Excuse Brian Vickers if taking the green flag to start Sunday’s Las Vegas race seems as rewarding as a trip to victory lane.
Vickers missed the 2015 season’s first two races as he recovered from Dec. 13 heart surgery. Three months later, he’ll strap himself into the No. 55 Aaron’s Dream Machine and prepare for battle at 200 mph.
The Michael Waltrip Racing driver has no doubts about his health.
“The doctors say I will be as strong if not better than before,” said the 31-year-old Thomasville, N.C. native. “The surgery was a lot higher risk, but they feel really good about how everything has progressed. My sternum is stronger than before. It’s wired together making loops like a coat hanger.”
Vickers latest health battle began on Dec. 11 after he arrived in Charlotte and prepared to drive to Mooresville, N.C. to an Aaron’s photo shoot.
He knew something was wrong.
“At the hospital they discovered my body was rejecting an artificial patch that was inserted in 2010 to fix a hole in my heart. The procedure was painful but it went great and they feel better about my heart than before.”
He wouldn’t be human if he didn’t have his doubts in December.
“Your first question is ‘Am I going to live,’” he recalled. “Once I knew that then I had to decide about racing. Maybe, if I had already won a championship and done everything I wanted to do in racing I would have given serious thought to walking away, but I really want to win races and a championship. There’s more to do and I didn’t want to someday look back and regret not coming back. And, I’m not going to lie, I enjoy going 200 mph. Overcoming problems like this is just what you have to do in life. There’s a lot of people battling things tougher than what I have battled.”
Inserting the original heart patch in 2010 and blood clots in 2013 forced Vickers to miss races. Add in the December surgery and few people have a better appreciation of life than Vickers.
“You just have this notion that tomorrow is going to be there and when you go through something that jeopardizes all that, you understand how important living for today is.”