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NASCAR Sprint Cup Series: Daytona Testing

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

Stock Car Racing Topics:  NASCAR

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series: Daytona Testing

Brian Vickers
January 20, 2011


THE MODERATOR: We are pleased to be joined by Brian Vickers. He drives the No. 83 Red Bull Toyota. Brian, I've got to believe you're ecstatic about getting behind the wheel again of that race car.
BRIAN VICKERS: Yeah. I don't know how else to put it. Everyone keeps asking me how does it feel to be back. I guess it feels damn good.
You know, you look for all these words and ways to describe your emotions, your feelings, and sometimes there's just nothing to say. You know, I wasn't sure if I'd ever be back up here talking to you guys about being in the car again, and here I sit.
So really happy about it, and it's been a long year. Last year was a very long year. I'm very excited for 2011. I'm probably in the best place I've ever been personally, professionally, emotionally, and I'm ready to go kick butt.

Q. I hate to visit this subject, but I've been hearing a lot of optimism for a lot of months, but at any point personally was there any depth of despair about anything that was going on and maybe not being able to come back?
BRIAN VICKERS: Yeah, no, it's a fair question. It would be silly if I came here and didn't think I would get it.
Yeah, I mean, there was a lot of emotional states that I went through, pretty much the full range, everything you can imagine. When everything first happened, and we've talked about this some over the past eight months, but when everything first took place, I kind of attacked the situation head on, which is my personality. When things are their worst, right in the midst of the battle is typically where I guess you learn a lot about yourself going through these situations, things that I've always felt, but I guess 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.
When the doctor told me, I told him I need to be at practice, this was Wednesday, and I said, whatever we do, I just need to be at practice by Friday at 10:00, and he tried not to laugh, and he 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 at that moment, trying to figure out and evaluate, okay, you didn't say that I couldn't race, kind of like yes, you're telling me there's a chance, like in the movie "Dumb and Dumber," one in a million, right, so 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 was on my staying alive and then obviously next was getting in a race car.
And it really makes you -- you learn a lot about what you really love, you know? 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 have been my first question, not I need to be in the car Friday at 10:00 was I think kind of the way the doctor looked at it.
Anyway, that was my strongest through the hospital coming back trying to evaluate the situation, what's next, 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 racetrack, and my first time back at the track, maybe the second time back at the track was probably my lowest.
The first time back, I think it was still kind of -- I was still dealing with a lot of things, and everyone was so supportive, the fans, the media, the team, everybody top to bottom, NASCAR, so it was kind of out of sight, out of mind. And 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. I couldn't -- my stress was out of the roof, my medicines weren't working, they were all over the place, and that was probably when it hit me.
And I've definitely always kind of known about myself, but I learned a lot. Usually in the middle of the battle is when I'm the strongest and then when everything quiets down is when it hits me. It's the same thing when I've lost friends and family or any kind of tragedy I've gone through.
There was a point in time there where I didn't know if I was ever coming back, not just because of the doctors, but I questioned if I wanted to come back. Maybe it was time to just start a new chapter in my life. Is it worth going back and trying again, what would happen to me emotionally. Trust me, it was -- once the doctors said, okay, we feel pretty good about this, we're good with you going back racing if you want -- it's tough talking to a doctor about risk levels and going back racing and all this stuff because most doctors will tell you really not to race cars to begin with. They're like, okay, let's really think about this. You skydive and you race cars at 200 miles an hour and you're asking me about this? Let's address the first problem is kind of their mentality.
Once they told me I could go back racing, it wasn't -- it was funny, like for the strongest time I just kind of went down this path and I assumed it was a clear-cut decision for me when I had approval, but as some time went on I started thinking to myself, maybe it is time to start a new chapter. You go through a lot of emotional states I guess to answer your question. I went through everything you could imagine, but in the end, through some -- 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, you know, I realized that I couldn't not give it another shot.
I felt like I had unfinished business. You know, there was something that I left on the table that I always wanted to do which is to win a championship, and 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, just being in a car at going 200 miles an hour. Whether I win or lose, I'm happy to be back.

