Commentary

McClure ready to race again

Updated: September 19, 2013, 5:38 PM ET
By Brant James | ESPN.com

There arrived a moment in Eric McClure's recovery when the prospect of returning to a race car became an indulgence.

He had been in a hospital bed for eight days and had undergone a kidney biopsy and a battery of tests, and physicians discussed the efficacy of dialysis. Eventually he had begun to recover from acute renal failure without dialysis and began plotting a return to the Nationwide Series.

But plotting a long-term future as a husband and father of five was more important now. The goals could coexist, he knew. But his health couldn't be compromised.

Luckily for McClure, that apparently isn't a question anymore.

[+] EnlargeEric McClure
John Harrelson/NASCAR/Getty ImagesEric McClure, driving the No. 14, earned his best finish of the season -- eighth -- at Daytona in February despite the wild crash that unfolded before him at the end.

"There wasn't anything I could do but sitting and waiting and trying to rest and that's a hard thing because you're waiting on God and nature," McClure, 34, told ESPN.com. "For me, at this point, it wasn't as urgent as it would have been in the past. There was no ego or challenge to get back in the car this time.

"It was a little bit larger scare for us, so we wanted to make sure we were doing the right things that would allow me to be a husband and a father 20 years from now other than worrying about getting back in a car. Fortunately it worked out and we came back."

Cleared by NASCAR to race last week and assured that he will make a full recovery after missing four races, McClure returned to TriStar Motorsports and started and finished 25th at Chicagoland Speedway.

He'll be back on Saturday at Kentucky Speedway (7:30 p.m. ET, ESPNews & WatchESPN).

McClure, who says he's sore due to a lack of conditioning but otherwise passable physically, is eager to conclude the final seven races of the season with an emphasis on finishing in the top 20 in owner's points. He said that will generate bonuses that will allow the company to retain shop employees through the winter.

McClure, whose family owned the now-defunct Morgan-McClure Motorsports team that won three Daytona 500s with Ernie Irvan and Sterling Marlin, is currently 19th in driver's points with a 90-point cushion on the 21st-place driver, producing the only top-10 finish of his 221-race Nationwide career in the season opener (eighth) at Daytona.

"I did my best at first to try to talk them into letting me start the races at least for points," he said. "It was important to the team, although they never pressed that. At the same time I had to go through a biopsy and some other fairly rigorous tests and they were worried that even in just a few laps, if you were to hit the wall, it could cause some big problems.

"I can't say I disagree with the medical procedures in place."

Severe dehydration and the affects in the car were the main concern of NASCAR officials for McClure and his peers, but an impact, he said, could have been damaging to his kidneys.

McClure's personal physicians had to approve his return before NASCAR concurred and set a target date. The process for a return from kidney problems is generally four to six weeks.

McClure said symptoms began to overcome him after a minor crash this spring at Talladega, coincidentally, the site of a vicious high-G-force accident in 2012 that cost him six weeks because of a concussion. McClure drove away from the most recent incident, but problems followed, although he doesn't believe the crash in any way contributed to his condition.

"Over the course of the summer these problems were starting to develop," he said. "It felt like I came down with the flu every other week. There would be times where I would just be really sick and I would try to race through it."

Physicians at first thought McClure was experiencing symptoms of the Epstein-Barr virus he had suffered in 2012, but symptoms continued to worsen until he sought further tests after a particularly bad episode the day after a race at Watkins Glen.

Ironically, cruelly, Talladega might have been the initiation point of McClure's problems, in 2012, not this season. He wonders now whether extended use of anti-inflammatory medication could have exacerbated his condition, since he relied on them for daily functionality after injuring his back.

Frequent use of the readily available over-the-counter drug -- what was once a common treatment for muscle pain for pro athletes -- was considered an aggravator of the condition that forced NBA players Alonzo Mourning and Sean Elliott to require kidney transplants.

"Since the accident in 2012 at Talladega I've had a lot of arthritis and problems set in my back and my feet and I was being treated with anti-inflammatories and a lot of that type medication," said McClure. "I am told that if you're not careful, those types of medicines can do a lot of damage over the course of time and it was nothing for me to take my regular medication and if I had some pains, to take some [over-the-counter painkillers] or something like that.

"It was second nature to do it. It helped me function. It helped me get thought the day on my feet with the inflammation in my back. I am not surprised from what I learned, but I am a little bit more disappointed about not being educated to start with. I take responsibility for that."

Recovered, again, McClure said he is eager to proceed. He assumes his bizarre series of medical misadventures should be over, but "after the last couple of years, nothing would surprise me."

And he wants to be known for something else.

"Maybe one of these days we'll be talking about me because of a win, not all of this other stuff," he said, laughing.

And 20 years from now, maybe, with his wife and five children.

Brant James

Contributor, espnW.com
Brant James has covered the Daytona 500, Indianapolis 500, a World Series and Stanley Cup for the big hometown daily, an NCAA tournament and a Super Bowl. He's walked to the paddock with Kentucky Derby horses before post, ridden to the top of Mount Washington with Travis Pastrana and landed on an aircraft carrier with Dale Earnhardt Jr. He once induced Danica Patrick into a dance number from Moulin Rouge by saying the word "Switzerland." It's been pretty interesting so far.

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