Brian Vickers has been making some noise in the Sprint Cup Series this year, currently sitting 14th in points, less than 100 markers out of the top 12. It’s a big turnaround for the five-year Cup veteran, who one year ago was 39th in points, having missed nine of 19 races in just his first season with two-car Team Red Bull. To what does Vickers attribute the change in direction? Frontstretch’s Amy Henderson sat down with Brian to find out the answer to that and many other questions on teamwork, family, luck and skydiving – to name a few.
Amy Henderson, Frontstretch: Your team has had a 180-degree turnaround from 2007. What has changed, and what has stayed the same?
Brian Vickers: The biggest thing that’s changed is performance, obviously. We’re running much better. I’m really proud of everybody at Red Bull. I don’t think there’s one thing that you can pinpoint. It’s a lot of little things. There are some new faces who have helped us. Jay Frye has come on board, and I think his leadership is one of the biggest benefits. Kevin Hamlin coming on board the No. 83, there are a lot of new engineers and new staff – a lot of guys back at the shop who bring a lot of experience we didn’t have last year. But there’s a lot of people who are still there from last year – engineers and technical directors who, given the ability and the direction and responsibilities and accountability to do their job, which Jay has given them – they’ve really stepped it up as well and done a better job. So, the whole team is strong in many different ways. We’ve got our in-house chassis coming along. We’ve developed better bump stops. TRD engines have gotten better. There are a lot of factors. I’d definitely say Jay is one of the bigger ones. Last year, we had a lot of good people who unfortunately weren’t allowed to do what they knew was the right thing to do and to fix the problems that we were having.
Henderson: You have AJ Allmendinger as your teammate. He’s a little older than you, but you are the veteran in the Sprint Cup Series. How do you work together, and how did his six-week absence earlier this year affect your team?
Vickers: AJ and I get along fine. I think my interpretation of communication and the relationship between teammates is different than his. I’d like to see the teams work together a little bit closer. I think coming from open-wheel, that background, those guys consider their teammates mortal enemies. They race their teammates even more so than they race everybody else. We have two different backgrounds and two different philosophies. When Mike Skinner came on board, I think it helped the whole organization. All the communication and experience he brought was a benefit and also, it helped bridge a lot of the gap between the No. 84 and the No. 83. Mike just has a lot of experience. AJ is a talented driver, but the facts are that he has had little to no experience driving stock cars (before joining the team). That doesn’t mean that he’s not a talented racecar driver, but Mike has a lot of experience. I think what he brought helped AJ in a lot of ways. All in all, I think that was all the way around a positive.
Henderson: How close do you think your team is to a win?
Vickers: You go back to a couple of races – Pocono, Michigan, Charlotte – and we’ve had the car to beat. We were leading at times during the races, and things happened that kept us from a win. Look at Charlotte – we had the car to beat and lost a right-rear tire. At Pocono, the way the tire strategy played out, the No. 9 car had a lot better tires and we couldn’t hold him off. Then at Michigan, we kind of got screwed. We were running third with better tires coming to the restart and NASCAR put the No. 8 car in front of me. He ran out of gas and pretty much cost us the opportunity to pass those other two cars. It was unfortunate that there was really no explanation of why they put him there. That one kind of got taken from us. But we’ve had the car to beat – we just haven’t been able to capitalize.
Henderson: What role does luck play in racing?
Vickers: There are a lot of things in our sport that are out of our control. There are thousands of moving parts that can fail. We have a lot of employees, and if one of them doesn’t do their job – including myself – then we don’t win. Some people might call that luck, a lot of people don’t. Maybe you should call luck “preparation” and “determination” and all that stuff. I think when it’s your time, it’s your time. I’ve had championship years when it seems like nothing can go wrong, and then the next year with the same group of people – everything went wrong. I try not to believe in superstition or luck too much because I feel like you lose control. But in this sport, there are always going to be things that are out of your control.
Henderson: What influence have your family and friends had on your career and on you as a person?
Vickers: They’ve been a huge influence. My family in particular, my parents supported me in racing and anything I’ve wanted to do. They also held me to a high education standard. I had to have good grades or I didn’t race, along with a lot of other consequences. All along the way, there were responsibilities. I have to give most of the credit to them. I’ve had a lot of good friends along the way, and mentors. Jeff [Gordon] in the Cup Series was a huge mentor, and a guy named Corey Smith was a huge mentor for most of my racing career in go-karts and everything else. I’ve also had a lot of great friends along the way outside of racing who have contributed to who I am today, for better or worse.
Henderson: What would you be doing if you weren’t racing?
Vickers: I don’t know. I’d be probably in the business world, or the finance world, in some kind of banking or something. When I was in middle school and early high school, engineering school seemed to be on the horizon. I liked math, I liked the sciences, and I still do to a large degree. Then later in school, I had some great English and literature teachers and I started to steer more in that direction. Than after high school, I have found the business world in general to be very exciting. That’s changed over the years. If racing never was in the picture, what would have happened was I probably would have gone to college and chased an engineering degree and finished with an MBA. I’d probably be in the business world somewhere. I’ve always had a lot of admiration and respect for Brookshire-Hathaway and some of those companies, so I would have maybe pursued something like that.
Henderson: You recently took up skydiving. What’s that like?
Vickers: I love it. I absolutely love it. I love the adrenaline rush and everything about it. It’s definitely a new passion!