Vickers has new Cup outlook after health scare

Brian Vickers had a lot of questions when he suddenly found

himself in the hospital last year. Doctors discovered blood clots

in the driver’s left leg and near his lungs, then a hole in his

heart.

He was able to overcome those health issues, but found himself

facing another big question. And finding the answer to whether he

wanted to resume his NASCAR Sprint Cup career wasn’t as easy as he

expected.

”At first, my focus was on living. And then it immediately

turned to racing, and how do I get back in the race car?” the

27-year-old Vickers said. ”Then I had to stop and think, do I want

to go back in the race car? It seems like a silly question, but

when you’ve gone through all that, you start looking at your whole

life from a different perspective.”

When Vickers was pondering his racing future, his first thought

was that he wanted to come back because of the one goal he hadn’t

accomplished – to win a Sprint Cup championship.

”Then I realized it was more than that. If I came back it

couldn’t just be about that. It had to be about something more,”

he said. ”I came back because I just love racing. I love going

fast, I love being in race cars. I love what I do. If I never win a

championship, I’ll still be happy that I came back. If I do win a

championship, I’ll be even happier.”

Vickers went to the hospital last May after having excruciating

pain during a visit to Washington D.C., though he had already

experienced some symptoms in the weeks before that before the pain

began to grow

There had been a tingling and loss of feeling in his left hand.

On the bicycle rides he took that usually covered 60-70 miles, he

was out of breath after only 15 miles.

”Being young and healthy and stubborn, stubborn being probably

the most prominent of the three, and a race car driver, you just

think these things will go away,” Vickers said in a recent

interview at Texas Motor Speedway. ”A lot of times deep down, we

don’t want to admit it, but we don’t want to go to the hospital

because we’re afraid we’re going to be told we can’t race.”

Vickers missed the final two-thirds of the Cup season last year

with his Red Bull Racing Team after being hospitalized. He was out

while being treated for his blood clots and having heart

surgery.

The kid who started racing go-karts at age 10 became the

youngest national series champion in NASCAR history when he won the

2003 Nationwide title as a 20-year-old in his first full season

driving for Hendrick Motorsports.

In his chase for that elusive Cup title, there already has been

some tough luck this season. Vickers was involved in four wrecks

that weren’t his fault in the first eight races and was 28th in

points going into the Easter weekend break.

Vickers started his No. 83 Red Bull Toyota a season-best ninth

at Talladega, and was still near the front of the pack when he got

caught up in an early wreck. There were top-10 finishes at Las

Vegas and California, but he also got caught up in early wrecks at

Daytona, Phoenix and Bristol.

Still, the most important thing is that he is again doing what

he loves after the unexpected health issues last summer.

”I know when he was going through it, I feel like he maximized

the opportunity of appreciating his family and his friends, his

health, as well as having some down time to go experience things

that we don’t get the opportunity to when we are racing,” former

teammate Jeff Gordon said. ”I’m sure he’s enjoying being here and

very appreciative of being behind the wheel of that race car this

year.”

Vickers made his Cup debut for Hendrick in October 2003, then

was teammates as a full-time Cup driver with Gordon, Jimmie Johnson

and Kyle Busch from 2004-06. He got his first Cup victory in the

October 2006 race at Talladega.

After going to Red Bull in 2007, Vickers made his debut with the

new team by finishing 10th at California. He won at Michigan in

2009, and made the 12-driver Chase for the Sprint Cup championship

that season. Vickers then only got to drive 11 races last season

before going to the hospital.

”It was difficult and challenging, but I truly feel that I

walked away a better person, so I’m very thankful for the

experience,” he said. ”I know that sounds weird, but I am. Like

it was a much needed break in a long career and hopefully a much

longer career moving forward. But I definitely thank God for it

because I learned a lot from it.”

Vickers said he has a new appreciation ”for the moment, and

every day.” He said he has discovered a balance between

understanding and appreciating that life ”is not infinite” and to

cherish every moment without wasting time. But he also knows there

are times not to rush, such as when talking with his grandmother on

the phone.

He believes all that has helped make him a better driver. His

personality and character translates into how he drives, while his

intensity and passion make him even more competitive on the

track.

”Glad to see him back. The good thing is the little bit that

we’ve seen on the track, it’s like he hasn’t missed a beat,” Tony

Stewart said. ”He’s one of those guys that he never disappeared

when he couldn’t drive the car. He was still around a lot. … He

was very upbeat last summer and last fall, as upbeat as you could

ask somebody being, probably more so. I thought he handled it real

well.”