Brian Vickers never felt he needed to prove himself all over again.
After all, it wasn’t a lack of performance or sponsorship that took him out of his car midway through 2010. Instead, the unthinkable at age 26: blood clots and subsequent heart surgery, which could have ended both Vickers NASCAR career and life. It sidelined him for the remainder of that season and his career has been on a roller coaster ever since.
Sunday in Loudon, New Hampshire however, Vickers was back where he always knew he could be. That, being Victory Lane in the Sprint Cup Series as he drove – or rather helped push – the No. 55 Aaron’s Dream Machine Toyota there for the first time this season, the third time in Vickers career. A place he hadn’t been since Michigan in 2009.
“Once it [the race] was over, I think it was a sigh of relief with everything that had happened to finally clinch another victory after so long and after so much, and it was a lot of thankfulness,” said Vickers, who led the final 16 laps after taking the lead from Tony Stewart and holding on following a green-white-checkered finish.
“Just thankful for everything that had happened and everything that didn’t happen; that I was able to get back into a racecar, and that I had the support of family and friends to get through everything and to get back in the car. There were some people that still believed in me, namely these guys sitting here [crew chief Rodney Childers and Ty Norris of Michael Waltrip Racing] and everyone at MWR to give me the chance.
“I think that was probably the biggest emotion that I had, I have, that I still will have going forward, because they took a chance, in a lot of ways. There was a lot going on and a lot of uncertainly for me.”
As he laid in a hospital bed in 2010, watching someone else drive at the time his Red Bull Racing car, Vickers set three goals for himself. The first was the most important, take care of his health and get out of the hospital, reclaim his car and then go win a race.
His comeback, for those who want to call it that, is complete three years later. Vickers did return to racing in 2011 for RBR, but was out of a job when the organization shut its doors at seasons end. After fighting for his life, he found himself fighting for a job.
Along came MWR, with owner Michael Waltrip who once joked his company is for refugees. Except, while Waltrip could give Vickers a ride, it wouldn’t be a full-time one as he was accustomed to. He ran just eight races in 2012 and was offered more in 2013.
As Norris explained it, “When this opportunity came – at the time it was only six races. He [Vickers] said: I have an opportunity to go run for a full-time team and run all year, probably make more money, but I get the chance to run those six races, I would rather run at a place where I can win. If I can just get a place where I can win, I would rather do that than run every week.
“And he took that whole 2012 season and took that into consideration, ran our six races. We actually rewarded him with two more and now it’s up to nine this year. Hopefully it will be way, way more than that going into the future. That’s to his credit. He was not going to take a situation just to get back into the car and prove to everybody that he could do it. He came back into the right situation.”
Vickers short but impressive stint in the Cup Series in 2012 caught the attention of many. Joe Gibbs Racing tabbed him for one of their Nationwide cars full-time this season to run a championship, he finished second at New Hampshire on Saturday, still searching for his first win of the season. He’s currently sixth in points.
MWR is working to put him in the 55 full-time next season, returning him back to the top level where he had been before his career and life took an unexpected turn. And so, when Vickers won on Sunday, it was almost like the first time, not the third.
He couldn’t do a burnout having run out of gas as he started to spin the car around. So instead, Vickers got out and celebrated amongst the fans. Something he really wanted to do anyway, savoring the moment with those who have welcomed him back with open arms.
On Sunday, it was with outstretched arms and hands through the frontstretch fence in hopes of giving the victor personal congratulations. Vickers was actually trying to see if the crossover gate was open, looking to go into the stands, share the moment with those who make the sport happen, in his opinion.
“Just everything that a lot of us have gone through and everything that I’ve gone through over so many years,” said Vickers of the day and his emotions.
“You wake up one morning and you’re just hoping to be around the next, to are you ever going to race again to okay, I may race again to all right, I’m racing; now I don’t have a job, to getting a phone call from Ty [Norris] and him asking me if I was interested in running eight races. And I said, absolutely.”
It hasn’t always been easy, Vickers will tell you, but he was never willing to give up and walk away.
“When your back is against the wall and everything is down and things are not looking so good, you find out quickly who is willing to vouch for you or not,” he said on Sunday.
“I learned a lot through that experience personally and I grew a lot as a person myself, thankful for that, and with everything that’s happened, I’d like to think I’ll never forget those learning curves. I doubt that’s going to happen, but all of that, coming here, sitting in Victory Lane, just makes it one of the most special events of my life.”