Q. You talked about your personality, are anxious to get back obviously. How do you keep yourself from trying too hard, trying to prove immediately that you're all the way back, that sort of thing? Do you have to sort of stop yourself from going overboard?
BRIAN VICKERS: Yeah, I think you can definitely get caught up in a lot of things with the comeback story and wanting to come out of the gate swinging. Obviously let's face it, my goal is to win the Daytona 500, and that's not going to change. But I would say day-to-day my focus has been probably more so than ever in my life, I've always been a planner and very detail oriented, most would say OCD kind of guy, and everything was always planned out. I was always planning things so far in advance that sometimes you lose the moment.
So more than anything, just in life personally and professionally, you know, I feel like I truly appreciate and live in the moment more than I ever have. I always tried to do that but probably more so now than ever. And I think the key to being successful for me moving forward is just to do that, just to appreciate being in a test at Daytona, enjoying drafting with my friends and having fun, knowing that something could happen, and I may not be in the car tomorrow.
I think if I just do that every single day, I go on the racetrack, I have fun and I go out there with one intention and that's to win and nothing else matters, you know, as far as from a competition standpoint and just treat every day as if it's the last, I think that'll solve the problem you're referring to, which is getting caught up in everything else.

Q. Are you under any sort of restriction at this point? Did the doctors say don't do this certain thing or don't do that certain thing?
BRIAN VICKERS: No, I'm under no restrictions. Now, the doctors would say that they don't find it wise to jump out of airplanes or to race cars at 200, but that was their choice. They became doctors for that reason, not race car drivers. But I'm under no medical restrictions whatsoever. I can do whatever I choose.

Q. You look incredible. You've never looked better. Have you been working out, eating different? What have you been doing? And then we had a fan in Pennsylvania who said how has having Kasey Kahne with Team Red Bull changed the dynamics of the team that you seem to trust each other based on the drafting practice?
BRIAN VICKERS: I feel great, I feel amazing. You know, I've been able to, like I said earlier, in a lot of ways I'm in a great place right now from a lot of different angles. One, I'm as physical -- I've been training a lot lately. I've pretty much been on a bike or swimming laps or swimming in the ocean. Just this past weekend I was swimming a couple miles a day spear fishing 18, 20 feet down. I got a lobster actually that I couldn't even fit two hands around. I was pretty excited about that. It tasted good, too.
But no, I'm in great shape, probably the best shape I've ever been, and my goal is just to continue down that path and just keep going.
As far as Kasey is concerned, I've enjoyed working with Kasey. Kasey and I came in the sport about the same time, and we've always had a mutual respect, and over ten years you've always going to have your run-ins here and there but we've sorted it out quick and painless and have always had a good working relationship even as competitors, so I can't imagine that our partnership as teammates is not going to go well.
If you can get along as enemies, you ought to be able to get along as brothers, right?
So the drafting went really well. Kasey is a talented driver, and we worked on some stuff. The drafting today went really well, and hopefully that'll show in the Daytona 500 when it really matters.

Q. Since your last kind of big briefing in August, did you have any sort of major surgery since then and can you tell us when you got off the Coumadin and then also from here are you on any medication or how often do you have to visit and be checked by the doctors?
BRIAN VICKERS: Yeah, I think the last time we were together we talked about the heart surgery. Yeah, that was the last surgery I had, and it went really well. It's amazing, it wasn't -- any time you're having heart surgery it's not a small thing, but the technology and how the procedures go today is just unbelievable. I was on a bike, on a bicycle climbing a mountain at 10,000 feet with some friends out west two weeks -- right at, a little over two weeks after that surgery. So it's phenomenal. Probably the biggest thing they were worried about was more where the incision point was than the actual heart surgery itself.
I don't remember the exact date when I got off Coumadin. It was right at the end of the year right at Homestead or Phoenix, something like that. I don't remember the exact date. Basically six months from when I went on. And Plavix was right after that, all about the same time. So it was good.
Theoretically I could have been here for the Daytona tire test, but the way the Red Bull, all the marketing stuff worked out, they kept moving the tire test on us, and we had a photo shoot, we had our team photo shoot the same day as the tire test, so that was actually why I wasn't here, not because of medical reasons.
Going forward, no, I'm not on any blood thinners moving forward or anything, no.

