NASCAR's Brian Vickers discusses medical struggles, goals for the upcoming season

By Jennifer Verzuh,

Brian Vickers has been a rising star in NASCAR for over 10 years. At age 20, he became the youngest champion in any one of NASCAR's three top-tier series. In 2010, he was forced to sit out for the season after unexpectedly undergoing surgery for a blood clot. He returned to the sport in 2011, but this October discovered another blood clot and is again on the sidelines. TheCelebrityCafe.com had the opportunity to speak with Vickers about his recent medical trouble and frustration as well as his goals moving forward in his career.

TheCelebrityCafe.com: In 2010, after developing a blood clot, you underwent emergency surgery and had to bow out for the remainder of the season.

Brian Vickers: It was a difficult time, but it’s probably a long story. In 2010, after a long race at Talladega - I had two races in the same day and then a long flight - I had some shortness of breath that I largely ignored, thinking I was young and healthy and invincible. Ultimately it did get so bad that I ended up going to the hospital and found out I had blood clots and it was a big shock to think that I had blood clots and to try to learn more what they were and to understand the situation... in the hospital for a couple weeks and taken out of a race car.

I was put on a medication which certainly did the trick, but it was just a pain and a hassle of constant blood draws, monitoring, finger pricks, dietary restrictions and travel restrictions, et cetera... which only added to the situation. Being out of the car was very frustrating for me. I mean, obviously doing something that long, and what I love to do was [difficult]. Having it all blown instantly was quite a shock, needless to say. But I was able to get back to the car in 2011 and go racing again.

And then this fall, unfortunately, I had another incident in my right calf, where I had a sprain in my right calf and had to wear a [brace], because of the sprain I had to wear a boot over my right foot for about a month, a pretty long period of time. And that caused a clot in my right calf again, which was very frustrating. Completely different, separate incident than the first time and for a different reason, but nonetheless very traumatic.

I just thought that part of my life was behind me. When we spoke to my doctor and he was going through this too. I consulted doctors, if they have any signs or symptoms. He recommended a different medication for me that didn’t have the restrictions of what I had before, the dietary restrictions, the blood draws, which was, I don’t care who you are, you don’t like needles. You definitely don’t like them every week. So that was great and that’s been able to really kind of liberate my off track life again, even though I’m still on the blood thinners [and] I can’t be in the race car. Extremely frustrating, but nonetheless. I’ve got a three month regimen and it started with a pill twice a day and now it’s just once today.

There’s no restrictions, no travel restrictions. I’m going on my honeymoon in January, which I’m excited about. I’m able to work with a team of engineers, prepare for next season on the Aaron's Inc team, but I can’t be in the car, being on any blood thinner I can’t be in the race car. I’m just doing what I can and trying to enjoy a little bit of down time and then get back for the Daytona 500[…], which I’m pretty excited about. Nothing could make me happier than after everything I’ve gone through to go in there and get a win for Aaron’s.

TCC: What are your expectations for the Daytona 500 after being sidelined for several months prior to it?

BV: The expectations are to win. I mean, that’s my goal, that’s my attempt. I think we have a team, Aaron’s and Toyota, that are capable of doing that. It’s certainly going to be a challenge. My first year, second year in the sport was an even bigger challenge. I’ve run a lot of races in the last ten or twelve years at Daytona, so I feel very comfortable there even though I’ve been out of the car for three months. My peers have been out of the car ... they have to take a lot of time off in the off-season as well. I’ll have a few tests before I get back in for Daytona as well.

TCC: Did you ever consider retiring after receiving the news that you had a developed another blood clot?

BV: Yeah, I think it would be unrealistic not to at least consider that a possibility. It was definitely never my intention. I think probably the first time I went through this. It was a lot of unknowns for me, I was trying to educate myself on what was clotting and trying to understand more of it.

One of the resources I used then and now [for] support is clotconnect.org. It’s a great way to raise awareness about clotting and the issues. That’s part of the reasons we’re going around trying to speak to a lot of media and partnering with [them] to raise awareness about clotting issues, particularly in this time of season. Everyone’s more sedentary. It’s cold out, they’re taking large trips and driving, plane trips to see family, so it’s a bigger issue. For me, I think it was understanding the first time what was going and why. And what that meant for me moving forward.

Obviously, my goal, my passion, my love is racing and I wanted to get back in the race car. But I also didn’t want to take unnecessary risks. Once my doctor determined that it was completely safe for me to go back racing that was full [go] after that. And that was my intent.

Going through the second time, I think that you obviously have to step back and take a big picture of what’s going on, and understand more of it, but that being said, I think that with a better education and a better understanding of what clotting is and isn’t and how to handle it, how to address it, being on some different medication now that’s way better for my off track life.

Obviously, on a blood thinner, I can’t still be in a race car. It’s really liberated me in how I can do things off the racetrack. So all of that has made me feel even more comfortable to just get back in the car come February. Once my treatments are done, I can get back to racing again.

TCC: How important has the support of your family been during this time?

BV: My family and friends have been huge, not only this time but the time before. I’m married now so I have even more support than before. But my friends, my family, have just been so supportive throughout my entire career, particularly through obviously some of the health crises I’ve had, and it’s been made a huge difference. I think without that I may or may not have gone back racing but [they] unquestionably made a difference in the outcome of my health and my spirit and my drive to go back. I can’t thank them enough for that.

