Two NASCAR stars, Brian Vickers and Trevor Bayne, were sidelined due to serious illness just a few years ago. Now both drivers are looking to heal their careers in the Nationwide Series this season.
In May of 2010, Cup driver Brian Vickers was visiting Washington, DC when he began to experience chest pains and trouble breathing. Initially, Vickers downplayed his symptoms, especially since he was young and in great shape.
But when the pain persisted and even intensified, the driver of the then No. 83 Red Bull Racing Toyota sought emergency medical treatment. It was then determined that Vickers was suffering from blood clots in both lungs and also in his leg.
Vickers knew almost immediately that this would impact his racing career. In fact, he almost delayed seeking treatment because he was fearful of losing his Cup ride.
“I didn’t want to go to the doctor because they were going to take me out of the car,” Vickers said at the time. “Going through the CT scans, they found the blood clots in both lungs and my left leg.”
Because Vickers was put on Coumadin, a blood thinner, to treat the clots, it was determined by his medical team that he indeed did have to step out of the race car and focus on his physical healing. Vickers ended up being out for the remainder of the season, watching only as a supporter of his beloved race team.
But Vickers health challenges continued after a clot was discovered in a finger in his left hand. At that time, the driver underwent further testing to be diagnosed with May-Thurner Syndrome, a rare condition causing clots, as well as having a hole between the right and left atrium in his heart.
Vickers then decided to undergo heart surgery to fix the hole, as well as have a stent placed in his left leg to assist with his circulation. Vickers made the difficult decisions about the surgeries after learning that he was at high risk for stroke without it.
“I would rather die than have a stroke,” Vickers said at the time. “I don’t want to run the risk of living like a vegetable.”
This additional surgery ensured that Vickers would not be ready to get back on the race track until the 2011 season. Unfortunately, Vickers dreams of returning in triumph were not to be, starting with involvement in the ‘big one’ at Daytona and then having issues and run-ins with several drivers, most notably Matt Kenseth.
Vickers finished the 2011 season in the 25th position in points, with just seven top-10 finishes. The year ended even more dismally when his team, Red Bull Racing, folded up their NASCAR tent and left the sport.
For the 2012 season, although Vickers started without a ride, Michael Waltrip snatched him up and put him in the No. 55 MWR Toyota for several races. Vickers showed his talent in the shared ride with Mark Martin, with three top-5 and five top-10 finishes in eight races.
With redemption and career healing in mind, Vickers will be back behind the wheel of a race car full-time for the 2013 Nationwide season for Joe Gibbs Racing. He will also return to MWR for nine Cup races in the car shared again with Mark Martin.
“I’m looking forward to being back in the Nationwide Series and in NASCAR,” Vickers said. “I learned a lot over the last three or four years, from being taken out of the car being sick to not being full-time this past year with everything that happened leading up to the season.”
“My perspective on life changed through all these events,” Vickers continued. “There are no guarantees in life.”
“I’ve learned that the hard way,” Vickers said. “My focus is on 2013 and I think the success this year will lead to great opportunities next year.”
Like Vickers, Trevor Bayne is also looking to heal and rejuvenate his racing career by competing in the Nationwide Series full-time in 2013. But Bayne, like Vickers, went from being on the top of the world in 2011 as the Daytona 500’s youngest race winner to being hospitalized with double vision a few short months later.
Bayne’s medical drama began just as suddenly as Vickers’ issues when he complained of numbness in his arms while competing in the Cup race at Texas Motor Speedway. Bayne initially thought his problems were due to an insect bite but he continued to experience nausea, fatigue and vision issues and was hospitalized at the Mayo Clinic for further testing.
Although his doctors never officially confirmed it, the young Roush Fenway driver said that Lyme disease had been causing all of his problems.
“They wouldn’t confirm it because it’s such a hard thing to define,” Bayne said. “Lyme is something that hides in your bloodstream.”
“It is hard to diagnose,” Bayne continued. “But if they treat it and it goes away, to me that seems like a pretty good answer.”
Sadly for Bayne, however, his illness caused him to be sidelined just enough so that others were behind the wheel of his race car. And he had to stand by and helplessly watch while his rival and teammate Ricky Stenhouse Jr. catapulted to fame after clinching the Nationwide title.
Bayne’s 2012 season was not much better as the youngster had just six Nationwide starts, all because of lack of sponsorship. With no funding, Bayne had just one more start before the season ended, again with his teammate Stenhouse Jr. holding the 2012 championship trophy.
“If you would have told me it would look like this, I wouldn’t have believed you,” Bayne said. “It’s been a little bit of a roller coaster.”
Bayne is especially ready to start the 2013 season, knowing that he can not only compete full-time with sponsorship but that he now has a chance at the Series championship himself.
“I still want to make it in this sport,” Bayne said. “And I want to be a top name that is contending for championships.”
“This is my opportunity to do that.”
Bayne will be working with Stenhouse’s former crew chief Mike Kelley, as well as one of his sponsors, Cargill. The youngster will also be running a part-time Cup schedule for the Wood Brothers, with whom he won that unforgettable Daytona 500.
After both drivers’ medical battles, there is no doubt that both Bayne and Vickers are beside themselves with hope for their 2013 healing season prospects.
“I think as a person, you grow and evolve through life experiences,” Vickers said. “Every day is an audition.”
“I think we’ve got a lot to show here,” Bayne said. “I’m competitive and I want to be a part of the championship at the end of the year.”
“It’s what keeps us going.”