Brian Vickers promised not to crash his car while taking blood thinners to help dissolve clots found in his lungs a week ago, but his doctor didn’t buy it.
Instead, the No. 83 Red Bull Toyota driver will be avoiding any activity involving a helmet for the next six months, including racing in the NASCAR Sprint Cup, which puts him out for the rest of the season.
What was it like hearing that news? “It sucks,” says Vickers. “This my life and what I love to do and I fully intend on doing it again and being more focussed and driven to do it better than I ever have before. I do expect to be back in the car next season and to win the Daytona 500.
“If something changes and I can get back sooner, then great, but right now it’s going to be the rest of the season and as you can imagine, that is killing me. It was really hard last Sunday to watch the race on TV and not to be in the car.”
Vickers was diagnosed with blood clots in his lungs and left leg a week ago after experiencing discomfort breathing while visiting troops at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington DC.
"It was really hard last Sunday to watch the race on TV and not to be in the car." –Brian Vickers
At first, he ignored the pain. “You know, you’re 26, in great shape, exercise, eat well, and you start having chest pains and you think you’re bulletproof. You’re a race car driver, you skydive, you figure it will just go away,” he said.
“The first two nights it happened, I just kind of ignored it and went back to sleep. I think this happens to a lot of race car drivers: I was afraid to call a doctor, not because of my health, but because I was afraid he would tell me I couldn’t race.”
After walking around holding his side for the better part of a day, Vickers bit the bullet and called a doctor. Tests revealed blood clots in both lungs and his left leg. He is taking Coumadin to reduce the amount of vitamin K in the body, which is needed for blood clots to form.
Unfortunately, when the most common side effect is profuse bleeding, driving in excess of 200mph with 42 other cars between two unforgiving concrete walls is not be the best thing to do.
Given his age and fitness, Vickers could be back in the car in as little as three months, but his doctor, Steven Limentani, explained that “the risk of recurrent problems is significantly lower with six months rather than three months, and that's the reason for recommending that”.
"I am going to spend some time with the race team learning some different roles." –Brian Vickers
Casey Mears will carry on as stand-in at tonight’s All-Star Race in Charlotte, North Carolina, and Red Bull Racing Team’s general manager Jay Frye indicated that Mears would remain behind the wheel for the near future.
Rather than look at this as a setback, Vickers will try to make the most of his enforced lay-off. “I am going to spend some time with the race team learning some different roles, spending some time on the pitbox, trying to understand more of what they go through and what they do, and spend some time in the spotter’s stand with Chris [Lambert],” Vickers said.
“I am not going to every single race; I am going to take some time off and rest (doctor’s orders) and I’m going to do some stuff quite frankly that I’ve wanted to do that I haven’t been able to do.”
On Vickers’s wish list is the Red Bull Air Race in New York on June 19-20 and a Formula One race with Red Bull Racing in Canada, conveniently taking place the weekend before.
He’ll have to avoid many of the things he loves to do, though – skydiving, driving race cars, snowboarding, skiing, wakeboarding and motorcycling – because many of the things are “pretty crazy.”
The medical setback came just as Vickers looked to be regaining momentum on track as he pushed to make the Chase for the Cup for the second consecutive season.
“I'm filled with two emotions: I want nothing more than to be back in the race car but, at the same time, it's not in my personality to focus on the negative,” he said.
“These are the cards I've been dealt and I can't change that. I'm going to take every opportunity I can to be positive through this, to deal with it, learn more and be better when I get back in the race car.”