Thomasville, North Carolina Native Grew Up 60 Miles from Martinsville
KANNAPOLIS, North Carolina – Martinsville (Va.) Speedway is where a young Brian Vickers fell in love with NASCAR. Just 60 miles from his boyhood home in Thomasville, North Carolina, the Vickers family often made the trip to Martinsville – the only track that’s been on the NASCAR circuit since it began in 1948.
The 32 year old, who now lives in Miami, said he still gets a special feeling each time he walks into the historic track. Vickers will get another chance next weekend when he will drive the No. 14 Janssen Arnie’s Army Charitable Foundation Chevrolet SS in Sunday’s STP 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race on the flat, half-mile track in Southern Virginia. The No. 14 will sport a nearly identical paint scheme to the design it raced March 20 at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California. A cut tire dropped Vickers two laps behind the leaders early in that race before he rallied to a 13th-place finish – the No. 14’s best of the 2016 season.
Vickers and Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Inc. have partnered to educate race fans about the serious risk for blood clots. Arnie’s Army Charitable Foundation continues golf legend Arnold Palmer’s legacy of philanthropy and invests in organizations that help children, youth, families, the environment and communities. Vickers and Palmer met during their work together with Janssen to share their personal experiences with blood clots. Janssen has chronicled their stories, and fans can view them at www.TreatMyClot.com. The health condition has forced Vickers out of racing a few times in his 14-year Sprint Cup career. But Vickers isn’t alone in his experience with blood clots. On average, one person dies from a blood clot about every five minutes.
At Martinsville, Vickers is substituting for three-time Sprint Cup champion Tony Stewart, who sustained a burst fracture of the L1 vertebra in a Jan. 31 all-terrain vehicle accident. Stewart was recently evaluated by doctors, who have implemented a rehabilitation regimen that will hasten his recovery. Future evaluations will be necessary before a timetable is known for Stewart’s return to racing. However, a full recovery is expected for the three-time Sprint Cup champion, as is his return to the No. 14 Chevrolet this season.
Martinsville will mark Vickers’ fourth time racing the No. 14 in 2016. He finished 26th in the Feb. 21 season-opening Daytona 500, and a broken rear gear left him with a 36th-place finish March 6 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Ty Dillon finished 17th at Atlanta Motor Speedway on Feb. 28 and 15th March 13 at Phoenix International Raceway.
Brian Vickers, Driver of the No. 14 Janssen Arnie’s Army Charitable Foundation Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing:
How important has Martinsville Speedway been to you?
“I actually remember going to Martinsville as a kid and watching races. We stood in the corners before pit road changed and watched the cars go by. As a kid, I always thought it was pretty cool the train went by the racetrack. Martinsville has always been a special place for me whether it was as a fan, running my first stock car race there, running Late Models or, now, running in the Cup Series.”
What are your goals for Martinsville?
“I’d love to get a clock. I don’t have one of those, yet. We’ve come close. We’ve led laps but we need to get a clock. I think it’s a beautiful piece. It’s one of the most unique and special trophies, I think, on the circuit. I know a few guys who have one – it’s one of their prized trophies.”
Describe your 13th-place finish at Auto Club Speedway?
“Early in the race I brushed the wall, then cut a tire real bad. We were last and down two laps. It would have been easy to hang our heads and just say it wasn’t our day. But (crew chief) Mike Bugarewicz and the guys on the No. 14 kept at it. Our car was fast, we had good pit stops and strategy, and climbed right back to the lead lap. It’s pretty cool to be down two laps and last, then be mad you only finished 13th. I thought we were going to get a top-10 for sure. That’s a heck of a compliment to the No. 14 team.”
What can you tell us about your 2016 driving schedule?
“I’m kind of really enjoying this schedule. I don’t know if NASCAR is up to changes, but I am loving the weekend off, weekend on thing. That has been very relaxing, very fun. I get to race but I also get some time off. I’m going to get it again with Easter weekend off, then going to Martinsville in the Janssen Arnie’s Army Foundation car again. Really pumped to kind of continue that forward. Then we are figuring out everything from there. Nothing has really changed. I think everyone is really just kind of waiting to see how Tony shakes out. I can genuinely and honestly say this – I want to race this car as long as I can because it’s a great team and a great car and a great opportunity. But I really want to see Tony back in it. I have been in his shoes. I know exactly what it’s like. It’s his last season. He deserves to be in this car as much as he can be. I’m honored to race it as long as I need to and as long as I can, but I’m happy to turn the keys back over as soon as he’s ready.”
What did you think your future in racing was going to be like when you were diagnosed with blood clots?
