Following open-heart surgery during the off-season , Brian Vickers is making his return to the race track this weekend at Atlanta Motor Speedway and he’s thrilled about that. It marks a much better feeling than sitting at home, wondering if he’d be able to make it back behind the wheel.
In 2010 and then in 2013, Vickers was forced to the sidelines with blood clot issues. During his time off in 2010, an artificial patch was inserted to repair a hole in his heart. The patch was rejected by the heart, forcing Vickers to undergo heart surgery in early December to make repairs. Michael Waltrip drove the No. 55 Aaron’s Toyota at Daytona, before Brett Moffitt drove the car to an eighth place finish last weekend at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
Going into the surgery, there was a lot of times that Vickers wondered if he’d ever get behind the wheel, and asked the question many times to his doctors. The answers that he received near the beginning weren’t that open to opportunity, but rather focused on the task of what was going on.
“They needed to really kind of get in there and get into my heart basically – which kind of sounds weird to say – and kind of figure out what’s going on before they could really give me an answer, but they were kind of setting the bar pretty low,” Vickers recalled. “I kind of dealt with that and then as they learned more, as they came out they were like, ‘Okay, we definitely know what happened and why and we fixed it and we’re not worried about it moving forward, so we think you’re good to go, but let’s do a checkup in a month and we’ll see,’ and, you know, kind of see how it goes.”
He admits that racing means a lot to him and he truly appreciates what he gets to do as it’s a very special part of his life. However, if they would’ve told him no, it wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world as racing is not everything that makes him up.
“If I can’t race, that’s okay – life is going to go on,” he commented. “I think from that perspective, yes, I asked the doctors, ‘Can I go race and I want to go race,’ but if they say no, I’m not going to fight them. If they said, ‘Listen, we don’t think it’s safe,’ I’m not going to fight them on it. Kind of through that process – I mean, listen, being back here at Vegas, it was their choice, not me. I didn’t push them into this. Matter of fact, I sit there and push them the other way. I’m like, ‘Are you sure?’ I can wait until Phoenix. I can wait until – I’m totally fine waiting as long as you want and they were like, ‘No, no. You’re totally good. You’ll be fine. Don’t worry about it.’”
Vickers admits that he called them once again this week, double checking, and the doctors assured him that he would be fine. Now, Vickers has a practice and a qualifying session under his belt and couldn’t be happier.
“I was talking to someone on the way in and they asked what my emotions were going into this and I kind of look at it like a win-win. If we go out there and do well, that’s great. And even if we don’t, just being able to get back in a race car again and go 200 is incredible,” he added. “No matter what the outcome, I’m happy to be here and happy to be back in a car again and get a chance to do something I love. But I’m an optimist – I think we’re going to go out there and do well and I’m really proud of what this Aaron’s Dream Machine team has done so far this year with Michael (Waltrip, team co-owner) and Brett (Moffitt, replacement driver) and the gains we’ve made through the off-season and the gains that Toyota has made through the off-season and hopefully we can put it all together here this weekend in Vegas and come out of here with a good finish.”
Vickers feels his time out of the car makes him appreciate the opportunity even more that he has, as it was “really tough” with a lot of “challenging emotions” while watching his car race without him behind the wheel. Vickers didn’t hide away, though, as he was at the track each week, offering his support for the team. He said he spent time on the spotter’s stand, on the box and in the tower, trying to “pick up little things that could be beneficial in the car”. However, he says that doing is the last place that he wants to be. No matter what, he’d rather be behind the wheel.
Having been through the trial of events over the past five years, he says that it has only increased his love and want for racing. He attributed to a kid with a toy. The more you take the toy away from the kid, the more the kid wants the toy. He says he’s a big kid as adults “never grow up” , and racecars are his toys.
“I’ve had it taken away several times, so, yes, I want it more and I think I also have a deeper appreciation for it,” he commented. “I think when you get in a routine, you do something for 10 years or 15 years, five years, whatever it is, you just kind of wake up in the morning and you expect it and then one day when you realize and maybe several days you realize that you can’t just wake up and expect it, you’ve got to fight for it and you appreciate it more and you love it more.
“But at the same time, I also have – I think I’ve tried to find balance in my life where, like I said earlier, it’s not who I am. If it doesn’t happen, my life’s not over. There’s still a lot of things to be done and challenges and opportunities and you just kind of keep going.”