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Vickers Fulfills His Promise To Return To Racing

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Saturday, January 22 2011

New Red Bull Racing teammates Kasey Kahne (No. 4) and Brian Vickers take the high groove above old Hendrick teammates Jimmie Johnson and Dale Earnhardt Jr. during drafting practice at Daytona this week. (Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images for NASCAR)

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor
RacinToday.com

On Thursday, when asked to describe how he felt when a doctor told him that it was doubtful that he would ever drive a race car again, Brian Vickers turned to one of the classics of the American cinema for his answer:

“Kind of like, ’so you’re telling me there’s a chance’. Like in the movie ‘Dumb and Dumber’. One in a million, right?”

But there Vickers was on Thursday at Daytona International Speedway in the Preseason Thunder open test: Driving a race car. His No. 83 Red Bull Racing Toyota. And, with his doctor’s blessing and with tough-to-describe joy.

“Everyone keeps asking me how does it feel to be back? I guess, it feels damn good,” Vickers said. “You look for all of these words and ways to describe your emotions and your feelings and sometimes there’s just nothing to say.”

Causing the doubts about Vickers’ future was a diagnosis by doctors in May of last year about blood clotting problems Vickers was having. The problems were serious – life-threatening serious.

Vickers was immediately pulled from the car and sent into treatment. Part of that treatment included heart surgery.

And it included the dire caution from the doctor.

“Right in the middle of the battle, if you want to call it that,” Vickers said, “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

Red Bull Racing's Kasey Kahne and Brian Vickers sign autographs for fans in the garages at Daytona. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images for NASCAR)

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.’

“The first thing I asked him was when am I going to be back in a race car, not how long do I have to live?  Which, 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.”

Saddled with the prospect that the career might be over, Vickers had to deal with emotional problems as well. He wondered if he even wanted to return to his racing career.

Maybe, he thought, it was time to move on to a new phase in life.

“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.  My first time back I think I was still dealing with a lot of things and everyone was so supportive – the fans, the media, the team, everybody top to bottom in NASCAR.  So, it was kind of out of sight, out of mind.

“Then the next time back, just sitting there on the box trying to be supportive for the team, but it was just tearing me apart inside.  I was just a wreck. A complete wreck.  My stress was out of the roof, my medicines weren’t working, they were all over the place.”

But Vickers began to pull himself back together. He found out – as he puts it – what he was made of.

“I went through everything you could imagine, but in the end through a lot of traveling, chasing some dreams outside of racing that I always wanted to do and some soul searching and spending time with friends and family I realized that I couldn’t not give it another shot,” Vickers said. “I felt like I had

Brian Vickers took the checkered flag at Michigan in 2009. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

unfinished business. There was something that I left on the table that I always wanted to do which was win a championship.  At first that was kind of my drive to come back and in a lot of ways it still is, but in the end what brought me back was just my love for racing.”

Many around Vickers correctly figured that Vickers was not ready to let go of his career, could not let go of his career.

In late September, Jay Frye, the vice president and general manager of Red Bull Racing, stood behind one of the team’s haulers at Kansas Speedway.

Talked turned to the 2011 season and Vickers’ role – a topic which was still being debated in the media.

“Vickers will be back,” Frye said, accenting the world “will”.

On the record?

“On the record,” Frye said.

An on target.

On Thursday of this week, Vickers was pushing his Toyota Camry up toward the 200 mph. There were no restrictions from doctors and there were no blood-thinning medications in his veins.

Next to him on the track and in the garages was new teammate, Kasey Kahne. In side of Vickers was a renewed love for, well, lots of things.

He was asked how it felt.

He said that Thursday was actually his second time behind the wheel as he tested at the Disney track in Orlando recently.

And then, he said, it felt “Like an old shoe, fit right back on”.

– Jim Pedley can be reached at jpedley@racintoday.com

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Saturday, January 22 2011
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