Thirteen years ago, Jerry Nadeau’s life changed forever.
During a practice session at Richmond International Raceway, he crashed hard into the wall, driver’s side first. That crash left Nadeau with a traumatic brain injury, immobility on his left side, a collapsed lung and broken ribs.
“That whole day was pretty much wiped out in my brain,” Nadeau said. “I remember when I woke up slowly twenty-one days later. That was the end of my life in racing.”
The crash not only ended Nadeau’s career, but also had great implications for his personal life.
“A lot of tough things happened,” Nadeau said. “I got divorced, had to sell my house and had to start over again. Then I lost my father who I was very, very close to from cancer.”
Nadeau learned that his father was ill just when he was trying to make a bit of a comeback in his racing career.
“I was in Sebring doing some testing, it was going well and I felt like I never left racing,” Nadeau said. “I got a phone call and some doctor told me that my dad had thyroid cancer. I was told he would have no more than three months to live.
“I was with him for a month in the hospital and then back home with hospice. He lasted another month. So, that was tough.”
While Nadeau admits his road has been up and down, he has had some successes recently both on and off the track.
“I’ve got a great wife,” Nadeau said. “I have a little girl who is eight months old. I also have a thirteen year old Natalie from my first marriage. So, I have two girls and that’s really interesting.”
Nadeau has also been keeping his hand in racing in a way that might be somewhat surprising to his fans.
“I love driving and I don’t think I can get that out of me,” Nadeau said. “I got asked to go to Japan a month ago and I did some driving at Fuji Speedway, an old Formula One race track.
“I gave rides in a Lexus LF8, which is a sporty, fast car. It was me and a couple of other good drivers from IMSA and IndyCar and we were doing 180 mph giving rides. That was my first time ever doing a ride and drive program and I f***ing loved it.”
His racing fix also included attending one of dirt track racing’s most competitive events.
“I went this year to one of the greatest weekends in racing, the Chili Bowl,” Nadeau said. “It was amazing and really fun. I reconnected a little bit and saw a couple of people I knew from the past. It was just great to be back.”
Nadeau has also kept his driving skills sharp in a unique way, by helping young drivers handle the challenges of being newbies behind the wheel.
“I do work for an organization called B.R.A.K.E.S.,” Nadeau said. “It’s a driving company where we help teenagers learn to drive.”
B.R.A.K.E.S., which stands for ‘Be Responsible And Keep Everyone Safe’, was started by drag racer Doug Herbert after his two boys were killed in a car accident.
“It’s a four-hour driving clinic and the students get to learn how to drive cars,” Nadeau said. “We put them in precarious scenarios, with skid pads and wheel drop zones, so they really get to learn. It’s really well-run and I think every teen should go through it before they get out on the road.”
In addition to his work on the track and with teen drivers, Nadeau has also been focused on reaching out to others who have suffered a traumatic brain injury.
“People don’t realize that when you have a brain injury, it messes a lot with your computer,” Nadeau said. “Your body is a computer and when you have a brain injury, it hurts that computer.
“I feel for anybody and everybody who has had this kind of injury. It would be cool if I could unzip my body and have you jump in it and tell me what you think. Everyone looks at me and they say that I look like nothing ever happened. But they have no clue unless they could feel and sense what I do.”
While Nadeau is keeping busy with personal and professional pursuits, he also wanted to give a ‘shout out’ to all his former fans, as well as sharing a few pearls of wisdom about his life and life in general.
“For me, right now, it’s all about family and kids,” Nadeau said. “Like so many people, I’m still on the fence on where I want to go and what I want to do.
“I appreciate all of my former fans. But I need them to know that I’m now trying to move on and get on with my new life as it is today. I want everyone to know that you just have to keep going and marching forward, no matter what You all have to know that there will be something on the horizon that will hopefully inspire you.
“That is what I’m trying to hold onto at this point in my life.”
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