NASCAR

Vickers back on track after health scare

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Rea White

Rea White has been covering NASCAR full time since 1998. She has won awards from press agencies in Alabama and North Carolina and formerly served as president of the National Motorsports Press Association. Follow her on Twitter.

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As testing continues in Daytona, Brian Vickers admits he’s not one to shy away from things, that his mode is to go out and attack.

So as he sat in a hospital undergoing evaluation last year, his mind already was heading to the track. And that’s when the reality of the seriousness of his condition first became clear.

“I guess you learn a lot about yourself going through these situations,” Vickers said. “Things that I’ve always felt, but I think when you really put it on the line and when something really bad happens, you really learn a lot about yourself. Right in the middle of the battle — if you want to call it that — laying in the hospital bed when I told the doctor that I needed to be at practice — this was Wednesday and I told him, I said, ‘Well, whatever we do I just need to be at practice by Friday at 10.’

“And he kind of tried not to laugh and was like, ‘I don’t know how to tell you this, but it’s going to be a long time before you’re ever in a car, if ever.’ That’s when I was probably my strongest (was) at that moment.”

While some might have been reeling at that point, Vickers — who was sidelined in May and missed the remainder of the 2010 season as he dealt with a blood-clotting issue and heart surgery — immediately dissected the doctor’s words and found the bright spot.

“Trying to figure out and evaluate saying, ‘Okay, you didn’t say that I couldn’t race.’ Kind of like, so you’re telling me there’s a chance,” he said. “Like in the movie ‘Dumb & Dumber.’ One in a million, right? That was kind of my attitude to begin with and my emotional state, I guess you could say. And just focused on how can I get back in a race car? First, focus on my staying alive and then obviously next was getting back in a race car. And it really makes you learn a lot about what you really love.”

How much does he love racing? Vickers says his first question wasn’t how long he might live. Instead, it was when can he race again?

“Don’t get me wrong; it wasn’t like it was that bad, but my lungs were shutting down — that should’ve been my first question, not I need to be in the car Friday at 10,” he said. “At first, through the hospital coming back and trying to evaluate the situation of what’s next and what can I do, how can I possibly beat this? And then as some time went on — a couple weeks went by — I went to the race track and my first time back at the track, maybe second time back at the track was probably my lowest.”

He was dealing with a lot at that point, but he handled it exceptionally well.

He says that it tore him apart to sit on the pit box and be supportive of someone else sitting in his car.

“I was just a wreck — a complete wreck,” he said. “My stress was out of the roof, my medicines weren’t working, they were all over the place. That was probably when it hit me. That’s what I have kind of always known about myself, but I learned . . . (it) was usually in the middle of the battles when I’m the strongest and then when everything quiets down is when it hits me.”

Now, though, he’s back at full strength.

Vickers returns to his Red Bull Racing team in the No. 83 Toyota this season. He has a new teammate in Kasey Kahne and is busy with testing this week. He's beginning his fifth season with Red Bull, the team with which he earned one of his Cup wins. He also won with Hendrick Motorsports.

He’s ready for it.

Daytona test

It's time

Daytona testing puts NASCAR drivers back on track. Check out the action at preseason testing.

He says that he’s under no medical restrictions at this point. He has been working out, biking and swimming to get ready for his return. He is no longer on any medication.

And he admits that it feels “damn good” to get back into the car.

He says that he generally felt that he was going to get back in the car and not really notice he’d been gone despite his eight-month absence. He tested at Walt Disney World Speedway earlier this month, his first time back in the car.

Still, he admits that from time to time there were questions.

“Someone asks you a question enough, you start asking it to yourself even if you in your gut don’t believe it,” he said. “When I got back in the car in Orlando, it felt so good. Even before I pulled in the race track, just to sit in the car. All the belts still fit exactly the same, helmet — it was weird. I don’t know really what I expected getting back in the car, and I remember how to hook everything up in the same order and it all still fit.”

As to the exact cause and nature of his medical issue, Vickers has learned that he may never have exact answers.

“At the time, we felt like the May-Thurner (Syndrome) could have been a contributing factor — being in the car, seated for an extended period of time, dehydration, maybe belts — depending on which doctor you talk to,” he said, referencing a rare condition that causes blood clotting. “I had one doctor tell me he felt he leaned more towards the belts, had one say he leaned more towards the seating position, one leaned more towards the dehydration. They all looked at the May-Thurner. By itself, would that have caused it? Probably not, but it definitely is not helping the issue.”

He says that he’s learned that medicine is “more of an art than a science.”

Now, he seems content to just keep moving forward — and to be back in a race car and getting ready to compete once more.

“There’s a lot of questions that are going to go unanswered, and that goes with anything,” he said. “My situation is not unique to that. In a lot of ways, there will always remain ... unanswered questions. Moving forward, they feel good with me going back racing. I feel good with me going back racing. I’m pretty excited about it.”

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