“I think I thought a lot of things at different times. When I first walked into the hospital, I thought I had pneumonia. They had me convinced. Then I found out I had a blood clot. My comment, I believe, to the doctor was, ‘That is great. Let’s get this solved because I’ve got to be at practice in Dover on Friday.’ This was, like, on Wednesday or Thursday. Again, it was just a lack of understanding and just kind of reiterating this is what this campaign is about, which is helping not only the patients and the fans out there understand what this is, but even some of the doctors. It’s an under-diagnosed issue and under-thought-about issue. But, then (the doctor) said, ‘No, I don’t think you understand this is a long-term problem.’ I said, ‘Well that’s OK, I can miss practice and qualifying, but I’ve got to be on the track Sunday.’ (Laughs) Then that was when he really sat me down and said, ‘No.’ At first it was like, you are going to be out for ‘a while,’ then we’ve got to understand what caused this and we can kind of figure out what’s next.
“So then it went from, ‘I needed to be on the track two days from now” to ‘I may not be on the track for six months or ever.’ That was kind of hard to grasp. As I started working through that and trying to work with my doctors to find out the right solution for me at the time, there were a lot of emotions. A lot of thoughts about what the future of my racing career was going to look like, if it was going to exist at all. Then, when I went back racing, we felt like we found a solution, we felt like we had found the problem and we moved forward. I raced for several years without a problem. I took the opportunity to race all over the world. I raced Le Mans, I raced in NASCAR, I raced with Mark Martin, and it was wonderful. It was a great couple of years, honestly. I had the opportunity to partner with Janssen and help start raising awareness and then the issue kind of popped up again. My mind was open to all possibilities that I could race forever, or I may never race again, and everything in-between. But, I certainly wasn’t going to give up. I also wasn’t going to make a poor decision, either. I very much was going to listen to my doctors every step of the way. If they felt comfortable with me getting back in a car and I felt comfortable being in the car, that is what I was going to do. If they didn’t feel comfortable with me being in the car, then that is fine. I was very comfortable with either scenario. I had my preferences, but I was very comfortable with either scenario.”
What are your impressions of Arnold Palmer?
“Mr. Palmer has been great. I’m honored to have the opportunity to spend some time with him. I think there is a sense of depth and wisdom that he has about himself because of his life experiences and what he had done and what he has accomplished and all those things because of where he is at in life and his age. I think right now is a very special time to be with him in his life. There is also part of me listening to his stories. I would have loved to have been around back in his heyday.
“There is a reason it’s called Arnie’s Army Foundation. He galvanized an army. He was America’s kind of athlete. He was America’s guy. He galvanized this massive group of people around him for so long, but he is a legend. He was a legend then and he still is. Although he hasn’t been playing 18 holes (of golf) lately, he can still putt. We had some putting and chipping competitions and he just crushed all of us. There were a couple of putts that we had set up for one of the shoots that no one even came close to making this putt. We tried and tried and tried, and then he steps up and he is trying to remember his line, they are going back and forth to get his line right, and then he just putts every single one. I think he made like six out of seven. It just kept going in. Not a single other person could make this putt. It was like a 30-foot putt. That is when we realized he’s still got it. It’s been a great experience and it’s an honor to drive the Arnie’s Army’s car.”
Is there a defining moment in your time as a spokesperson for blood clot awareness?
“I’ve had a lot of fans come up to me and tell me their stories and ask me questions. I always have to remind them I’m not a doctor and tell them to go speak to their doctor to find out what is right for them. I do take the opportunity to raise awareness and tell them my story. I think them hearing my story gives them some sense of comfort. I think one thing that is great about the campaign is myself and (comedian) Kevin Nealon and Mr. Palmer, and now (NBA player) Chris Bosh, all kind of tell his own story. They are all unique stories. They are all different. That is the case with every single person out there. Every person in this room, everybody’s story, is unique, everybody’s story is different. I give them the opportunity to tell my story and I think my story really resonates with a lot of people because I’m young and I’m an athlete. I mean, it’s proof that this can happen to anyone. It has been a powerful moment. I’ve had a lot of people call me up in some of the weirdest places, like friends who will call me up and say, ‘Hey, I’m on an airplane,’ or they text me or call me when they land, ‘My calf hurts and it’s swollen and it’s red.’ I’m like, ‘Well, you should go see a doctor. Did you not listen to the campaign?’ But there have unquestionably been moments where it’s made a difference. I’ve seen those moments and it’s a very special feeling. It really is.”
- Mike Zizzo
Director of Media Relations
Texas Motor Speedway