There was a time when Brian Vickers wondered if he would ever race again.
Days after finishing 10th at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway, the then 26 year old was in a Washington, D.C., hospital as blood clots and an unknown heart condition not only threatened his motorsports career but put his life into jeopardy.
Vickers, the 2003 NASCAR Busch Series titlist and a two-time Sprint Cup Series event winner, immediately began a regimen of blood thinners and later underwent dual procedures to repair a hole in his heart and to insert a stent into a vein in his left leg. All the while, he was sidelined as other drivers took turns behind the wheel of his Red Bull Racing Toyota, the possibility of retirement looming over his head.
“There was a point in time where it wasn’t really up to me. We weren’t sure what caused [the blood clots], what happened, am I coming off blood thinners, am I not?” Vickers said during last week’s NASCAR Sprint Media Tour. “Medically we had to answer a lot of those questions. There was a lot of time there where I wasn’t sure if it was even in my hands. Once it was in my hands, I still had a decision to make. If I decided to come back racing, was I going to be thinking about a blood clot every lap? Was I going to be able to focus on my job? Was I still going to love it? Was it time to move on to something else in my life? I had a hard decision to make and there were a lot of things that had to be weighed.”
Yet nearly nine months after the blood clots first surfaced, Vickers has been cleared to resume racing. But it’s a different version of Vickers that returns to the No. 83 Camry for the 2011 season, one that has an altered perspective on life and a greater appreciation for racing after it was nearly taken away from him.
Part of that appreciation stems from seeing others take his place at Red Bull, something that caused him a different type of pain and eventually made Vickers shy away from at-track visits.
“Watching a Cup race that you’re supposed to be in from the sidelines sucks. It’s horrible,” he said. “Dale Earnhardt said one time when he was out of the car that it was like watching his wife cheat on him. That’s pretty much what it felt like sitting on top of that box.”
Perhaps the best medicine for the Thomasville, N.C., native, aside from his lengthy medical recuperation, was climbing back into the car for a preseason test at Walt Disney World Speedway in mid-January, a “special moment” Vickers admitted he “savored.”
With everything that’s happened, Vickers wants to focus on getting results for Red Bull, but he knows what he’s been through will remain a part of him.
“I just want to win a championship. I do believe that the experience has made me a better person and therefore I think that translates on the race track,” he said. “The person you are and the personality that you have is always going to translate in your driving style. I want to use this experience as an opportunity to reach people, whether it’s clot awareness or different things.
“Do I want to be defined by it? No, but ultimately you’re defined by your actions, you’re defined by what happens to you, you’re defined by a lot of things. This is going to be one of them and I accept that. After Daytona, I want to be talking about winning the race, not about clots. But I understand that who I am and what I do and what I’ve gone through, it’s always going to be a part of my life.”