And then the support of our partners in racing, Aaron’s. I mean, they’ve been so supportive through this last incident, it’s really amazing and I think it just really speaks volumes to the culture this company’s really instilled with their employees and their corporate culture.

TCC: When can your fans expect to see you back at the racetrack?

BV: I’ll be back in the racetrack as soon as I finish treatment in January and I’ll be testing in February. And back on the track at the Daytona 500 in mid-February.

TCC: What or who pushed you to come back to NASCAR and professional racing after these medical setbacks?

BV: You know I don’t think it was so much of a who. I think most of my family and friends were supportive of whatever was the right decision for me to make. Personally and professionally, health wise, but I think what more so in the fact that I had accomplished almost all my goals in motorsports except for one and that was winning the Sprint Cup Championship. I’ve made the chase before with some great teams and am honored to be a part of that, but I do want to win the championship and I think that’s probably the biggest driving force to get me back into this, into the Sprint Cup Championship.

I mean even when I was racing overseas last year, I had a blast. I loved it, racing 24 hours, some other things. And I think my passion for racing will always be there and I’ll always want to race something as long as I’m capable of doing so. But the reason I came back to the NASCAR Sprint Cup series is my love and passion for that profession or that particular sport, you know, that type of racing. But if anything it’s just a check-box that didn’t get checked last time I was in the sport full time: to win a championship. And I’m very grateful to have the opportunity now with Aaron’s to come back and Toyota, to come back and to check that box.

TCC: What are some of your professional goals for next year?

BV: My biggest goal I have is to win the championship. I want to win races, I want to sit on poles and win the championship. It’s a big goal, but it’s the reason I’m racing. It’s the reason I came back and I know that with the quality team we have, it’s possible. It’s really not guaranteed, it’s not going to be easy, but it’s possible, and that’s our goal.

TCC: If in the future another blood clot surfaced, how do you think you’d react?

BV: I mean, it depends on the clottage, it depends on the size, the symptoms, [and] it depends on how severe it is. I mean, you’re going to respond naturally to the severity of the problem. You know, if it’s a small clot with slight swelling that you just barely notice and you call your doctor, like you should, and thankfully I did this last time, you know I’ll go to the doctor and get an ultrasound and the doctor will give me his best advice and we’ll evaluate accordingly.

If it’s like the first time, and it’s clogging my lungs and I can’t breathe, my reactions going to be very different. I’m going to be running to the hospital [and] probably more nervous about the seriousness of it. Clotting can be, and is, very dangerous, but when you know the signs and symptoms, you catch it soon enough, you get to a doctor and you’re prescribed the right medications for you then it’s something that can be dealt with, and lived with, your entire life.

Obviously I hope I never have to deal with it again. I hope this is the last time. If it were to happen again, then I would deal with it accordingly, but it really just depends on the situation and how spontaneous it is or how severe it is. And ultimately how I react to it long-term is best left up to my doctor. I can tell you that going through the experience the first time and this time has been two different experiences. One of it is having the education and two is just being on a completely different medication that’s just really given [me] my life back, so I don’t have to deal with all the stuff that I had to last time.

TCC: You mentioned your wife. I understand you were recently married in September. How has life changed for you since then?

BV: She’s changed my life for the better, that’s for sure, or I wouldn’t have married her. I couldn’t be happier and just kind of think that, I look at the situation and she couldn’t of been here at a better time in my life and [been] more supportive and loving, and just helping me through all this. And it’s certainly made a difference, but unquestionably she’s made a very positive impact on my life and I think we’ll only continue to do so in the future, moving forward with championships and building and having a family together, and then obviously I want to be equally or more supportive of her than she has been of me.

TCC: Christmas is just around the corner, how are you planning on celebrating the holidays?

BV: With my family and friends. We’re going down to North Carolina to spend some time with family and looking forward to that, and, yeah, just really trying to relax and take it all in. I love the holidays. They’re hectic. One of my favorite holidays is Thanksgiving, but I also love Christmas. It’s just so spirited and special. And I enjoy getting back to North Carolina. I love it there, I grew up there. It’s not where I live now and I enjoy Florida and being there but it’s also great to be home for Christmas.

TCC: Is there anything you’d like to add?

BV: There is one thing I left out that I think is pretty cool. You know, we talk about how to handle the situation and learn more about clotting and what not and try to make sure you stay on top of it. I actually downloaded this app recently, it’s called Care4Today. It’s a phenomenal, phenomenal app, it helps you to remember when to take your medication, any medication for that matter. It could be even vitamins, but it’s a great reminder app. You can even share [it] with your family and friends, make them stay on top of you. When you’re on a blood thinner it’s important, you know. The medication I’m on now, it’s pretty easy. I think this app is actually really good. I’m usually pretty good about that kind of stuff; I’m very organized, I try putting it in the calendar, I’ve tried other ways, and it’s just not the same. So if I can kind of put one more thing out there for folks that are dealing with it, are going through this, or really frankly any other medical issue you have to take a regiment of pills, it’s a great app.

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