One way or another, Vickers will be back
CONCORD, N.C. -- The 10-year-old had just escaped a horrific end-over-end wreck during a World Karting Association race in Florida. His helmet was cracked and his go-kart destroyed.
"It scared the hell out of me and his mom," Clyde Vickers recalled outside his son's No. 83 Red Bull Racing hauler on Friday at Charlotte Motor Speedway. "We had another kart, but we were ready to pack the car and go home and make sure he was OK.
"But he really, really wanted to get back out and race. He started in the rear of the field and finished second."
If anybody knows how bad Brian Vickers wants to be in his race car it's his father. He has countless stories about how his now-26-year-old son has turned adversity and setbacks into a positive.
So when Vickers announced that he would miss the remainder of the Sprint Cup season to undergo treatment for blood clots, Clyde understood how painful that was and will be in the coming months.
He also understood the determination we all felt and heard in Vickers' voice when he said, "I do expect to be back in the car next season, and to win the Daytona 500."
"Absolutely," the elder Vickers said. "Even as a child he was able to handle things, disappointments and things that he wasn't pleased with. He would deal with it and understand what you had to do to go forward."
If medically possible, Vickers plans to do that with the deep vein thrombosis that has cut his season short. If he responds to blood thinners during the next three to six months and doctors give him clearance, he'll resume what he's been doing since almost the time he was born.
There are no guarantees. If the condition doesn't reverse itself, there's a chance Vickers has driven his last race. No doctor will clear him to drive on blood thinners because one trauma, internally or externally, could be fatal.
But Vickers is looking only at the positives. He entered the infield media center with a smile on his face and a can of Red Bull in his hand. He showed the strength of a champion, one who won't be denied the opportunity to do what he said he was meant to do.
"This is what I love to do, this is my life," Vickers told reporters. "This is what I love to do, and I fully intend on doing it again."
We have no reason to believe he won't. Dr. Steven Limentani of Carolina Hematology Oncology said the condition appears treatable, although nobody will know for certain for months.
What's important here is to understand what general manager Jay Frye tried to convey last weekend at Dover, that this is a minor setback for Vickers. He's a bright young man with a lot of promise whether he's in a race car or not.
He's also a lucky man.
Had the team physician not insisted Vickers go to the hospital two weeks ago after he'd experienced chest pains, he could have put himself in a life-threatening situation. The clots could have moved to his brain.
"When all you're thinking about is getting back in the race car, it's tough to see the silver lining," Vickers said. "As friends and family constantly reminded me, at least you're still with us. I don't think I was on the verge of that, but it very easily could have turned into that, so, yeah, I'm lucky. Very fortunate."
He's also very driven. Instead of asking doctors early during the prognosis period what he had to do to live, "I was asking if I could race again."
His father understands.
"Yes, it's all he's done," Clyde said.
But Vickers didn't come into the media center discouraged. He was more upbeat than many drivers who talked about having to race their way into Saturday night's All-Star race because they haven't won in the last year and a half.
Vickers talked openly while his No. 83 car was being shown during Cup practice on the television monitor. Vickers handpicked Casey Mears, his good friend, to drive for him during the recovery.
At one point he jokingly recalled promising doctors he wouldn't crash if they let him drive the rest of the season. His doctor jokingly leaned into the microphone and said, "OK, you have my permission."
But as brave as Vickers was on the outside, you know it has to be eating him up not being in the car. As he said when asked to sum up his emotions, "It sucks."
Anybody who has competed in any sport understands how tough it is to be forced to sit. But for most athletes it's a decision that depends on whether they can deal with the pain or physically compete.
I'm glad that he's OK, but I can't imagine what it's like to be knocked out of your seat. It's our lives, guys. It's got to be devastating for him.” -- Mark Martin
For Vickers, it's about life or death.
"Seriously, my heart goes out to Brian," Mark Martin said. "I'm glad that he's OK, but I can't imagine what it's like to be knocked out of your seat. It's our lives, guys. It's got to be devastating for him."
Others echoed Martin's sentiments. The support Vickers has gotten from the garage has been as substantial as one might expect it to be.
It's easy to support. It's not easy to be strong, and Vickers showed the strength of Hercules the way he answered question after question, even when some got tough.
As Dr. Limentani shot down a 2008 story out of Australia that drinking Red Bull can cause blood clots, Vickers took a big sip from a Red Bull can and said, "I want to go on the record and say I drink water, too."
Vickers doesn't have all the answers. He may never.
"I may not know what piece of the car broke off, but I got a great crew chief," Vickers said with a smile.
Meanwhile, Vickers will take advantage of this time and do some of the things a 36-race schedule doesn't allow. You may see him on top of the pit box at some races. You may not see him at all while he's at a Red Bull air show or Formula One race.
"I've very sad not to be in the race car," Vickers said. "I want nothing more than to be back in the race car. But at the same time it's not my personality to focus on the negative. It's not who I am, not who I've ever been. I'm going to make the most of this. I'm gonna take every opportunity to be positive through this, to deal with it, to learn more, to be better when I get back in the race car."
His father would expect nothing less.
David Newton covers NASCAR for ESPN.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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