NASCAR & Auto Racing

Ghost saved NASCAR’s Dale Earnhardt Jr. from fiery 2004 Sonoma wreck, says driver

Dale Earnhardt Jr. is now retired from racing, but there has never been a more charismatic figure in the sport.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. is now retired from racing, but there has never been a more charismatic figure in the sport. jsiner@charlotteobserver.com

Dale Earnhardt Jr. revealed this week that a ghost pulled him from a fiery 2004 wreck during an American Le Mans Series race in Sonoma, California.

On his weekly Dale Junior Download podcast Tuesday, the retired NASCAR driver fielded a question from a fan named Imelda. She wanted to know if he’d ever encountered “the supernatural, ghosts, Bigfoot, etc.,” according to the podcast on Twitter @DirtyMoMedia.

After saying he didn’t believe in Bigfoot, the 43-year-old Earnhardt said he does believe in “paranoia activity.”

The fumbled word drew laughter in the recording studio, before Earnhardt corrected himself by saying “paranormal.”

“I do believe in that stuff,” he continued, according to the recording of the session on Twitter. “I think that our personalities and our souls, we’re so much more than blood vessels and bones and muscle .. and I feel it’s quite possible that when our bodies die, maybe there’s a spirit capable of continuing on, in certain situations, not all of the time.

“I don’t think I’ve ever encountered a spirit or seen a ghost with my own eyes,” he continued “ ... I might have seen some ‘paranoia’ activity, but I’ve never seen a ghost.”

Then co-host Mike Davis reminded him of the wreck at Sonoma Raceway. Earnhardt was hospitalized with burns to his chin and legs, The Associated Press reported at the time. The car turned into a “fireball” and was destroyed, according to the AP.

“OK, this is a little dark, morbid, heavy, whatever people want to think, a looney,” Earnhardt said on Tuesday’s podcast. “When I wrecked in the Corvette in 2004 at Sonoma and it caught fire, somebody pulled me out of the car” by grabbing him under his armpits.

When Earnhardt was taken to a hospital, he said he asked, “Who was the guy that pulled me out? I need to talk to that guy. I need to say thanks.”

Told that he’d left the car by himself, his response was, “B------t,” Earnhardt said on the podcast.

Many athletes thrive on superstition.

Driver Sterling Marlin ate the same type of bologna sandwich before his two Daytona 500 wins, Bleacher Report noted in its 2013 article, “The Strangest Superstitions in NASCAR history.”

The late driver Davey Allison watched a movie before each race, according to Bleacher Report. If he finished well, he’d watch the same movie before the next race.

A driver who finishes in the top 10 one week “will wear the same T-shirt under his fire suit week after week,” Sports Illustrated reported in a 2011 article about NASCAR driver superstitions.

Earnhardt may be unique among drivers in his Good Samaritan-ghost encounter, however.

“It was physical hands grabbing me,” Earnhardt said on his podcast of what he remembers recalling at the hospital about the wreck. “And there was nobody there.”

Most of the podcast -- and fans’ online comments about it -- focused on Earnhardt’s interview with retired driver Terry Labonte.

Some fans, however, couldn’t resist adding #paranoiactivity to their tweets.

Joe Marusak: 704-358-5067; @jmarusak
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