Q. Just curious what it was like for you to get back into the race car the very first time, considering that's probably the longest time you'd been out of a car since you were a kid.
BRIAN VICKERS: Yeah, it was by far the longest time I've been out of the car. Actually it was eight months to the day that I was out of the race car, almost to the day. I think it was like one day give or take.
You know, deep down my gut told me that I was going to get back in and not even notice that I'd been gone, but you spend eight months and every day someone asked you what do you think it's going to be like when you go back, are you going to remember how to -- you start kind of asking yourself these questions. Someone asks you a question enough, you start asking it to yourself even if you don't really in your gut believe it.
But when I got back in a car in Orlando, it felt so good. I mean, even before I pulled into the racetrack, just to sit in the car. All the belts still fit exactly the same, and helmet, it was like -- it was weird. I don't know what I really expected by getting in the car. I remembered how to hook everything up in the same order and it all still fit.
I pulled out on the racetrack, and to be honest with you, probably the hardest part was being at a track I'd never been to before. I'd never even seen Disney. I didn't even know what shape it was. It's not a normal shape, by the way. It's kind of a weird little racetrack. But it was fun.
But it took me a couple laps to get used to the track and then was right back on times, quick time by like the second or third run out. It felt fantastic. It was like an old shoe, just fit right back on.

Q. How about a racing question? There didn't seem to be -- I was expecting a big pile of cars drafting today, and nobody seemed to want to do that. Do you know why that was today?
BRIAN VICKERS: I don't. We went out and drafted some, and we were hoping that more guys would go. Yeah, I don't know. It's just sometimes people are into it, sometimes they're not. I think most of the drivers find it obviously significantly more entertaining to us to be in a draft than single file, but it's really up to the crew chiefs. If they have stuff they want to work on, there's very little you can work on in drafting sessions. Like speed-wise on the car, you really have to be single file, and a lot of guys were just working on a lot of stuff today, so maybe they're going to be focused on drafting tomorrow. I'm sure before we leave you'll see a pretty big pack. I can't imagine you wouldn't, because I know pretty much everybody wants to see how the cars react in that situation, the track and all that stuff.

Q. You mentioned to us last summer all the non-racing kind of special things you wanted to do while you were away. What on that list stood out for you?
BRIAN VICKERS: Hmm. That's a tough question. A lot of things stood out. You know, funny, of all the things, at least I kind of wanted to say I kind of wanted to try to pick a trip. Like Rome, I had an amazing time in Rome and met some great friends. I've been to Europe a lot and even to Italy actually, but I hadn't been to Rome. That was my first trip to Rome. And I fell in love of the city. It became my favorite city in Europe, hands down. I had a lot of fun there.
But upon further evaluation I would say that probably being at home was the best. I've never -- it's been a long time, if ever, that I've been able to sit at home and do nothing for an extended period of time. You know, there's always something going on, sometimes self-induced through the off-season, kind of like I try to jam all that traveling in that I want to do and I still barely have time with testing and media and all this other stuff, and I'm always jumping around and bouncing around, bouncing back and forth out of Florida, going to the shop, seeing family, going traveling, spend some time in New York, so I'm kind of always all over the place, and it doesn't bother me that much. But I enjoy it; I enjoy being on the move; I enjoy traveling.
But there was a couple times over the summer that I was just at home and had nothing to do, not a single thing on the agenda, not a phone interview, not a race, not a test, nothing, zero obligation for weeks at a time, and it was amazing. It felt fantastic.
And that was something I was kind of working on personally anyway. I have a hard time sitting still. I've always got to be active, always got to be doing something. If I wake up late, if I sleep in I get mad at myself because I feel like I've wasted a day. Some of that has always been my personality, some of it more so lately, and I kind of set out on a mission from a friend of mine, some of his wisdom and his guidance. He said, you know, see if you can do nothing and try to accomplish that, and it wasn't easy. I actually had a really hard time doing it. But once I did it, I felt -- I really enjoyed it, probably more than anything else I did.

