October 24th, 2004 – Brian Vickers ended a rough day at Martinsville in 27th position and two laps off the pace to race winner and teammate, Jimmie Johnson. Just a few miles away in the Bull Mountains that surround the legendary racetrack, a plane had crashed and sadly, there were no survivors. The plane was owned by Hendrick Motorsports and 10 members of the Hendrick family were tragically lost that day including promising young racer and son of Rick; Ricky Hendrick. Brian Vickers had now lost two very good friends before he was even 21 years old; the first being Adam Petty four years earlier.Brian Vickers is a spiritual person and believes to this very day that those two friends are still with him and that somebody up there is definitely looking after him. Brian wiped away the tears and continued to do what he and they loved so much and that was racing. He was forced to endure the untimely deaths of two people that were very close to him and just six years later, he would brush shoulders with death himself.
In those six years, Brian got to feel the thrill of winning a Cup race on two separate occasions. The first was a controversial finish at Talladega in 2006 when he accidentally took out his teammate Jimmie Johnson and Dale Earnhardt Jr on the final lap in route to the win. Three years later, he was celebrating in victory lane at Michigan as a driver for Red Bull Racing. The win gave Brian and team the boost they needed to make the chase and he was very excited to improve on their impressive 2009 season in 2010. As fate would have it though, Brian never got that chance.
The week prior to racing at Darlington, Brian had experienced numbness and tingling in his hand as well as some pain in his chest. It didn’t hinder his efforts on track though as he would start 3rd and finish 10th at the “track to tough to tame.” Unfortunately, the pain worsened while lying in bed Monday night but he pushed through it. It occurred again on Tuesday night but the young, athletic Vickers again persevered through the intense pain that he later called the worst pain he’s ever felt in his life.
On Wednesday, he toured Washington D.C. with some friends while he felt an intense burning sensation in his lungs. He called Dr. Petty who advised him to go to the emergency room immediately which Brian ignorantly did not do. After finally deciding to go to a nearby hospital, Brian jumped in a cab in what happened to be rush hour and traffic was at a standstill. He got out and thought it would be quicker to walk but it started raining so he ran…bad idea. He could barely breathe and by the time he got to the ER, he was in tremendous, unbearable pain.
After a CT scan, Brian anxiously awaited news from doctors regarding what was wrong with him and he was worried that he might have to miss Dover. As he quickly found out, he would be missing a lot more races than just Dover and in fact, he was lucky to be alive after blood clots in his legs had made it to his lungs and heart. His imprudent decisions that day nearly cost him his life but in retrospect, who would have thought it was that serious considering how fit Brian is.
The magnitude of his situation didn’t fully hit Vickers until the press conference at Charlotte Motor Speedway when he would enlighten the racing world regarding what happened to him. After his recovery, Brian was hungry to get back into the car and that chance finally came in the 2011 Daytona 500 but it seems that his travails were not over just yet. Roughly a year after Vickers was sidelined due to blood clots, the Associated Press broke the news that Red Bull was leaving NASCAR at the conclusion of 2011 and shutting down Red Bull Racing; leaving Brian Vickers without a ride.
It didn’t take long for the world to see Brian’s anger and frustration as his behavior on the racetrack drastically changed. His on track performance suffered and he was involved in multiple altercations with other drivers including Tony Stewart, Matt Kenseth, Jamie McMurray and Marcos Ambrose. At Martinsville in October, Vickers completely fell apart and showed great disdain for everyone he raced with that day. He was the main cause of five separate wrecks during the race. He lost a lot of credibility among his fellow racers after that race and his reputation was damaged leaving a large contingent of people to believe that we wouldn’t be seeing him in NASCAR for much longer.
Michael Waltrip gave Brian a chance to get behind the wheel of one of his cars for six races in 2012 in a move that many had doubts about. Brian would quickly prove all the naysayers wrong when he made his debut with MWR at Bristol. He led over 100 laps and finished 5th without a scratch on the car; redeeming himself from the events of 2011 that had tarnished his reputation. He continued to run very well in the car proving that Bristol was no fluke and the success continued into 2013. In fact, he landed a full-time Nationwide ride with Joe Gibbs Racing while also increasing the number of races he would run for MWR in Cup. His performance in the No.55 has given credence to the longevity of his career in NASCAR.
At New Hampshire Motor Speedway last weekend, Vickers’ incredible story of tragedy, tenacity and perseverance finally came full circle. Brian quietly started 13th and wasn’t mentioned much throughout the event except for when he received a penalty for a pit road violation that trapped him one lap down. He kept fighting though and with 16 laps to go, he muscled his way past Tony Stewart for the lead and then proceeded to pull away from the field.
With just five laps remaining, the caution flew for debris and the feelings of trepidation in the No.55 pits was obvious as they got ready for a Green-White-Checker with two drivers notorious for their aggression restarting 2nd and 3rd. Stewart ran Vickers hard in the first corner with the always aggressive Kyle Busch making it three wide on the inside. With a power move off the corner, Brian cleared both drivers as he desperately raced towards the white flag. Kyle Busch moved into 2nd but failed to catch Brian who was able to hold on and take the win at Loudon! To the delight of the fans, Brian took the time to give many of them high-fives as he walked down the front-stretch, proudly displaying the checkered flag in his hand.
This victory basically guaranteed Brian Vickers a full-time ride in 2014 driving that No.55 for Michael Waltrip Racing and I’m sure he will be a force to be reckoned with. We are witnessing the resurgence of Brian Vickers right now. The desire to compete and to win is something all drivers possess but Brian Vickers knows better than most that it can be ripped away from you in a matter of seconds. From mourning at the funerals of fallen friends to celebrating in victory lane for the first time, or recovering from a near-death experience only to find out that you may never get to do what you love ever again, but then a simple phone call changes everything and you are back and better than ever….Vickers endured through it all and came out a better man because of it.
In this life, we all have a cross to bear and Brian Vickers has done so valiantly. He stumbled along the way but in times when so many would have thrown up their hands and given up, he pushed on seeking the light in a place where the darkness seemed endless. Congratulations on the well-deserved win at New Hampshire Brian and I firmly believe that we will see you in victory lane again.