Brett Poirier · Tuesday October 29, 2013
I did a Google search for “Brian Vickers clot” last night, and here are two of the results that popped up:
1) There was an ESPN story titled, “Brian Vickers: I will be back in January.”
2) I saw a USA Today story titled, “Brian Vickers: I’ll be back for the Daytona 500.”
With the number of media outlets covering the top series in NASCAR, overlap is bound to happen with headlines. The problem with this one was… it wasn’t overlap. The first story is from September 2010 and the second is from this month. Unfortunately, the articles under the headlines are nearly identical, too. For the second time in four years, Vickers had to step out of a full-time ride after being administered blood thinners for a blood clot outside his control.
Both stories say he’ll be back at the start of the next season, but now it’s time to ask, then what? I know that’s harsh, yet it’s a legitimate concern for a driver who has May-Thurner Syndrome, a rare condition that puts him at risk for more blood clots and a possible stroke.
Maybe this Fall marks Vickers’ final setback; now, he’ll go on to race in NASCAR for the next decade-plus without any health issues. But there is also the possibility that this condition shortens his career, because either he decides racing isn’t worth the risk or an owner/sponsor decides he’s not. When Vickers announced that a doctor discovered a clot in his leg earlier this month and that he was done racing for the year, I was surprised at the lack of media attention. Did people forget this happened three years ago? Do people not know the story of what Vickers has overcome?
In 2010, blood clots were discovered in Vickers’ left hand, left leg and lungs. Doctors also found he had a hole between the left and right atrium in his heart along with May-Thurner Syndrome. Vickers underwent heart surgery — something most of us could never imagine — and missed the final 25 races of the season for Team Red Bull. He came back the next year, only to learn halfway through the season that his team was closing up shop, leaving him out of a ride. To make matters worse, in one of his final auditions to earn one in 2012, he crashed into everything but the pace car in the Fall race at Martinsville. That essentially crashed himself out of possible employment. Nobody would hire him, not even James Finch — well, maybe he would’ve.
So Vickers started racing sports cars in Europe until he got a call from Michael Waltrip Racing about driving the No. 55 part-time in the races Mark Martin and Waltrip didn’t want to do. He was MWR’s second choice. The organization wanted Elliott Sadler, but couldn’t clear it with Sadler’s employer in Nationwide, Richard Childress. So they settled on Vickers.
Well, some alternate this man turned out to be. All he did was finish in the top 10 five times in his eight starts. He posted six more top 10s in 17 starts this season, along with a victory at New Hampshire in July. The win was unheard of, because this isn’t 1952 and part-time drivers just don’t win races in Sprint Cup — outside of Talladega, at least.
A month later, Aaron’s and MWR signed Vickers to a full-time, two-year deal. He was out of NASCAR entirely at the start of 2012, with Joe Gibbs’ Nationwide program at the start of 2013, and scheduled to be back at the top with one of NASCAR’s up-and-coming teams in 2014. His rise back to prominence was unprecedented. How many veteran drivers fall from Cup to Nationwide and find their way back? Can you think of one? I can’t. I’m sure Sadler thought he would be back full-time in Cup by now, but honestly, his chances of ever getting back are slim to none. Vickers must’ve been ecstatic.
A month later, his world fell apart again. The Richmond scandal, which saw him pit 245 times in the final 10 laps, tore the organization he thought he had a future with apart. And on the same day Vickers told Waltrip a doctor discovered a blood clot in his leg — apparently caused by an injury at Bristol — MWR announced it was laying off workers, letting Martin Truex, Jr. go and essentially taking steps backward as an organization.
This past Sunday, Vickers got to watch MWR’s first choice, Sadler, drive his car around Martinsville. That’s one hell of a roller-coaster ride.
“Unfortunately, I’ve been dealt some bad cards at times, but no one should feel sorry for me,” Vickers told the USA Today last weekend. “I’ve been dealt some great cards, too — in most of the areas of life that matter most, I’m very thankful.”
Last week, Vickers turned 30. He’s in the prime of his career and sitting on the sideline, much like he was at 27. Where will he be at 33?
Hopefully, he’ll still be full-time in Sprint Cup where he’s proven he deserves to be. In three years, I don’t want to be writing about how we’ll never really know what he could’ve become.
Here’s to wishing Brian a speedy recovery, and a full season behind the wheel next year.
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