Q. Is it still your understanding that the May-Thurner syndrome is what caused the clots and are you doing anything at all differently with how you approach or what your racing or anything that you're doing?
BRIAN VICKERS: You know, we don't really -- in the medical field you never know anything for sure. At the time we felt like the May-Thurner 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. I had one doctor tell me that he thought -- he kind of leaned more towards the belts. I had one say he leaned more towards the seating position. One leaned more towards the dehydration. They all looked at the May-Thurner as, okay, hmm, by itself would that have caused it? Probably not, but it's definitely not helping the issue.
So unfortunately one thing I have learned in the medical field is that no one ever says anything 100 percent I guess until they declare you dead. I guess that say that one 100 percent. But up until that point, usually there's always this vague, gray area.
And I went to some great doctors, and I'll tell you, I've worked with some of the best doctors and I couldn't say enough positive things about them and how they handled the situation, and I genuinely believe they gave me the absolute best advice to the best of their ability they could, leaving everything else aside.
But, you know, medicine is more of an art than a science. You know, there's a lot of questions that are always going to go unanswered, and that goes with anything. My situation is not unique to that, and in a lot of ways, there will always remain to be unanswered questions.
But moving forward, they feel good with me going back racing. I feel good with me going back racing, and I'm pretty excited about it.

Q. You could have died from this if things happened differently. When you think about that, or I don't know if you do think about that or let that sink in, but when you think about that, is it hard to -- does that make you appreciate things more? Does it make you focus on life more? Or do you try to push it aside in your head and say, because that's such a big thing, you can't really focus on that and let your life be driven that way? You know what I mean? How do you look at that and how do you -- have you changed because of that fact, or how do you deal with that in your head?
BRIAN VICKERS: You know, true statement, and good question. I think it's something that -- you can allow it in your mind every day, and you can use it for empowerment or you can use it for the opposite. It can hold you back or it can push you forward. And that's -- I believe that's a choice.
You wake up every morning and you have a choice to either be happy or be sad. You know, we're getting into some philosophical stuff that's difficult to answer in one question in a 30-second soundbyte. But I truly believe that in a lot of ways it's a choice; just because you think about it every day it doesn't mean it has to be a bad thought.
In a lot of ways as a race car driver I think you kind of build this natural ability if you want to call it or this natural sense where you just kind of don't think about a lot of those things, you just go do. And that's what makes us good at what we do is not to be able to -- it's funny, every driver, I think, and every daredevil if you want to call Travis Pastrana to Jimmie Johnson or Jeff Gordon, they all do crazy, dangerous things, and maybe they overcome that in their own way. Some of them like to ignore it, some of them embrace it, I don't know. I've had some talks with those guys, and I'm not going to answer the question for them, but I do believe everybody approaches it differently.
In the past I've always been pretty much at peace with the idea, and if it happens it happens, but until then I'm going to live life to the fullest, but in a lot of ways I just always kind of didn't think about it.
Now I find myself thinking about it more but in a positive way, not in a bad way, thinking about more from the standpoint of just making the most of every day and just trying to enjoy life. I don't think it's -- to date it hasn't slowed me down at all. That was the question I asked myself, when I get back in that car am I going to be thinking about this all the time or not, and once I got back in the car I didn't think about it one bit. It never even crossed my mind. I just focused on how much fun I was having and how happy I was to be back. And now I've been in the car for a total of three days, and that hasn't changed, and I don't see that changing going forward.
In some ways I just kind of -- it hasn't -- I'm trying to think of the best way to answer it. It hasn't held me back at all. I do think about it, but I use it more for empowerment to motivate myself in the current situation than I feel like it's holding me back.
THE MODERATOR: Brian, it's great to have you in here today, and good to have you back in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race car, and good luck in your quest to win the 53rd running of the Daytona 500.

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