to spend more time with them, play with them and be part of their lives. You never know when your day will come. I feel extremely blessed that I can be with my wife (Jada) and see our daughter grow up.
Q: For the first time since the accident you got back into a stock car and conducted a test session at Concord Motor Speedway (Dec. 9). How did you assess your performance?
JN: I wasn't totally back, but probably 80-85 percent. What's important is the test session gave me a baseline to know where I am at and what I have to do. I was hoping to do better, but I set some very high goals when I got there. Concord is a hard track, but overall I thought it went okay, considering I haven't been in a racecar for seven months. Concord is the type of track if you make a little mistake you can destroy the car. I didn't want to take any chances and probably didn't push it as hard as I could have. However, I learned a lot about myself and how far I have come since the accident. I know I have a problem and it's going to take time. I'm not going to put any pressure on myself or have a targeted date to return. This is going to take time and I'm not going to rush it. We'll probably test again next month at a different track.
Q: It seemed like you stopped coming to races during the end of the 2003 season. Any reason for staying away?
JN: Everybody knows I'm a racer and I have been doing this since I was four-years-old when I started in go-karts. It's really hard for me to go to a race track and just watch. I'm a racer, not a spectator. I still have that same motto -- I am not interested in being a banker or to put shingles on houses. I want to race -- it's as simple as that.
Q: How much has the fan support meant to you?
JN: The fans, NASCAR and everybody have been absolutely great. One night I was listening to Benny Parson's radio show and somebody called and asked, "How is Jerry Nadeau doing." I said to myself, 'Oh my God they're still thinking of me.' The same thing happened on Dave Despain's Wind Tunnel show -- fans calling in and asking about me. When I hear that fans are still interested, it really gives me a big lift. It pumps me up and makes me more ready to come back. I just want to thank everyone for their continuing support. It is so overwhelming.
Nadeau's Accident, Recovery Timeline
May 2 (Friday)
Crashes driver's-side first into outside wall between Turns 1 and 2 during practice at Richmond International Raceway. Airlifted to Virginia Commonwealth University Medical Center in Richmond where he is listed in critical condition with a moderate to severe head injury, partially collapsed left lung, fractured left scapula (shoulder blade) and left-side rib-cage injuries.
May 5 (Monday)
Condition upgraded from critical to serious but stable.
May 8 (Thursday)
Condition upgraded from serious but stable to fair. Moves out of the intensive care unit to private room. Doctors say vital signs are normal and continues to show improvement.J
May 13 (Tuesday)
Team general manager Jay Frye is guest on NASCAR/Winston teleconference and says Nadeau continues to be in a semiconscious state and is in the transitional stage of regaining full consciousness.
May 22 (Thursday)
Regains full consciousness and starts to speak. Makes surprise telephone calls to Frye and crew chief Ryan Pemberton.J
May 26 (Monday)
Discharged from Virginia Commonwealth University Medical Center and transferred via MedCenter Air to Charlotte Institute of Rehabilitation where he continues physical, occupational and speech therapy.
June 6 (Friday)
Discharged as inpatient at Charlotte Institute of Rehabilitation. Continues therapy as an outpatient five days a week.
July 18 (Friday)
Attended first race and conducted first news conference since accident -- at New Hampshire International Speedway in Loudon.
July 25 (Friday)
Completed physical and occupational therapy at CIR.
Sept. 5 (Friday)
Returned to Richmond during NASCAR Winston Cup weekend. Paid emotional visit at VCU Medical Center to say thank you to the medical staff.J
Nov. 9 (Saturday)
Teams with his dad (Girard) and former NASCAR great Ernie Irvan in World Karting Endurance race at Lowe's Motor Speedway in Charlotte. The threesome finished first in their racing category.
Dec. 10 (Wednesday)
First time back in stock car since accident. Test session conducted at Concord Motor Speedway.