ELKHART LAKE, Wis. — After a frightening crash at Talladega, Eric McClure had to sit out six weeks while dealing with the lingering effects of a concussion.
Now he has received clearance from NASCAR officials and was back in his No. 14 car Friday, practicing for Saturday’s Nationwide Series race at Road America. But after all he has been through — including losing his family home in a tornado last year and dealing with a virus that sapped his strength early this season — McClure at least entertained the thought of not returning to racing.
“Absolutely,” McClure said Friday. “For me, I’ve always said that this isn’t the most important thing in my life. Not because I’m not the most competitive guy. But I’m 33 years old, I have a family, I really enjoy time with them. So naturally, it’s just time in my life, not just because of the accident, that I’m thinking, what’s next?”
The accident is just the latest in a series of setbacks for McClure. In April 2011, he and his family huddled in the safety of their basement while a tornado destroyed their home in Virginia. They had just moved into a new home when McClure contracted Epstein-Barr, a virus related to mononucleosis.
“There’s been a lot of challenges in my life, and I think they’ll make me better down the road, but it’s been nice to be back at the racetrack and be healthy,” McClure said.
McClure said the concussion he sustained in the May 5 race at Talladega was the third of his career, one of the main reasons his doctors and NASCAR officials made him sit out for an extended period of time.
“There’s not really a set timetable for those things and that’s been the challenging thing,” McClure said. “That’s what kept me from coming back was the lingering symptoms. I really felt a couple of weeks ago, after the first two weeks of being away from the track, and having total brain rest, that I was ready. But (my doctor) felt like we needed to wait, and I respect that opinion.”
McClure said he plans to make some changes to his safety equipment in the wake of the accident, but acknowledges those changes are happening gradually — the harsh reality of driving for a team with a limited budget.
“I feel like what I have is good, obviously, but I’m in the process of phasing to one certain type of system,” McClure said. “I have two different types of systems I’ve acquired over the years. And part of that’s being with a small team, you don’t really put a lot of your resources into, I don’t want to say the highest-technology stuff, but you keep it cost-effective.”
For now, McClure has an updated fastening system for the HANS device that protects his head and neck in a crash. His team also is waiting for some new seat belts to arrive, so he can have the same belts he had at Talladega in the rest of his cars.
An avid NFL fan, McClure is aware of the issues some former players have faced later in life after sustaining concussions.
“Obviously, that’s dominating the news now, and I appreciate the sensitivity to it for sure,” McClure said “I love the NFL probably more than anyone. … But I’ve always seen the NASCAR situation as apples to oranges to that, because it’s a different type of environment.”