by Bobby Markos
If you were watching NASCAR in the late 90s/early 2000s you knew this of Jerry Nadeau: He beat Dale Earnhardt for his only career Cup series win at Atlanta in 2000, then suffered a career-ending crash in 2003.
Here's what you didn't know:
In a day and age where there was no definitive ladder to the top in stock car racing, Nadeau transformed a couple top-5s in ARCA and a little bit of luck into a ride with Precision Products Racing, replacing Morgan Shepherd whom he had been spotting for at the time.
On this week’s episode of the Dale Jr. Download, Dale Jr and his co-host Mike Davis sit down with Jerry to talk about that fateful day in May of 2003, when a crash during a practice session at Richmond International Speedway left him in a coma for three weeks with a 6% chance of surviving. Jerry fills listeners in on his long road to recovery, which sees him still improving to this day. Dale Jr. recounts a recent run-in the two had at Costco, where he was blown away by how well Jerry was doing, a meeting that led to this interview.
Dale and Jerry find a lot of common ground in their respective head injuries and decisions to walk away from full-time racing. They also get into Jerry’s racing roots in Danbury, Connecticut, where his father Gerald raced modifieds at the Danbury Fair RaceArena. Jerry discusses his whirlwind path through the world of racing that took him from go-kart championships, to Skip Barber’s driving school, to Europe and finally to NASCAR.
During his seven year stint in the top-tier of stock car racing, Nadeau drove for the likes of Bill Elliott and Dan Marino, Rick Hendrick and Petty Enterprises. He also had brushes with greatness, and recounts his interactions with Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt Sr. and Richard Childress.
The episode winds down with Jerry filling listeners in on where he is today, and how he spends his time coaching race drivers and watching the sport whenever he can. Listeners can expect a revealing conversation that delves into racing related injuries and the path to recovery from them, as well as life after being behind the wheel for so long.
During the show’s opening, Dale fills Mike and company in on some hilarious encounters he had with rats, wasps and jellyfish during his vacation. Dale and Mike also settle the great boat debate in a way that'll leave you surprised. All of this and more on this week’s episode of the Dale Jr. Download - available on this website and all major podcast platforms.
Additional reading about our guest:
Born in Danbury, Connecticut, Jerry Nadeau grew up in a modest family where his father was a full-time roofer and modified racer at the Danbury Fair RaceArena. Jerry received his first go-kart at an early age, and by age 7 won his first karting championship. He would continue to progress in the division and at age 18 won the World Karting Association Gold Cup. He followed it up in 1991 with a WKA Grand National Championship.
During his kart success, he caught the eye of several motorsports talent scouts and landed some opportunities in pavement road racing. This led him to the Skip Barber circuit where he would find much success and in 1991 win the Barber Pro Series shoot-out.
His success in the Barber circuit sent him overseas to race in the Formula Ford Festival, where he would have a longstanding record for best finish for an American driver. In the mid-90s, Nadeau began dabbling in the NASCAR Busch Grand National Series making starts for various teams with little success.
1996 saw him split his time between the Busch Series and the Formula Opel European Series, where he finished 6th overall, the highest for an American driver. This accomplishment allowed him a test for the Formula 3000 series, but the hefty price-tag to enter a full-time ride sent him back Stateside to Charlotte.
When he returned he took a job working for Richard Jackson at Precision Products Racing where he filled various roles, even spotting for the team’s Cup driver Morgan Shepherd. In 1997, Nadeau made two starts in the ARCA series for the team at Charlotte Motor Speedway, finishing 4th and 2nd. When Shepherd departed from the Cup ride shortly after, Jackson put Nadeau behind the wheel and he made his debut at Michigan International Speedway on June 15th. He would go on to race with the team four more times in 1997, with a best finish of 30th at Daytona.
While his finishes didn’t look good on paper, his on track performances were turning heads, and in 1998 he was tabbed to drive a car for the newly formed Bill Elliott-Dan Marino team. He was released from his contract after 16 races and was picked up by Melling Racing to drive the famed number 9. In 1999, Nadeau had a couple of breakthroughs with the team, scoring his first top-10 at Talladega Superspeedway and his first-top 5 at Watkins Glen International. Soon after he was picked up to fill-in for an injured Ernie Irvan at MB2 Motorsports in the number 36 ride.
In 2000 and 2001 Nadeau had his best seasons in NASCAR Cup when he was selected to drive the number 25 Hendrick Motorsports car, replacing Wally Dallenbach Jr. He would win his only Cup race in 2000, during the season finale at Atlanta Speedway. Eventually things would sour and in 2002 Nadeau was let go in the middle of the season. He would go on to drive for three other teams during the schedule, eventually ending up at Petty Enterprises in the number 44. Disaster would strike and Nadeau would get injured during a kart event before the fall race at Martinsville Speedway, sidelining him for the rest of the season.
2003 saw Nadeau back at MB2 Motorsports driving the US Army number 01 car. After finding early success with a 4th place finish at Texas Motor Speedway, Nadeau was critically injured during a practice crash at Richmond International Speedway, when he spun out and hit the wall in turns one and two driver-side first. The injury left him with a 6% chance of survival and in a coma for three weeks. The crash would be the end of his racing career, and took several years of rehabilitation.
Today, Nadeau is a driving coach and still very much a big fan of the sport of racing.