After suffering debilitating health issues, NASCAR’s Brian Vickers is ready to get behind the wheel again. Jeff Pappone talks to the comeback kid about setbacks and starters’ orders…
Seven months, four weeks, and five days after blood clots sent him to hospital and forced him onto the sidelines, Brian Vickers is finally back where he belongs: Behind the wheel of his No. 83 Red Bull Toyota.
Vickers spent a few hours this week reacquainting himself with his crew and getting back into the swing of driving the 5.8-litre, 850-horsepower Sprint Cup racer after missing most of the 2010 NASCAR season due to a medical condition. And he couldn’t be happier.
“It felt damn good to get back in the car: everything fit, everything felt right, everything was just the way I left it last May. Just to fire the car back up was awesome, and then to punch it for the first time was such a great feeling,” he said after his first laps in the car on Monday.
“We are here to get more seat time for me and so I can back in groove with the road crew. I don’t think we are going to learn anything groundbreaking today, but it's really just a great chance for us all to work together, and the bottom line for me is just to get back in a race car and log some laps.”
Vickers put the No. 83 through its paces with new Red Bull Racing teammate Kasey Kahne for a two-day test session at the one-mile, triangle-shaped Walt Disney World Speedway in Orlando, Florida, that ended on Tuesday. Driver Scott Speed was released by the team late last year to make room for the incoming Kahne.
While the test was more about getting comfortable in the car again rather than working on anything specific, Vickers still breathed a huge sigh of relief after the test.
“It was just a huge weight off of my shoulders, not only for myself, but for the guys on the team,” the No. 83 Red Bull driver said. “There were so many rumours, assumptions and speculations about my health and status for 2011, but today hopefully put all of them to rest.”
The 27-year-old shocked the NASCAR paddock in late May when he announced that blood clots in his lungs and left leg would keep him out of the car for the rest on the season. He started only 11 races last year before ending up in a Washington, D.C., emergency room after suffering chest pains during a visit to the U.S. capital. He spent a few days in a local hospital before returning North Carolina for further treatment.
'Just to fire the car back up was awesome'
In the end, Vickers was diagnosed with May-Thurner Syndrome (MTS), a condition where the iliac artery in the leg puts pressure on the corresponding vein and causes clotting. The blood thinner treatment for the condition made it too dangerous for him to compete and he reluctantly stepped away from racing.
In August, Vickers added to the shock by revealing that he underwent open heart surgery to seal a hole between his left and right atria - the two upper chambers of the heart - and to install tiny mesh tube called a stent to help support the iliac vein and prevent future clots.
All along, he vowed to return better than even in 2011 and took a successful first step on the road back this week. He’ll be back in the car late next week for three days of testing at the Daytona International Speedway in Florida with the rest of the Sprint Cup teams. The Red Bull outfit will use the track time to prepare for the season opening Daytona 500 and to test the newly resurfaced 2.5-mile tri-oval.
- Look back on the highlights of 2010 in NASCAR
- Check out Brian Vickers on Facebook
- Visit the Red Bull Racing Team homepage