His medical problems might have been more serious than he expected, but it looks certain that Brian Vickers will be back in the No. 83 Red Bull Toyota after being knocked out of the car earlier this year when mysterious blood clots were discovered in his body.
The diagnosis for Vickers is a rare disorder called May-Thurner Syndrome (MTS), which causes blood clots due to a large blood vessel, called the iliac artery, putting pressure on its corresponding vein in his left leg.
The good news is that now that the doctors know what they are dealing with, the prognosis is racing.
“The doctors gave me full clearance for next year — I will be back next season racing in January. I'm really excited about that,” he said during a press conference Saturday afternoon at the Bristol Motor Speedway.
“What I love to do is race; it's not only my job, it's my passion. I definitely am missing that need for speed. I missed being in the car, missed going 200 miles per hour and missed banging fenders with the guys I love and hate.”
It hasn’t been an easy road back and it still isn’t complete. Vickers remains on blood thinners and will take them until the end of the year. He’s also recovering from a pair of surgeries last month.
Vickers made a life-or-death decision to have the surgeries — one to seal a hole in his heart and another to install a stent (a tiny mesh tube that is inserted into the vein to act as extra support for the blood vessel) in his leg.
“My choice was this: if I had an operation, and something went wrong — God forbid I died — that wouldn’t be too good, but I feel good about where I’m going next, so I’m okay with that,” said Vickers, who vacated the No. 83 in May after the condition was discovered. “My other option was not to close it and run the risk of a stroke. I would rather die than have a stroke. That was kind of my thought process.”
"Once you appreciate how precious life is, and how it can be gone in the blink of an eye, you want to live it to the fullest." –Brian Vickers
The hole in his heart he had from birth. It closes on its own in most people, but his stayed open. Doctors discovered the hole after blood clots turned up in Vickers’ left fingers. The only way clots can get there would be to go through a hole from the right atrium to the left. On an even scarier note, the clots in his finger could have ended up in his brain and likely have caused a stroke.
“I had two issues I never knew about fixed,” he said. “I have had heart surgery – I never thought I would have that at 26, and I have had a stent put in; I never thought I would have one of those.”
After both procedures were a success, Vickers sees no reason why he won’t be ready to go in 2011.
“I really miss racing to say the least but I have really enjoyed some time off,” he said. Vickers started his time off thinking he would go to every race and learn as much as he could about the team. He planned to shadow the spotter, sit on the timing stand, and spend time with the crew. He quickly realized that the layoff was “the opportunity of a lifetime to go do some fun stuff that I’ve always wanted to do, and I have done that.”
Vickers has been travelling, visiting family and friends and spending many relaxing days at his Florida home, making the most of his unexpected spare time. But don’t expect his brush with death to curb any of his higher-risk activities – like skydiving – that he loves.
“I think once you have an appreciation of how precious life is and how it can be gone in the blink of an eye, it makes you want to live it to the fullest in other areas,” he said.
“When it comes to risk-taking — driving race cars, sky diving, living life, or whatever it is — I’ve never really had a problem in the fear department, obviously. I’m probably more apt to push it to the limit, to push it beyond the edge in whatever I do, whether it’s racing or not, than I was before.”
The good news also continued once the cars got on track in Bristol, as Vickers watched his replacement Reed Sorenson (pictured above) deliver the best result for the team in six races.
Reed's 15th-place finish matched his personal best on the high-banked, 0.533-mile Bristol Motor Speedway and marked only the third time he finished in the top-20 in nine tries at the bull ring.
On the other hand, teammate Scott Speed had a rough night, hitting the wall on lap 192 of 500 and then soldiering on to finish 14 laps down in 33rd.